The Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, today, told Senators that the planned repairs of runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, will gulp at least N5.8 billion.
He acknowledged that the government of former president Goodluck Jonathan, had budgeted N1.2 billion for the same rehabilitation.
This is is even as the ongoing talks between the Senate and Sirika, over the planned closure of Abuja Airport, by the Federal Government, ended in a deadlock.
Though the Minister who appeared before the Senate gave a detailed explanation on why the airport will be closed for six weeks, both parties could not, however, agree on some concerns raised by lawmakers.
During the question and answer session, Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, queried Sirika on the cost of ferrying passengers from Kaduna to Abuja during the closure of Abuja Airport.
“Can you please, give us the breakdown of the financial cost, specifically how much you intend to spend in conveying passengers from Kaduna Airport to Abuja during the closure of Abuja Airport? We need to know,” Ekweremadu had queried the Minister.
Sirika’s inability to provide a breakdown of the financial cost, led to the suspension of the talks between the two parties. President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki who presided, told the Minister to get the necessary documents and return next Tuesday so as to enable both parties take a final position on the issue.
Saraki, while expressing concerns, revealed that he has been bombarded with calls from Nigerians and ambassadors on the security implication of diverting local and international flights to Kaduna Airport.
Saraki noted: “All around the world, international airports are not closed. From Europe to our neighbours in Ghana, they do not close airports. We also want to know how you will handle the security concerns expressed about Kaduna Airport. Nigerians and our partners across the world have expressed worry. Ambassadors have reached out to us to express their concerns.”
Responding, Sirika said: “This work is not for six weeks, but six months. But the closure is for six weeks. This is to enable us work on the runway. We have gotten to a critical stage where we can work on the airport and allow planes to fly. We want to take advantage of the dry season to quickly work on it. If we do not take advantage of this opportunity, we will have to wait till the next dry season.
“Nigeria has closed its runway before. An International Airport runway was closed for over two years. That airport is not less important than Abuja Airport.
“We have been meeting with every stakeholder for at least two months. Kaduna Airport will be the alternate airport within this period. We had an incident on the runway of Abuja Airport.
“We have a huge responsibility to do what is good. The two options of working at night and opening the airport during the day will not work. The other reason is that we are constructing and not necessarily repairing. Its going to be a construction site.
“We will have equipment all over the airport and this is dangerous. There will be incidences that will cause accidents. If anything goes wrong, we will be held responsible. We just had seven incidents which were attributed to windshield.
“For a high travel individual, he will only have to do this for six weeks in his entire life. We are working with security agencies and Ministries, religious leaders and Government of Kaduna State.
“We will have at every intersection, traffic controllers. At every interval, we will have security agents, ambulances and other things in place. The Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has been mandated to work on Abuja-Kaduna road.
“Within this period, we will provide free rail and bus services for passengers. We will provide helicopters for high networth individuals.”
Immediate-past chairman of Senate committee on Aviation, Senator Hope Uzodinma urged the Minister to furnish lawmakers with evidence of an integrity survey report. He also asked the Minister to respond to the condemnation of the planned closure by Nigeria Society of Engineers.
He queried: “Have you done an integrity survey? If you have, make the copies available. Nigerian Society of Engineers has condemned the total closure. Are you aware? Are you aware that about four major repairs have been made on the runway and it was not closed? Have you considered the impact of the closure on the recessed economy?”
The Minister, while responding, said most of the sections of the runway have collapsed completely. He said the collapse of multiple portions of the runway is a sign that it has collapsed. “The runway has expired,” he added.
Speaking further, he said: “We have carried out an integrity test and we will forward the outcome to the Senate. On the concerns raised by engineers, we do not have monopoly of knowledge. We are ready to talk to them.”
On his part, Senator Barnabas Gemade said Kaduna Airport was not designated as an international airport yet. He advised that if the Federal Government eventually decides to go ahead with the closure, it should not be more than two weeks.
Senator Dino Melaye, pointedly told the Minister to halt the plans, noting that the security implications were too enormous. He said it was impossible to repair bad portions of Kaduna road within the period.
Senator Melaye said armed robbers and kidnappers were already celebrating, alleging that the lives of passengers who will ply Kaduna-Abuja road will be exposed to danger.
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