Acting President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, has queried the Min-ister of Aviation, Babatunde Omotoba, over the budget for the construction of a second runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Ab-uja, which was described as over bloated at the cost of N63, 584,605,187.41k (appr-oximately $423 million). Julius Berger Plc was given the contract to build the 4.4km runway that would have the capacity to land the biggest aircraft in the world, Airbus A380.
The House of Representatives has also asked its Committee on Aviation to conduct what it called a full-scale investigation on the contract and asked the Federal Ministry of Aviation to suspend the execution of the project pending the outcome of the investigations. It also said that it would invite the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to assess the contract and ascertain its level of compliance with international best practices.
There were indications last night that the matter may be referred to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFCC), as it has generated so much controversy due to the enormous fund involved, as industry experts say that the budget was enough to build two airports in the country.
Comparing the cost of the project to similar projects locally and internationally, the House said the cost of building a complete airports and runway constructions hovered around N40 billion. “The Bucharest airport had its runway recently installed for the equivalent of N17.5 billion. A similar construction was also carried out in Thailand at about N18 billion. The recently commissioned Akwa Ibom International Airport, with maintenance facilities, and the country's longest runway, was completed at N42 billion,” the House was told. Again, the lawmakers said the second runway cannot add any value to the airport as two aircraft cannot take off at the same time.
The major reason why the second runway was deemed necessary for the airport was that Omotoba had explained last year that the existing runway is more than 27 years old, which is more than the period given for an international runway to last before rehabilitation, according to ICAO.
He also said the runway has shown signs of distress with cracks, which has grave security implications, so there is a need to have another runway operating before the existing one should be shut down for rehabilitation. But industry observers say that the project was on before the appointment of the present minister and that it was part of the project the Presidential Committee on Making Abuja Airport a hub has planned to execute to upgrade the airport to the standard to actualise the set goals.
It was also said that the minister resisted the project when he was appointed because of the contract sum involved, but he was “made” to embrace the project. What irks many in the aviation industry is that it was said that the $68 million Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) accruals would be ploughed into the project and that a cabal was behind the project, so it was not the Minister alone that is pushing for it. THISDAY also learnt that when the project’s budget was approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), President Umaru Yar’Adua had directed that it should be taken to the National Assembly for appropriation.
When contacted to comment on the controversial budget, the Director-General, Dr. Harold Demuren, referred THISDAY to the Minister who was inaccessible, but one of his aides said, “Go and talk to people in the Ministry; where I am now I am indisposed to talk to you.”
Preliminary investigations on the controversial contract by the House of Representatives revealed that whereas the Executive Council of the Federation was led into approving the contract to Julius Berger for N63, 584,605,157.41, the quotations from other construction firms that took part in the contract bid showed that the project may have been deliberately over-valued for selfish reasons.
The quotations from the other firms in respect of the runway project ranged between N24 billion and N26 billion while a comparative analysis revealed that the cost of constructing a full airport complex in the country had hovered around N50 billion over the last three years.
Justifying the motion to halt the project, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Honourable Eseme Eyiboh, said the decision was taken to promote public accountability and integrity in public expenditure.