The Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has said he will resign his appointment if the federal government fails to meet the six-weeks deadline for the rehabilitation of the runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The minister made this known on Monday during a meeting with Aviation Round Table (ART) in Lagos.
Sirika said the level of work done in the first three weeks since the runway was closed on March 8, 2017, had shown that the work would be completed at the given date (April 19, 2017).
He explained that the Kaduna airport was chosen as alternative to Abuja airport because the other airports around Abuja, including the airports in Minna, Jos, and Makurdi do not provide adequate security and safety measures but it was Kaduna airport that has dual carriageway to Abuja, which road could easily be rehabilitated within the period the airport in Abuja would be closed.
He also noted that while the Minna airport is closer to Abuja, the road is a single lane, filled with potholes and along undulating topography and hills, adding that it is insecure and unsafe compared to Kaduna.
Besides, he said while there was immediate plan to rehabilitate the Kaduna-Abuja road, there was no plan to rebuild the Minna-Abuja road.
The minister added that he knew that the Abuja airport runway was bad even before he became the minister, noting that closing down the airport became inevitable when there was no other alternative to do a thorough and efficient rehabilitation.
"I knew the runway was bad before I became the minister. It was shown to me when I was a senator. It was a similar experience with Port Harcourt airport runway. The runway became so bad that it caved in. The airport was closed for two years. We cannot afford to close the Abuja airport for two year; that is why it became expedient that we do the job now. We are going to meet the deadline. Whatever work that would be done is going to be done without closing down the runway," he said.
The minister also said that the runway was shut down at the time it was done because the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) gave the projection of rainfall for the year "and we have to do the work before the rains set in".
In his introductory speech, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said the meeting, which was organised at his instance, was aimed at correcting the false information making the rounds that the deadline for the completion of the runway rehabilitation had been extended.
He regretted that since the 30 years the runway was built, no major work was done on it, except patchworks; that was why it degenerated so badly and needed the closure of the airport to ensure it was fully rehabilitated.
In his opening speech, the President of ART, Gbenga Olowo, said the nation's aviation industry has not advanced in the last 40 years.
He regretted that while international airlines are generating huge revenues from their Nigerian operations, Nigerian airlines have only eight per cent of the market, which has started dwindling now that many Nigerian airlines are dwindling.
"In 2000, there were 12,000 weekly seats on the Nigerian routes; it became 30,000 in 2012. In 2015, the number of seats increased to 48,000, but Nigerian airlines are only contributing eight per cent to this market. But they are losing that small segment of the market because they are now lying prostrate with what is happening to Arik Air," Olowo said.
Meanwhile, the Chairman, House Committee on Aviation, Hon. Onyejeocha Nkeiruka, on Monday expressed frustration at the level of work so far carried out on the runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, three weeks into its closure to allow for rehabilitation work on the runway.
The committee's concerns came despite claims by the project managers that 40 per cent work had been carried out so far.
Nevertheless, the chairman, who led members of the committee on an oversight function to the airport, said it was concerned that the work may not be completed by the scheduled six weeks.
Nkeiruka further expressed worry that though the agreement signed with the contractors was for total reconstruction of the runway, they appeared to be carrying out a mere resurfacing work.
It was also noticed that work had not started on the taxiway.
The legislator told journalists shortly after the inspection that there's still a lot do be done.
She said: "I have my concerns from what I have seen because the work is divided into three phases and they're on the first phase and from a layman's angle, which I am, I'm saying that I have concern that the work will not be completed but they keep saying it will be completed.
"What we've seen is the civil aspect but we are concerned about the mechanical, particularly around the lightening of the runway."
On the alleged resurfacing work instead of total rehabilitation, she said: "That's the point: they said it's a total resurfacing but when we come to the board, they've to explain to us the level of implementation to what they signed. Of course, we've the papers to what agreement they signed."
Nkeiruka added:"We have concerns from what we've seen on the ground. We've the issue of whether it's total reconstruction or resurfacing. But those things will be explained through the books. They said they'll start the lightening of the runway by Wednesday."
On concerns over a possible extension of the closure timeline, the committee chairman said: "That's why we've come so that they will know Nigerians are concerned. We wouldn't want any extension and we want them to give us a perfect job on the agreement we've made."
Meanwhile, the Site Engineer, Yemi Ayelesun, said: "We're working on both the runway and taxiway. We closed the runway on February 8 and use that day to remove all electrical materials on site and work started on February 9. Now, the whole milling is completed while asphalt work has started. We've gone beyond 40 per cent in terms of the overall work."
He also promised that the efforts were being made to complete the entire work before the scheduled date.
However, the federal government on Monday debunked media reports that it had extended the rehabilitation work on the Abuja airport runway to 18 weeks, even as it reassured air travellers that the work would not exceed the original six weeks plan.
The assurance was coming against a backdrop of reports in some media that the federal government has extended works at the airport to 18 weeks.
It noted that though it was aware of the hardship currently being faced by air travellers, adding that if it did not shut down the airport for repairs, it would have one way or the other, shut down itself.