Beyond polemics,the imperatives of reconstructing Nigeria’s aviation infrastructure



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By Msheliza John Haruna

Since the return of democracy, one vital sector that has not received attention despite enormous investments is that of aviation infrastructure. However, the current Minister of Aviation Princess Stella Oduah is gradually changing the fortunes of the sector.

It is note worthy that the beauty of our nascent democracy is the ability of various stakeholders to be able to hold government accountable; however, this leverage often  times has been misused either for malicious reasons, partisan politics or plain mischief. The aforementioned reasons can only be the motives for the recent highly strung criticisms of the of the several landmark aviation projects across the country.

Before the current reconstruction efforts of the Minister of Aviation Princess Stella Odua, successive administrations paid lip service to the issue of Aviation infrastructure, our Airports and Terminals had existed for almost 40 years without any upgrade in terms of facilities, as such they were not only decayed but were an eyesore to any one either foreign or local who passed through them. It is pertinent to note this simple analogy –an airport that has no functional toilet facilities is not one that should be in the business of flying. It was this dysfunctional and national embarrassment that ensured that the Minister embarked on this noble exercise. However, the project managers of these several projects have reiterated their commitment to ensure that best practices are applied in terms of the engineering designs and drawings; some of which it was discovered during conception were competing favourably with similar ongoing airport projects around the world.

A clear instance of the aforementioned is the near life threatening case of power outages at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja which has 70 % dependence rate on Generating Plants because the public power source PHCN always does not meet the power requirements of the Airport. The Ministry has finished conceptualising a permanent solution that will soon be implemented.

Some of the Ministry’s traducers looking for straws to hold on to have gone to the Appropriation Act for validation; however they may wish to note that even the act makes exemptions in certain cases. The fact is the current Minister assumed duties in July 2011 several months after the Appropriation Bill 2011 had been passed.  The National Assembly then appropriated part of the funds to the Ministry in its Appropriation Act 2011 while the balance was in the existing BASA Account which resides with the Ministry. To access the appropriated funds for these Projects and utilise the BASA funds the National Assembly is empowered to exercise control by giving or withholding Approval. For the records the Ministry followed the statutory guidelines and obtained the requisite Approvals before accessing the funds.

Another point worthy of note is the courage the minister had to overcome bureaucratic red tapes with her declaration of Emergency programs in addressing dilapidating airport infrastructure in Nigeria this she achieved by applying and to the provision under the Procurement Act of the Bureau of Public Enterprises BPE under which the requirement for advertisement and bidding was waived to fast track the duration of conception to completion of the numerous aviation infrastructure.

However, even though the waivers were obtained there can be no escaping of due process units as this is the only means of ensuring that all those involved abide by the tenets of probity and accountability. These include getting approvals from the National Assembly, (because the Projects came after the 2011 Appropriation Act) BPE, Ministry of Finance etc. These are statutory requirements that the Ministry and Contractors are obliged to comply with; as such this naturally delayed the timeline  of the projects.

However, the most embarrassing cause of delay in the execution has been the distractions caused by all the Petitions and Allegations over these Projects. Instead of concentrating in the execution of the Projects, the Minister, the Permanent Secretary, Directors of the Ministry, the Contractors and the Agency Heads have been tossed between several Committees of the National Assembly and other Agencies of Government to answer Allegations in Petitions by Nigerians over the Projects. Work has effectively been delayed or stopped by these.

It is to be noted that the “regular ” Contractors in the Industry responsible for the over thirty (30) years of rotten decay of the Infrastructure are very upset that the Minister did not award these Projects to them and thus have been at the forefront of Petitions, Sponsored Advertorials outright insults and name calling. It is quite sad that Nigerians who are accusing the Executive of  non implementation of the 2012 Budget are responsible for the delay in the Execution of Projects that ought to have been commissioned and put to use. It is however gratifying that all the Petitions have been nullified as containing no substance.

It should be noted also that no one has complained about the quality of work being done at the Airports, no one is unhappy with the fact that for the first time the Projects are not concentrated in Lagos but are spread to Yola, Kano, Owerri, Benin Kaduna etc.

A mere whitewash cannot undo the dilapidation of ages, the Ministry of Aviation is ensuring that a thorough job is done; the projects are there for anyone who cares to inspect them.

Stakeholders must insist that the detractors of this rejuvenation taking place in aviation sector is not derailed, if we aspire for greatness our airport terminals must be the best as we welcome the world to our shores.

 


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