In continuation of our special report on airport infrastructure renewal project embarked upon in 2011 by the Federal Government through the then Aviation minister, Mrs. Stella Oduah, which gulped $870 million (N174 billion), analysts, with diverse opinion spoke to our Correspondent to boost the remodelling debate. In this third of five –part, we examine the implications of abandoning the project by the former Aviation minister, Chief Osita Chidoka.
Remodelling Changed Old Culture Of Neglect
One of the stakeholders, Captain Usman Balarabe, told journalists in Lagos that it was shocking for any Nigerian who has used the airport in the past 30 years and had noticed the rot in infrastructure to voice any protest, given the magnitude of the rehabilitation that has so far been undertaken in just over two years.
Balarabe, a former director of Aviation Security and Safety, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), said that by the remodelling programme, the Aviation Minister changed the old culture of neglect of the airports, and rather than heap criticisms on the minister, she should be commended for improving airport facilities to international standards and in the process boosted air transportation in the country.
Also speaking, Association of Young Aviators condemned the attack on the remodelling project, saying it was not made in good faith.
“All that Nigerians want is functional airports with modern facilities and not bickering over due process as it has not yet been proven that funds budgeted for the remodelling projects were diverted,” the group said
However, reacting to the criticism, an inside source said that all the contracts awarded for the remodelling of the nation’s airports followed due process.
The source explained that all contracts for the remodelling of the airports and other critical infrastructure/equipment followed due processes prescribed by the relevant sections of the Public Procurement Act 2007.
A statement from the former Minister of Aviation, which was signed by the Senior Special Adviser (Media) to the Minister, Joe Obi, stated, “It would be misleading to insinuate that contracts awarded through a Selective Tendering Process, as is the case with some contract awards in the Aviation Ministry did not necessarily follow due process. It has to be noted that Selective Tendering is a lawful procurement procedure as enunciated in the Act.”
The statement said the question as to why the ministry opted for the selective tendering option was obvious.
“The present administration met aviation infrastructure, especially the terminals, in a terrible state of dilapidation. Understandably, a state of emergency of sorts with regard to rehabilitating the derelict and decrepit infrastructure required a lot of urgency which the selective tendering provision in the Act suited quite aptly.”
On the allegation that a certain security contract was awarded sometime in December, yet work had not commenced, Obi explained that the security related contracts were not subject to open competitive bidding in order not to compromise the process.
“Secondly, the security equipment required and ordered by the Ministry is not an off-the shelf item. The equipment is to be custom-made and manufactured specifically to suit our purposes. Letters of credit have been opened for this contract and there are currently being manufactured. Soon, the equipment will be delivered for installation.
“We also make haste to restate that all contracts in the ministry were awarded in accordance with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act and accordingly received Certificates of No Objection from the Bureau of Public Procurement. Any allegation to the contrary or an insinuation of corruption on the part of the ministry is patently false and misleading,” the statement said.
However,The chairman,House Committee on Aviation, Mrs Nkiruka Onyejeocha said there is the need to serious look at the books to prevent what could be described as an act of impunity on the part of these involved in the aviation ministry.
She had said: “The impunity with which we do things in this country is appalling; like the abuse of ‘No Objection Certificate’ given by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP). All agencies are using this loophole to issue contracts of over N20 billion without advertising them, once they write to the BPP, which allows for selective tendering.
“These are some of the instances that have prompted our committee to investigate the Aviation Ministry, which awards contracts of more than N12 billion through this absurd selective tendering, which technically knocks out competition.
“We are inundated with noises of aviation is working, but the question is: at what cost?
“We are set to investigate the sector because of petitions over some contractors that have been paid for since 2012 but have not been executed yet.
“For instance, a contract on the provision of ‘new security strategies for airports’, N6.247 billion was paid already from the contract sum of N9 billion. Another instance is this: How can the same contractor, without a pedigree in the sector, be the one to renovate almost all the airports, as if there were no others around?“
Remodelling Long Overdue.
But according to a report, two former ministers of Aviation, Felix Hassan Hyat and Samuel Mafuyai, have expressed satisfaction over the airport remodelling project, which they described as long overdue.
They reasoned that there could have been no better time to fix the rot and decay in airport facilities other than now.
Apart from the former aviation ministers, scores of passengers and airport users continue to commend efforts by government to fix airport terminals nationwide, affirming that apart from creating jobs for teeming Nigerians, it would also create commercial offerings for many businesses related to aviation to grow.
The Chief Executive Officer, Westlink Airlines, Ibrahim Mshelia, had described the infrastructure upgrade at airports nationwide as part of the strategy by the Federal Government to reposition the aviation sector as a huge revenue earner.
Mshelia said the infrastructure upgrade could not have come at a better time, after many years of abandonment.
He said the pace at which the airports were being fixed was enough testimony of the commitment of government to position the aviation sector for national development, using air transportation as a catalyst.
Mshelia, who stated this while speaking with our correspondent, noted that the current transformation across the nation’s airports will put Nigeria back into reckoning regarding air transport industry.
The Chief Executive officer of Wealth Advisor, Adebiyi Adesuyi, commended the former aviation minister for the initiative, urging the new government to continue where she stopped, as this would go a long way to boost the country’s profile
He said, “I can tell you that the remodelling of the airport terminals was a beautiful project. However, the amount is what I would not know if the contracts were inflated. For me, that is another issue entirely. But you know that the airport is the first point of contact for any foreigner that is coming to Nigeria. That is where they get their impression about Nigeria. When you travel out of the country, you get to UK, alight at Heathrow Airport; you will have a fine feeling that you are arriving in London. So, when they arrive in Nigeria, like the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, the same thing will happen. When they finish the remodelling even though it is under renovation, it would be a beautiful thing to behold. It was a good initiative. I think she deserved commendation in that respect.
However, it is another ball game if the project should have caused o cost N50 million and she claimed she spent N100million.But the remodelling is a very good initiative because it would give Nigeria good image in the outside world. When people are coming into Nigeria and see such improvement, it would give them good impression. However, they should not stop at that. They also need to look at the roads leading to the airport and ensure they were put into proper shape. Beside, buildings that are considered obstruction should give way to allow for proper beautiful action. That is, if there is any building that is not expected to be there, they should clear them so that they will give the terminals a beautiful landscape. They should not stop at the airport, they should also tidy up the roads. By so doing, whoever is coming to Nigeria would have a good impression about the country.”
Responsibility of Government to investigate Alleged Claim
Commenting on what should be done in case there was corruption in the project, Adesuyi said it was the responsibility of government to investigate the alleged claim, noting that embarking on a laudable project should be a justification for corrupt practices
He said: ”They can do that. If there is a mechanism that would enable them to detect that the contract was inflated; that would be fine if they can prove it. I expect that once this is done they can pick those involved because that is corruption. I have nothing against it. For example, we cannot say somebody would steal money, they should not build infrastructure in our universities that would enable people to have good education. It is another ball game if what was meant for building university is inflated. We would not say that the project was not worth it. The project is necessary but corruption has been built into it. And whoever has done that should be punished”.
The former Chairman of Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN, Wale Adeyemi, advised the new government to exercise restraint as far as investment in any project considering the amount that has been spent on the remodelling project.
He said” “By all means, the new government should avoid economic waste. By saying this, I mean whatever the stage of construction, reconstruction or remodeling of the airport, it should not be abandoned. They should continue and ensure the successful completion of those projects with a view to boosting economic contribution to the country.
“We all know that no airport whether international or domestic is useless. It is important that people move and people move for different reason not to talk of international route where you see a lot of international businessmen, political legends and juggernauts coming in and going out in a bid to contribute either to political development or economic development of the country. It is also an image-making project.
There is no airport in this world particularly in advanced countries that is less than what we are trying to portray in Nigeria. My concern is the wastage in terms of what is spent. If you are saying N178 billion was spent, how do you justify that? I think the new government can re-evaluate the construction cost and see whether there was a gap that would warrant the issue of follow up with corrupt officers.
I think that should be the angle to look at it to discover if there was an element of corruption. And when that happened, effort should be taken by the new government to make sure that whatever extra that was spent which was not economic justifiable should be retrieved by all means. But as for the project, I think the project was good. The remodelling was important for the country. If you go to all the international airports, particularly those that I have passed through, they are fantastic. For me, I think image wise, the remodelling has been a booster.
“In my opinion, we should avoid abandoning it but rather continue to improve on it. But in terms of how much what expended, I think that is huge. I believe some of the monies should have been diverted into other pressing areas in the economy. So, they should review to see if there was any fraud. They should continue with the project albeit it is not an urgent project. If there were other pressing issues that demand more money, I think it is better to slow on the project while concentrating on competing needs in order to save money”, he however said.