Posted by News Express | 16 March 2020 | 656 times
About two weeks to the end of this month, the Federal Government insists that the deadline for the completion of the ongoing rehabilitation work at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, would be met.
The airport was closed down for renovation on August 24, 2019, following cries that the facility was a disaster waiting to happen because of the level of dilapidation of its runway and navigational infrastructure.
President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the release of N10 billion intervention fund for the reconstruction of the airport some weeks after the airport was shut down. The presidential directive followed a visit of governors of the South-East states and other leaders of the region to Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.
The civil works would gulp N8.5bn, while the cost of the electrical component is put at N1.5 billion.
Air travellers in the catchment areas of the airport, including Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia, Anambra, and parts of Benue and Cross River states have continued to bear the brunt of the closure.
Mostly affected were international travellers in the South East who ordinarily would prefer landing in Enugu to using the airports in Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt.
It was gathered that many Igbo living abroad declined to return home for the Christmas and New Year festivities last year because of the closure of the airport.
Even some Igbo resident in various parts of country could not travel home because of the fear of robbers and kidnappers on the highway.
Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, while on inspection of ongoing renovation at the airport project last Thursday, reiterated that the airport would be reopened before Easter.
He expressed satisfaction with the quality and pace of work, stating that the contractor was working according plan.
He admitted that every particular job comes with its own hiccups but what was important was the ability to surmount those challenges.
“I had said that we are going to do this procurement and finish with it before Easter and I am very insistent on before Easter. I am very sure we’re going to meet the target; I’ve no doubt about that.
“We are working day and night, including installing the landing system. All ancillary works, like the perimeter fence and perimeter roads are ongoing. While those ones are going on, I can assure that we would be able to land and takeoff from here before the Easter; then we’ll continue to deal with other issues.
“I’m very impressed with the quality of work going on, and especially how the work has been designed. We have the turning points to be of concrete as against asphalt, which improves operational efficiency to ensure that where the loads are being deposited on the runway during turning are done so strongly to withstand the pressures or weight of the turning effect on the surface of the runway. I think this is one of the very unique designs; I’m not sure you’re going to find it elsewhere,” Sirika said.
The minister also disclosed that the Air Force Base would be relocated after discussions with the Chief of Air Staff.
He added that work at the international wing of the airport had reached 60 per cent from the about 15 per cent the administration met in 2015.
Stating that budgetary provision has been made for it in the 2020 Appropriation Act, the minister expressed optimism that the international terminal of the airport would be delivered by 2021.
Project manager of the construction firm, PW Nigeria, Mahbub Khan, who conducted the minister round the facility in company with the managing director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, and the project consultant, told the minister that the company had overcome some challenges, including sourcing granite dust required for the asphalting.
He assured them that they would stop at nothing in delivering on schedule, but lamented that coronavirus scare has prevented their German technician from entering the country. He, however, stated that they would work with him through video conferencing.
Despite the assurances, Daily Sun discovered that it would be almost impossible for the contractor to meet the target considering the extent of work done so far.
An aviation source confided in our correspondent at the airport that it had been difficult for the contractor to source enough granite dust for the work.
“Work is really moving at high speed and we hope that the two ends of the concrete would be completed before mid-March. But the challenge now is the granite dust; the recommendation is that 50 per cent of asphalt will be dust and only about five quarries can produce the kind of dust required. And these quarries can only produce 500 tonnes every day when they need 1,500 tons daily. At the moment, they are producing 2,000 tonnes of asphalt every day, which is quite phenomenal,” the source said.
He added that “the airfield lighting to be done by a German contractor has been awarded. The company has state-of-the-art equipment. It is expected that they will start laying the cables now that the concrete work at one end is yet to be done. One end of it is still at the form level.”
In addition, contract for the construction of a clinic at the airport was reportedly awarded last Friday. The airport never had a clinic. According to the source, “what they had before was a small hut.”
But the aviation minister was upbeat that the challenge in procuring granite dust for the project would be surmounted. He said: “Dust is part of the design and it is of the greatest percentage of the design of this particular runway. And this is to improve the quality and the strength of the design. Certainly, there are a lot of quarries around here where we can pick any dust and use but the one that meets the standards set by the client and the consultant is in only about five or so quarries. So, moving them was a challeng. Getting about 1,400 tonnes a day is a challenge but we are doing our best to overcome that challenge. Every job comes with its own challenge. It is your ability to overcome those challenges that makes your work sweeter. So, in this part one, all hands are on deck.”
With 70 per cent payment already made to the contractor, the Federal Government’s consultant on the project, Mr. Sani Baba, also pledged that the airport would be in use in the first week of April.
Addressing newsmen during the minister’s visit on March 12, the consultant disclosed that they had prevailed on the contractors to work at night too to ensure completion of the project on schedule.
According to him, the milestones recorded at that point were achieved within 14 days. He added: “You can be sure that, within the next 14 days, we are out of here. Contractors are working daily and we have informed them that should they be running out of time, they should work at night. They should put facilities to work at night so that we can still deliver the same quality of this runway and other auxiliary services.
“But we are still on the neck of our contractors. We have little challenges but we are on the neck of our contractors to deliver; our target is still the same Easter.”
Various groups have continued to show interest in the completion of the airport renovation. The South-East Governors’ Forum had, after taking a brief on the rehabilitation and expansion of the airport during its last meeting from Enugu State Governor, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, and chairman of its works committee on the project, Chris Okoye, an engineer, expressed satisfaction with the quality and speedy progress of work by the contractor.
Chairman of the forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief David Umahi, who presented their communiqué, said the forum “assures our people that Mr. President, the Hon. Minister of Aviation, the Chief of Staff to Mr. President and, indeed, all stakeholders to this project are committed to the re-opening of the airport on March 31, 2020.”
Prior to the meeting, Umahi had asked the contractor handling the project to consider working at night to beat the deadline.
The governor, while inspecting work at the airport on January 16, asked that those things that could be done at night be handled that way to expedite action on the project.
Also, the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation had on March 5 visited the airport and warned the contractor to ensure that it delivered the project before Easter, as earlier agreed.
In addition, the committee invited the contractor that handled the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) project in the airport that has been marked for demolition due to structural defects to come and explain how much was spent on the project and why it failed.
Chairman of the House committee, Nnolim Nnaji, who gave the warning when he led members of his committee on an oversight tour of the airport, said the National Assembly and Nigerians would not accept any excuse from the contractor for any eventual failure.
Nnaji’s warning followed the contractor’s wavering answer to the question of when he was going to deliver the project, trying to give excuses that they were having difficulty in getting granite dust.
Nnaji had put the question to him after the consultant, Baba Sani, also complained that the only challenge the contractor had was the absence of granite dust.
Regardless, Nnaji and his team commended the contractor for the quality of work so far. He rstated the importance of the airport to the people of the South-East geo-political zone, who are predominantly Christians, and why it should be ready for use by Easter because of the importance of Easter celebration to Christians.
The committee chairman noted that Ugwuanyi had put in a lot to ensure that airport came back to life, including pulling down structures and promising access road to the VOR/DME facilities.
The committee, which was accompanied on the inspection by the Enugu State Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Greg Nnaji, head of the South-East Governors’ Forum’s committee on the project, Okoye, and officials of FAAN and NAMA, inspected the VOR/DME and meteorological facilities, ILS installations 26/08, runway civil/AFL works and cargo site.
Speaking with newsmen after the inspection, Nnaji, who seemed to have recognised the challenge faced by the contractor, said: “Maybe a little delay, but like we’ve told him, we are not going to accept anything beyond Easter. From what they are doing now, the second asphalt they are laying is the most important asphalt; they will still have another final asphalt that is going to be light. So, this is the most important one they are laying and I believe that by the time they finish this one then they will have little time to do the final asphalt.
“But, most importantly, we need a good runway. Yes, we are targeting April for Easter but, like I said, we need a good runway, we don’t want to come back to this again, whatever it is going to take us; we need a good runway. So, we just have to have it in our mind, we have a target for Easter but we still need a good runway.”
On other facilities, he said: “The runway first, in addition, we have a brand new ILS, DME from NAMA, also the perimeter fencing is ongoing, the contractor promised that, maybe, between six and eight weeks, if everything is normal, he will complete it.
“We are also expecting, but not now, that the international terminal that is being done by the CCECC will be completed by the end of the year, if well-funded. They also handed CCECC the construction of international cargo terminal, so these are the things that will support the Akanu Ibiam International Airport. Everybody is working to see that this airport comes back to life. Hopefully, it will be completed by Easter, let’s keep it that way.”
An aviation expert said that quality of the ongoing work at the airport was poles apart from the wishy-washy efforts in the past, which, according to him, were conduit and a clear case of fraud.
Speaking on the previous jobs on the airport, he said: “What we saw this time around has shown seriousness on the part of government. The contractor milled the runway to about 150mm. Now, it will be about 330mm asphalt with 190mm concrete, 60mm binder and another 60mm binder.
“Slope of the former runway was wrong and should have had about 1.5%; the quality of asphalt was compromised then because there was no control. The asphalt had wrong porosity, which usually trapped water. The drainage on the sides of the runway was also wrong. So, it had storm water and storm water is the worst thing you could have on the runway.”
The airport was never fenced in about four decades of its existence. However, a solid fence with precast of concrete work of about 9km and 3km of the open fence has already commenced.
Our correspondent further gathered that contract for the crew lounge would soon to be awarded. While CAT 2 instrument landing system (ILS) has already been installed by NAMA, it was learnt that the equipment was almost stolen about a month ago, necessitating 24-hour military guard for the equipment.
The project consultant confirmed the foregoing during the House Committee on Aviation’s visit. Explaining things to the lawmakers, Baba said: “We did a correction profile of the runway; we raised the centre and dropped it by 1.5 per cent in both directions. History has shown us that that runway became virtually flat and without that slope, when the rains come, the water stays there and subsequently brings problem to aircraft and seizes light into the lid.
“Before we even came to do this repair work, the runway had already been extended to 3,000 meters length; it used to be 2.km, so by 600m addition it became 3,000km, which is long enough to take the designed aircraft of 747 400 or anything below it.”
Ugwunayi, Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, and his Science and Technology counterpart, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, had at different times inspected renovation work at the airport.
Ngige, who expressed satisfaction with the speed and quality of work when he visited the site on January 26, hinted that the six ministers from the South-East in President Buhari’s cabinet would come and inspect the reconstruction work at the airport.
Ngige said their visit to the facility would ensure that the contractor delivered by the last week of March.
“For now, if they continue with the rate of work and the quality of work, we have no problem. The funds are there. Mr. President has graciously approved the total package of N10 billion, more than what we even used to rebuild Abuja airport, maybe because we are going to do a lot of remodeling here,” he said.
In November 2019, Deputy Whip of the House of Representatives and member representing Isuikwuato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency of Abia State, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, had described the condition of the Akanu Ibiam International airport Enugu as “horrible.”
Onyejeocha, former chairman of the House Committee on Aviation, said the airport was a disaster waiting to happen.
Speaking on the heels of the closure of the airport then, she said her previous committee, after a fact-finding mission to the airport, had discovered that the runway was substandard: “What they built there as runway was road and not a runway; whenever it rains, the whole place is flooded.”
She regretted that the far-reaching recommendations of her committee were not implemented then.
Onyejeocha, therefore, appealed for patience on the part of users of the airport, particularly Ndigbo, expressing optimism that the rehabilitation works on the runway would be delivered on schedule.
The deplorable state of facilities of at the airport had continued to be a source of concern, particularly after N500 million was appropriated for it in the 2018 budget.
An Ethiopian Airlines freighter, which arrived the airport about 30 minutes earlier than the stipulated time had to divert to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, because the airport only operated daytime flights due to lack of airfield lighting.
Former Minister of Information, Frank Nweke Jr., had also appealed to the Federal Government to pay urgent attention to the infrastructural upgrade of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, to avert disasters.
He said the poor state of the airport’s runway underscored the lethargic approach of the country to basic development infrastructure and the safety of citizens.
Nweke further stated that regular airline passengers flying between Enugu, Abuja and Lagos were familiar with the bumpy takeoff and landing due to the dilapidated runway of the Enugu airport and the ominous reminder sometimes issued by pilots to draw attention to the danger to passenger safety posed by the runway.
Nweke pointed out that, in spite of the high passenger traffic through the Akanu Ibiam Airport, which catered mostly to Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra states, the airport was grossly underserved with only one daily flight from Abuja to Enugu and two from Lagos to Enugu due to concerns of airlines for the security of their aircraft.
“I call upon the Federal Ministry of Transport to act quickly to avoid another air disaster, and on the representatives of the South-East states in the National Assembly to heed the advice of these airline pilots by urgently mobilising action at both the state and federal levels to avoid this looming disaster at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu,” he said.
The airport had been closed for renovation and or maintenance about four times between 2010 and 2017. In 2010, it was closed between February and December to extend the runway to three kilometres.
“Between March and May 2012, it was also closed for the installation of new runway lighting. In August 2014, the runway rehabilitated about a year earlier was severely flooded following heavy rains.
“In November 2016, torrential rainstorm destroyed parts of the renovated terminal building, removed part of the roofing and shattered the low quality glazing of the area leading out of the arrival hall. The building was left open night and day for almost nine months. Some of the buildings damaged from the 2016 rainstorm have remained unrepaired almost three years after,” Nweke lamented.
Prior the April date, the December date earlier given before the closure of the airport in August was unrealistic.
At the time, many had alleged that the closure was intended to punish the people of the South-East, hence the campaign then for the review of the date.
The Association of South-East Town Unions (ASETU) and the South-East Amalgamated Markets Traders Association (SEAMATA), in their separate statements during the period, appealed to the Federal Government to review the period of closure to 60 days.
According to ASETU president, Chief Emeka Diwe, they had repeatedly called for upgrade of facilities at the airport, but the government’s approach appeared as if it was out to punish the people of the region.
“It started with government announcing that the airport would be closed without giving details of the nature of repairs and how long it would last. Just like the governors noted, there is also need to give the roads leading to the alternative airports facelift and also make elaborate security arrangements on the routes,” he stated.
President-general of SEAMATA, Chief Gozie Akudolu, lamented the far-reaching effects the long closure of the airport has had on businesses and commercial activities in the South-East as the airport remained first choice for traders in the region.
The future of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, was seriously threatened around May last year, when the Federal Government said it would not hesitate to close down the international wing of the airport because of certain impediments to the operation of the facility.
The minister of aviation, who dropped the bombshell at an aviation function in Lagos on May 17, 2019, said the location of the Orie Emene Market, an abattoir, broadcast mast of the State Broadcasting Service and the ENPOWER Free Trade Zone posed security and safety threats to international flight operations.
However, following the safety concerns raised by FAAN on air hazards in and around the airport, the Enugu State Executive Council responded by ordering the immediate closure of Orie Emene Market near the airport.
The then Commissioner for Information, Mr. Ogbuagu Anikwe, who disclosed the council’s decision a few hours after the minister’s pronouncement, said that they also closed the abattoir near the airport and equally ordered the immediate removal of all illegal structures encroaching on the land of the airport.
Anikwe added that “the chairman of Enugu East Local Government Area has been directed to effect the immediate closure of the market.”
He explained that “the State Executive Council had on October 12, 2018, approved funds for relocation of the state broadcast mast on the approach of the runway to Okpatu Hill (Ugwu Rerenkwu) in Udi Local Government Area but the implementation of this project has been hampered by the disruptive activities of some youths in the community.”
There is enormous possibility that the airport could be a major enabler for economic activities in the country when eventually delivered.
The minister alluded to that during his last visit when he said: “By the time we are done with Enugu airport, I am sure you will be very happy with us. And you will celebrate this particular government that has done this good thing. I want to say it again that the completion of the runway before Easter is sacrosanct.”
Also, head of the South-East Governors’ Forum’s committee on the airport project, Okoye, applauded the Federal Government for the partnership with the governors of the zone.
He noted that the synergy had produced concrete results that, if replicated in other Federal Government projects, would lead to their early completion and ensure quality jobs. (Daily Sun)
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