Players in the Nigerian aviation industry have expressed disapproval over the failure of the Federal Government to disclose the contractors handling the construction of the runway of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport (AIIA), Enugu.
They also faulted the Federal Government’s refusal to reveal the amount of money earmarked for the project and the re-opening date of the airport.
They said the “indefinite” closure of the airport by the government was creating room for suspicion.
Those spoken to by newsmen recalled that before the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, in March 2017 for the reconstruction of its runway, the Federal Government, through Hadi Sirika, the then Minister of State for Aviation, now Minister of Aviation, informed the public about the amount of money earmarked for the project, the contractor, and the duration of closure.
The reconstruction of the Abuja airport runway cost the government N5.8 billion, while the contractor was Julius Berger Nigeria. The airport was shut for six weeks.
Besides, over a week after the closure of the airport, work is yet to begin on it.
Ikechi Uko, aviation analyst, in an interview lamented the seeming lack of transparency in the handling of the Enugu Airport project.
Uko said the government was also living a gap with its non-disclosure of the project sum, the contractors to execute the project, and the level of work to be done on the airport, adding that the duration of the closure was also unknown to the public.
He, however, commended the government for its boldness to shut down the airport after series of complaints by airline operators and stakeholders in the sector.
He said: “The government is leaving open a gap for conspiracy and things like that. As we all know, a project has a beginning and an end; so, you didn’t announce when the airport would be reopened, the work being done.
“Is it total reconstruction? Are you increasing the length of the runway? What exactly is the project strength? We don’t have such information.
“Somebody made a joke that before they closed the Abuja airport, the government told us how much the contract was worth, the contractor, and the number of days the airport would remain shut.
“But, on Enugu airport, no mention about any contract, no one knows what is happening. However, I believe the government knows what it wants to achieve with the airport.
“I don’t suspect anything because it is not in the interest of the government not to start the project. The minister and everybody say the airport is not good enough.
“I think let’s go along with them. And if they don’t do any work there, we can come around to complain, but now, let’s go along with them.”
Also, Alex Nwuba, an airline operator, insisted that with the reported challenges at the airport, the closure for repair or reconstruction by the government was a good idea, but said it was necessary for the government to make open its plans for the airport.
Nwuba noted further that in some cases, a complete closure of aerodrome may be unnecessary, but declared that this depended on the extent of work and the challenge of alternate runway or a taxiway.
On the way forward, he said: “We need to ensure that airports undergo periodic maintenance so as to prevent significant deterioration and this type of closure with the attendant economic loss,” he added.
Besides, Ayo Obilana, a member of the Ministerial Committee on the Inspection of the Airport, about three years ago, said the closure of the airport was necessitated by the need to repair the runway out of safety concerns.
He insisted that the runway had outlived its lifespan based on its history and age of the airport.
He, however, said the non-disclosure of the contractor, length of closure, and amount of money involved by the government did not create room for suspicion by the government.
He insisted that any airport could be suspended or shut down if there was grave safety or security concern, maintaining that it would be irresponsible of any government or institution to ignore such concerns, which could lead to fatalities.
He added: “Depending on the magnitude of construction or repair work at an airport, it can be shut for a considerable length of time. I am sure people would first think about economic considerations over safety when an airport is closed under such circumstances.”
When contacted, Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu, the General Manager, Corporate Communications, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), said the agency didn’t have the details on the closure of the airport.
But she promised to provide the details to newsmen. “When they are ready, we will transmit them to you,” she said.