The Federal Government said on Thursday that the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja would be carried out as scheduled and that was no going back on the decision.
The Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, told the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation that the process for the closure had already begun.
The airport is to be shut down from March 8 to April 19 to allow contractors carry out major repairs on its failing runway.
Sirika said the government had taken two most important steps so far preparatory to the closure.
He stated that one was the rehabilitation of the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway and link roads within the Kaduna metropolis to cater for the need of the Abuja-bound passengers.
The minister added that a second step was the setting up of a special team to take charge of security patrols on both the ground and in the air throughout the duration of the closure.
Sirika explained, “The security team will take care of the security of passengers and goods during the period. Hoteliers and restaurateurs have their services ready on standby.
“So, in a nutshell, Kaduna is busy and ready to receive the expected passenger flow.”
The minister spoke when he appeared before the committee to defend the N22bn capital budget for the aviation sector and another N542.8bn proposed as overhead cost for the entire Ministry of Transportation.
The committee is chaired by a Peoples Democratic Party member from Abia State, Mrs. Nkiruka Onyejeocha.
In 2016, the capital vote for the aviation sector was N18bn, out of which Sirika said N10.5bn or 53 per cent was released to the ministry.
“Again, the ministry in 2016 had a total overhead allocation of N437.2bn, out of which N327.3bn or 74 per cent, was released,” he told the lawmakers.
But, the contract for the remodelling of the Jos airport terminal generated controversy at the session after lawmakers discovered that no work had been done after the release of over N400m.
The contract was awarded for N700m, but the committee observed that “zero performance” was recorded after N400m was paid out.
When confronted with the discovery, Sirika quickly passed the question over to the Director of Administration and Finance in the ministry, Mr. Akin Ijiwole.
The DAF replied that the details were expected to be rolled over into the 2017 budget, an explanation that the lawmakers rejected.
Not satisfied with the response, Onyejeocha directed Ijiwole to furnish the committee with detailed information on the contract within 48 hours.
Onyejeocha had earlier warned in her opening remarks that the House would not condone recklessness or misapplication of funds by the ministry, while implementing the 2017 budget.
“This committee will not accept any recklessness, impunity, waste of public funds or any unpatriotic tendencies in the implementation of the budget when passed into law. Whatever estimates being projected by the ministry and its agencies must be in tandem with realities on ground,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government on Thursday inaugurated a joint sub-committee that would be responsible for security during the six-week period that the NAIA would be closed.
According to the government, the committee is made up of high level security officials and this underscores the importance of the transportation exercise that will be conducted between Abuja and Kaduna from March 8, 2016.
Sirika, who inaugurated the sub-committee at the headquarters of the Ministry of Transportation in Abuja, stated that the panel comprised of senior officials from the relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
Sirika said the Nigeria Police would chair the sub-committee, while other members were drawn from the Aviation ministry, Office of the National Security Adviser, Department of State Services, Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian Army.
Others include the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria’s Aviation Security, and Department of Air Transport Management.
The minister told the representatives of the agencies that “the major functions of this sub-committee within the six-week closure of the Abuja airport is to, among others, provide security at the Abuja and Kaduna airports, including road, air and rail transport.
“It will also monitor traffic movement from Abuja to the Kaduna airport and vice versa; provide security to passengers and cargo between Abuja and the Kaduna airport and back; and perform all other security issues deemed necessary.”
He told the security officers that the hype over the proposed closure of the Abuja airport had created perceived security threats on roads and rail lines to Kaduna, adding, “You are, therefore, required to ensure the safety of lives and property of passengers and other citizens during this period by enhancing your security activities.”
The Chairman of the sub-committee, Assistant Inspector General of Police Alkali Baba, gave an assurance that a thorough security job would be done during the period.