Nosa Akenzua, Asaba
• Okowa’s N5bn loan bid causes disquiet
• Probe N30bn wasted on rehabilitation, rights groups demand
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has downgraded the Asaba airport over poor facilities that it said could raise safety concerns. By this action, the airport can no longer undertake major flights even as there have been controversies over huge sums of money so far sunk into facility upgrade at the airport.
The news is coming on the heels of a fresh decision by the administration of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to borrow a whopping N5bn, as rehabilitation fund, to continue work on the controversial airport project. Only recently, angry youths in Asaba and its environs threatened unrest should the government procure any loan to be spent on the airport.
The youths argued that over N30bn, dating from the tenure of Governor James Ibori through that of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, had been sunk into the project, without any tangible result.
The angry youths, under the aegis of Concerned Asaba Youths, in a statement by the Chairman, Comrade Emeka Okonta, and Secretary, Comrade Jude Iwoha, threatened to disrupt activities at the rehabilitation site of the airport if the state government could not account for the total money spent on the projects since 1999 to date.
The NCAA, not too long ago, downgraded the Asaba Airport from the status of an airport to, virtually, an aerodrome. This downgrade came after nearly four years of commercial flight operations at the airport with no discernible signs of physical improvement, to meet the NCAA’s standards for all airports in the country.
The NCAA recently embarked on an assessment tour of the Asaba airport during which it reportedly stumbled on jaw-dropping discoveries. In a letter sequel to the tour, the NCAA raised a number of safety concerns.
In the first place, it lamented that the airport suffered runway undulations, a condition that could make a plane crash-land, sommersault during land speeding or overshoot the runway. Again, the NCAA complained that the airport lacked the required number of strips, and that it had neither perimeter fencing nor drainage.
To worsen its case, the regulatory body stated that the Asaba airport’s authorities had, over the years, denied its technical personnel, access to necessary trainings.
It was reliably gathered that officials of the NCAA, during their visit, directed that a comprehensive rehabilitation of the existing runway and taxiways be undertaken, and that a perimeter fence be put in place.
IMPLICATIONS OF DOWNGRADE
Sources said that with the downgrade, only Dash 8-Q 400 planes or their equivalent would continue to operate at the Airport, until all pending issues were resolved. Before the NCAA’s hammer, Boeing 737 planes had been deployed to the route.
Following the downgrade saga, however, the Delta State Government said it had responded by setting machineries in motion for the implementation of all NCAA’s directives.
Investigations revealed that since the airport was downgraded, there had been series of meetings between a Ministerial Task Force on Safety Gap Analysis Review and Audit of Asaba Airport, and ULO, the airport’s main contractors, as a pre-qualification for the latter’s return to site.
This became so since the company had all the while been involved in construction projects at the airport. It was learnt that the challenges faced by the airport had been enormous; especially when the Ministerial Task Force raised the alarm that it was unsafe for big aircraft.
The task force also poked into all touted safety gaps at the airport, apparently to ensure proper rehabilitation of the defects spotted in them.
THE N5BN LOAN
This situation, it was further gathered, informed an approval by the state’s House of Assembly, of a N5billion loan quest by Governor Okowa, to enable government to mobilise contractors working on the airport, back to site. The loan is being guaranteed by the state government.
Inside sources in the state’s administration told The Point that Governor Okowa, having observed that the immediate past administration of Uduaghan awarded some rehabilitation contracts at the airport, especially the runway and taxiways, chose to make his own input through the controversial loan bid.
DELTA YOUTH KICK
Rights activists in the state, especially those from the ranks of the youth, are not impressed with what they describe as the continued milking of the state’s dwindling resources, “to line private pockets.” One of such groups, Delta for Progress, in a statement, averred that funds so far sunk into the Asaba airport since the Ibori days exceeded N30 billion. “Yet, there is no progress there.”
The group’s leader, Comrade Marson Akpors, alleged that successive administrations had wasted a whopping N30billion on the Asaba airport. He called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to urgently wade in by investigating several awards of contracts at the ailing airport.
“We demand proper auditing of funds so far wasted on the airport since 1999 to date as successive administrations had looted the state and presented the post-mortem of a state once known to be oil rich but is now totally broke,” Akpors said.
‘GOVERNMENT IS TRANSPARENT’
In a swift reaction, the Secretary to the Governor on Press Print Media, Mr. Victor Efe, dismissed insinuations of a shady deal in the Governor’s plan to procure a loan to rehabilitate the airport. He said what was paramount to government was the need for transparency and result. “Having cleared all logistic challenges for the contractors, it is imperative that every state of the rehabilitation be monitored and certified by competent authorities. And that is what government has achieved,” he noted.