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The move to rehabilitate the runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, was greeted with a lot of protests from various interest groups. The critics were not convinced it was feasible. CLEM KHENA-OGBENA, who followed the trend of events, reports that the risk has been worth the while

When the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, was announced by the Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika on March 6, 2017, the news was received with mixed feelings by a cross section of Nigerians and the international community.

The idea behind the closure was to allow a comprehensive rehabilitation of the airport’s runway, which had become a death trap. While some saw good reasons for the decision and welcomed the development with open arms, others, especially the major stakeholders in the country’s aviation industry picked holes in it. As a guarantee to those who thought he was mad, Sirika offered to resign his appointment as minister if he failed to deliver the project on schedule.

The contract to repair the existing 3.6 km runway and main taxiways was awarded to Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, a construction firm that has undertaken many critical infrastructure development projects in Abuja.

Before the contract was awarded, the existing runway and taxiways were extensively deteriorated with aged asphalt, wide alligator cracking, shear deformation and widespread pothole formation.

In order to repair the runway and extend its lifespan, the airport was shut down for six weeks, with flights diverted to Kaduna Airport. Inside Abuja recalls that the temporary shutdown of the airport led to huge business losses on the path of members of Car Hire Association of Nigeria and other business owners operating within and around the vicinity of the airport. Other business stakeholders such as fast food outlets, eateries, restaurants and Bureau de Change operators (BDCs) also tasted the bitter pill.

Chairman, Airport Car Hire Association of Nigeria (ACHAN), Abuja, Aliu Abdulazeez Aliu, who spoke with our crew at the international wing of the Nnamdi Azikwe airport, noted that, though the closure was necessary to allow for repairs of the airport runway , it has reduced drastically the rate of their turn over by about 70 per cent.

“Before the closure, the business of car hire was a booming one. No dull moment with passengers .As soon as passengers hit the ground, they found their ways to the car hire stand.

To the best of my knowledge as an insider, our patronage reduced between 60 to 70 per cent,” he said. On April 17, 2017, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc completed the emergency rehabilitation of the existing runway and main taxiways at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport.

The rehabilitation work was completed two days ahead of schedule, beating the six-week project . The completed runway was handed over to the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria on April 18, 2017, with airport operations resuming shortly thereafter.

Inside Abuja gathered that to realize the program of works within the highly challenging time frame, Julius Berger pooled its resources, mobilizing equipment, highly skilled specialist and technical teams from across its operational hubs in Nigeria to achieve a record breaking pace of work.

A team of 400 persons was deployed to the site and worked round the clock at various stages to complete the milling of 175,000m2 of asphalt and subsequent re-laying of 56,200 tons of new asphalt, at a speed of 4,600 tons per day at peak performance, as well as the installation of 82,300m2 of special fiber glass grid for asphalt reinforcement and the renewal of the runway lighting and markings.

Head of Media Relations Office, Julius Berger, Mr Moses Duku, said that while the construction itself was intensive, project challenges began long before the first machines started their engines.

According to Duku, the project was delivered within the time frame due to the fact that the construction firm did thorough design studies, seamless planning, scheduling and logistical coordination which were all essential for a project of that magnitude.

“Our global resource network ensured fasttrack procurement and shipping of 160 tons of project related materials via a fully chartered Boing 747 cargo plane as well as 4 additional cargo flights, which together, with the sourcing of materials domestically , ensured prompt delivery of required materials to site, making what many thought was impossible, possible,” he said.

Duku noted that the project was completed in record time due to what he described as the company’s robust planning capacities, expansive equipment fleet, leading technical knowhow, proactive problem solving and highly skilled staff.

Duku commended the Federal Ministry of Transport , the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria and the Special Project Implementation Committee of the Federal Government, headed by the Vice President , Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, for their support in making the project a success. Today, the Abuja Airport has bounced back to life and several ancillary businesses around the airport, which were shut down when flights were diverted to the Kaduna Airport are gradually resuming operations.

But while the airport was undergoing rehabilitation, Sirika promised that under his watch, not only would the runway be rebuilt, provisions would be made at the arrival and departure lounges to adequately cater for the disabled, the elderly and sick people. Before now, these classes of people were inadvertently excluded from the plan of the airport.

These people had difficulties accessing certain areas of the airport whenever they had cause to either take a flight or do any other businesses at the airport.

The minister said that the need to cater for such category of passengers had become increasingly necessary as the airport was expected to accommodate no fewer than 4, 000 international passengers, after the repair works.

According to the minister, the Federal Ministry of Aviation would seize the opportunity provided by the rehabilitation to build a lounge at the airport, where this class of people can relax themselves, while waiting to catch a flight or transact any legitimate business, like any other person who is not physically challenged or rendered for by age and failing health conditions.

The declaration may have been informed by the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and has shown commitment to the convention by creating awareness and observing the International Day of persons with Disabilities every year.

This is a remarkable departure from the past where people with disability, old-age and ailments were treated with disdain by the operators e airports.

Now that the airport has been re- opened, Nigerians will be looking forward to the fulfillment of the promise. In the coming days, one will be looking forward to see the physically challenged persons feeling a sense of belonging as they get treated with love, care and compassion.

It will usher in a change and bring Nigeria at the same level with the developed world in the way and manner such individuals are treated at the airport. During a recent tour of the newly rehabilitated airport, Inside Abuja spoke to some stakeholders to feel their pulse on the issue.

Mr. Andrew Emi Omaterene, a Lagos-based businessman, commenting on the promise of the aviation minister, said if the promise can be kept and the lounge built, it would be the greatest and the best thing that will happen to the elderly, the sick and disabled passengers at the airport.

“By so doing, the ministry is setting a standard and template for authorities in other areas of transportation, such as road, rail and marine to emulate. Nigerian highways and roads, for instance, do not have special lanes created for the disabled, the sick and the elderly, even as there are provisions for pedestrian lanes in some towns and cities of the country,” he said.

Also reacting to this development, Bisola Alice Opeyemi, a banker, was a bit cynical about the promise.

“One can hardly take serious whatever the government has promised to do for the people in this part of the world until it is actually seen to be done. I am yet to see any sign of a lounge for the disabled and the other ones mentioned.

Well, let’s keep our fingers crossed,” she said. Principal Consultant, Direct Travels Plus, Engr. Isaac Adebayo, seems not to have seen anything special and new in the proposed plan to build a lounge dedicated to the physically challenged and the likes at the airport.

He commended the government for having such a plan, but observed that it was already being done in most countries. According to him, such gesture should be replicated in all the airports across the country.

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“As a matter of fact, it’s not a new innovation. It has been existing in other countries of the world, whereby as you are making your flight reservation, you make provision for the elderly or the disabled from one terminal to the other terminal on wheel chair,” Adebayo said


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