Nigeria: Abuja - N63 Billion for a Second Runway Is a Big Fraud!

by AllAfrica.Com

The idea that the proposed second runway at Nnamdi Azikiwe airport, Abuja, would cost a whopping N63.5billion is not only wasteful, but fraudulent. This is the second time this figure has surfaced. It was first tabled during the late President Yar'Adua's terminal end. As soon as President Jonathan Goodluck took over the government, he shelved the idea of such a colossal waste. Right now, Nigeria is involuntarily forced into economic recession.

Yes, it is very important to have a second runway in Abuja. This has always been my view because, if for some operational reason or a natural cause, the only existing runway becomes unusable, there is no way flights can come into the capital of Nigeria. The nearest airport is Minna, which is about an hour's drive to Abuja; that means, if a foreign head of government wants to visit Nigeria, he will have to land at Minna, probably get a helicopter to fly him to Abuja and, if there is no serviceable helicopter, he will have to drive about one hour on a dangerous, insecure road. It does not make any sense; therefore, the best option at this stage is to construct another runway within Nnamdi Azikiwe airport as quickly as possible; but not at this mind-boggling price. Although we have been operating flights into the city of Abuja for the past 32 years and nothing has happened, the existing runway is fatigued with repeated cracks that require frequent patching due to heavy bashing by almost 100 daily landings and takeoffs. It is unnecessary for anyone to dispute this absolute doctrine of necessity.

While the importance of a second runway cannot be denied, the core issue now is the associated cost of engaging a second runway to support the existing one. It is completely unimaginable to construct a single runway of four kilometres for N63.5 billion or $300m in a country where the combined cost of building Murtala Mohammed, Mallam Aminu Kano and Port Harcourt airports is less than N63 billion (let us for a moment, forget when these airports were built). I am not only talking about the cost of building the respective airport runways, but runways, terminal buildings, fire stations, aprons and control towers combined.

The argument that the airport area is swampy and requires extensive rehabilitation is not only ludicrous, but highly unsubstantiated. Abuja is not Bayelsa or the riverine areas of River state that need refill to solidify the floor for construction.

The second and unjustifiable argument that the new runway will accommodate the largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380, is equally not tenable because A380 does not require a 4km runway for takeoff and landing. It can successfully land and takeoff on the existing runway of 3.2km in Abuja now. The main issue with the A380 is the parking station.

In 2006, the controversial aviation intervention fund of N19.5billion was released to the sector. The fund was used to modernize four control towers in the country, renovated two runways (Lagos domestic and Port Harcourt) and supplied steady electrical power to Kano, Port Harcourt and Lagos. Despite the massive sidekick involved, N19.5 billon, which is one-third of the expected N63.5 billion to be drowned in the construction of a single runway, made so much impact in the system.

In my discussions with one of the select bidders for the
project, their company had quoted N30 billion to construct the runway, but Julius Berger was the preferred contractor. Although Messrs. PW Nigeria Limited constructed Lagos and Minna runways, this time, even with their lower bid for the new runway in Abuja, they were found unsuitable to perform the contract. The difference of N33 billion between PW and Berger made no sense to any member of the cabal that had wanted the project executed by JB--for reasons best known to them.

It is quite interesting to know that the new runway at Santo Domingo airport in Dominican Republic, which was highly celebrated a few years ago because of its capacity to host the A380 aircraft cost just about $19m or N4.5billion. The Gombe state government spent less than N8 billion to build an airport that comprises a terminal building, a fire station, a control tower and two adjacent 3.2 Km-runways -- just eight years ago.

While it is possible to spend N63 billion or $300m on a runway, especially, if land reclamation from the sea is envisaged, Abuja airport is a hard solid surface that does not require such an expedition.

It is also quite noteworthy to realize that if such a huge amount is spent on a single runway, it will, indeed, be the most expensive investment in aviation industry by the Nigerian government since the advent of commercial aviation in Nigeria in the mid-1950s.

Instead of a selective bidding process, let us ask for an open tender for the whole country to see where and how such ridiculous figure emerged on the scene.

Interestingly enough, while everyone has been on a tight budget because of the falling oil prices, there are those who want to find the easier path to looting. This is not the time to waste N63 billion on a project that can be executed with less than N15 billion.

The Jigawa government under the administration of Sule Lamido built an airport from scratch, on a virgin, rocky field at a cost of N13 billion. The airport has every facility, including a terminal building, tower, a very large aircraft parking apron, and a 3.9KM runway.

Early this year, China completed a 26km bridge across the sea at a total cost of $1.5 billion. This is obviously not a runway, but a bridge across the sea must be more expensive to construct than a runway on a hard surface in Abuja.

On the whole, if the runway is constructed at the said price, then, ultimately, cost will undermine necessity at this point. We must peg the price of another runway in Abuja below N20 billion, which I even think is more than enough to complete a viable backup runway; except we are saying that government-awarded contract in Abuja must triple rational prices elsewhere in the world.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) must be cautious of how the management exposes its weakness. The financial absurdity of this proposal is glaring; it undermines every rational sense at this time of Nigeria's brutal economic reality.

The challenge before every one of us is to see that although politicians, at this stage, are fighting to recover their election expenses, the majority of us that struggle through the day to day hustling and bustling to survive are not used to support a fraudulent venture of this nature.

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