Stalemate in Senate over closure of Abuja Airport •Hearing continues next Tuesday

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From right, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transportation, Alhaji Sabiu Zakari; Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika; Managing Director, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mr Saleh Dunoma and the Managing Director of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), during the inspection of Kaduna airport, on Tuesday.

THERE was stalemate in the Senate, on Thursday, as the senators and Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, failed to agree on critical areas of concern on the planned closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja.

The minister, who appeared before the Senate in plenary, briefed the lawmakers on why the airport should be closed for weeks, with the repairs put at N5 billion.

Senator Sirika was, however, unable to convince the senators who agreed to continue the hearing on Tuesday next week.

During the question and answer session, senators took time to query the minister on the different segments of the decision.

Senator Hope Uzodinma, immediate past chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, asked the minister to furnish the Senate with evidence of an integrity survey report for the planned exercise.

He also asked the minister to provide answers to the condemnation of the planned closure of the airport by the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE).

Uzodinma asked: “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?”

In his response, the minister said most sections of the runway had collapsed completely, insisting further that the runway had expired.

“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,” he said.

Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, also queried the minister on the possible cost of carrying passengers from Kaduna to Abuja while the closure lasted.

“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,” he said.

Also contributing, Senator Dino Melaye told the minister to stop the planned closure, adding that the security implications were enormous.

According to him, it would be impossible to carry out the repair works on Abuja-Kaduna road within the period.

He also said robbers and kidnappers would lay siege on the road, adding that lives of travellers would be exposed to danger.

The minister said though the airport would be closed for six weeks, the total duration of the repairs was six months.

He said the planned closure was meant for this season, so as to enable the government to take advantage of the dry season and ensure a quick work on it.

“If we do not take advantage of this opportunity, we will have to wait till the next dry season,” he said.

“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,” he added.

The minister also said within the period of closure, the government would provide free rail and bus services for passengers as well as helicopters services for high network individuals.

While contributing further, Senator Ekweremadu asked the minister to explain why other runways in the major airports were not receiving similar attention being given to Abuja airport and why the international airport would have only one runway.

Senator Barnabas Gemade told the Senate that the Kaduna airport was not designated as an international airport yet, adding that the planned closure should not be more than two weeks if at all.

The minister told the Senate that the total cost of rehabilitation of the runway was N5.8 billion, adding that the government of former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, had budgeted N1.2 billion for the purpose.

The Senate, however, suspended the hearing when it was obvious that the minister was unable to provide a breakdown of the financial cost as requested by Ekweremadu.

Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, who presided over the sitting, asked the minister to get the necessary documents and return next week Tuesday for continuation of the hearing.

Saraki expressed concern on the planned closure, adding that his office had been inundated with calls from Nigerians and foreign envoys on the security implication of the planned closure, which would lead to diversion of flights to Kaduna airport.

“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,” he said.

The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola; Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr Muhammad Bello; Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar did not show up for the hearing, while the Minister of Transport, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, left midway into the session

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