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Six months after inauguration, Ebonyi airport’s N13.7bn repairs raise questions

Local airlines have boycotted the newly inaugurated Ebonyi airport due to its defective runway. This is just as criticism has begun to surround Governor Francis Nwifuru of Ebonyi State’s plan to repair the airport with N13.7bn, barely six months after his predecessor, David Umahi, inaugurated the facility which he said cost N36bn, EDWARD NNACHI writes

On Thursday, April 26, 2023, the Ebonyi airport was launched with two inaugural flights of Air Peace aircraft touching down on the runway of the airport.

The ceremony was attended by top federal and state government officials as well as dignitaries across the country.

The same day, the then governor of the state, David Umahi, named the airport after the then President Muhammadu Buhari, but later changed to Chuba Okadigbo International Airport.

The then-governor assured citizens and residents of the state the project would deliver goods and increase the fortunes of the state. The airport has however remained a subject of discourse among both economic and non-economic experts.

Sadly, a few months after the inauguration, news started making the rounds that the Ebonyi airport runaway had developed problems.

As such, airlines boycotted landing at the new airport. Unfortunately, the airport which is barely seven months old has yet to yield any revenue into the coffers of the state government which needs revenue to pursue its growth and development agenda.

The development has elicited criticisms and other stakeholders.

Following the challenges with the runway which was reportedly constructed using concrete technology, the Federal Ministry of Aviation recommended the use of asphalt to overlay the runway to fix the defects, according to the new Ebonyi governor.

Nwifuru said the ministry’s recommendation followed futile engineering attempts by the state government to tackle the construction defects of the concrete runway.

However, the plan to spend an additional N13.7bn has elicited criticisms from several citizens and stakeholders. The new cost is expected to raise the total cost of the project to about N49.6bn.

They said spending such an amount would have been unnecessary if the former governor had carried out due diligence and used the right technology.

The new governor, who recently admitted the construction defect challenges with the runway, also said some concerned Nigerians had called him over the problem.

He said, “A governor called me and we discussed at length on the approval of N13.75b for the airport that is deemed to have been completed and handed over. The question that the governor asked me is the question every reasonable Ebonyi man is asking. The truth is that the mindset of those that started the airport is germane; but did we get it right? In the area of runway, we didn’t get it right because the runway is jumping and it is destroying aircraft tyres. Initially, we thought the problem was caused by the expansion joints.

That’s what we believed initially and we said, okay, let us close all the expansion joints and know why it is jumping but it is still jumping and it has spoiled a lot of aircraft and that is why many airlines have refused to land there. And for us to get it right, we approached the Federal Ministry of Aviation and asked them what we can do. They told us that we need to do certification, put thyroids and start laying asphalt. I said wow, we are into trouble. When you look at the amount that was sunk into that airport, it is not something you get up and say you want to abandon.”

The governor said the state governor had spent billions on the airport and could not afford to abandon despite the construction defects.

Nwifuru said, “The former administration sunk N42bn into that edifice. It is one of the best, biggest and largest airports in the country. I said how to make a mark is doing something very difficult or challenging. We have been confronted with a lot of challenge on this matter and we must do something and get it right because our people’s money has been spent on the project and we must get the project right by putting what is right and what everybody wants. This is why we engaged so many contractors including CCECC, Julius Berger and so others to give us their quotations.

“Some gave N14bn, some gave N15bn, some gave N11bn and N10bn depending on what they do. But we looked at their schedules and the needs of the Ministry of Aviation. We didn’t just venture into the rehabilitation of the airport just to spend money but to make use of the value of our money that has been spent on that project.”

Following the approval of the project, the state government appears to have concluded to correct the runway construction defect with the use of asphalt.

The Commissioner for Aviation and Technology in Ebonyi State, Mrs Ngozi Obichukwu, said the state government was determined to fix the airport runway with the sum of N13.7bn.

She said, “The installation of the asphalt plant is ongoing.  The contractor has started casting the asphalt plant base before installation of the components. N13.7bn is involved.  From my site seeing, I confirm some of their construction equipment that are on ground such as excavator, bulldozer, pay-loader, crane, water tanker, truck, bituminous tank and paver machine.  More machines are still on the way coming such as, vibration roller,  milling machine, grader and others.’’

However, stakeholders who criticised the state government over the plan to spend additional N13.7bn on the project, described it as a waste of taxpayers’ funds.

Some of the stakeholders accused the former governor, who built the airport, of failing to carrying due diligence before embarking on the project including the decision to use concrete technology

A former Commissioner for Information in the state, Chief Abia Onyike, called for Umahi’s probe for embarking on most projects without due process and approvals by relevant authorities.

He wondered why over N13bn was being planned for the repairs of a runway of an airport he inaugurated few months ago.

He said, “Former Governor Umahi’s airport project in Ebonyi was not embarked upon by him for the genuine development of the state. It was one of his white elephant projects for looting the treasury of the state. It has already been proven by facts available on the ground.

“Umahi claimed to have spent N36bn in the construction of the airport but not up to two months after the airport was commissioned, a major engineering fault had been discovered. The tarmac of the airport has been found to be very terribly defective. That is the way anything constructed by Umahi always ends up to be. All the bridges and flyovers he constructed using concrete technology have developed faults here and there. But he has already achieved the aim for embarking on the projects, which was for self aggrandisement.

“Umahi should be probed because Ebonyi State must recover her monies and properties looted by the former governor. The EFCC should expedite action on all the allegations of financially impropriety and monumental corruption which it was already investigating involving Umahi. And there are many of them under investigation. The man should not be allowed to go free.”

During a visit to the airport by our correspondent last week, it was observed that the runway had some construction defects.

Patched surfaces with concrete technology could be seen in some sections of the runway.

Meanwhile, a public affairs analyst, Ikenna Emewu, called on the state government to always carry out due diligence on its projects.

He said, “It’s wasteful and it’s a huge dilemma. Since the airport is not yet completed, it’s a waste. Putting money into complete it is another waste, just as watching it in this state to decay will remain yet a huge waste. Ebonyi is trapped in the dilemma and vicious cycle of waste on that unneeded project.”

Also, an opposition element and All Progressives Grand Alliance senatorial candidate for Ebonyi South Zone, Ifeanyi Eleje, described the airport as a monumental waste, while berating the additional cost the earlier wrong decisions had caused.

Eleje said, “No. It is not of any benefit to the people. It is an elephant project, ill-conceived and dubiously executed.

“With its dismal Human Development Index, the state has no rationale to waste such humongous amount of money on an unviable misadventure.

“It is the height of perfidy. On completion and certification of any airport in the country, the ownership passes to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria. So when you talk about repairs, it pre-supposes the airport is functional and needs maintenance. This should be under the purview of the owner-FAAN.”

The Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state, Chika Nwoba, observed, “The airport project is as good as a relic of an aviation dream. Nothing is going on there. Nothing promises to go on as the incumbent government has mapped out billions of naira to renovate a facility that has not been put to use. The airport project to a meaningful extent is a dream lost and it’s a pity it’s so.

“I was one of the frontline supporters of the airport project, but today, I’m not sure I still hold that view. Why? The APC-led government of Ebonyi State has deviated from the primordial aim of the establishment of the airport. The government has made it a cash cow of sort and has rendered the envisaged fecundity of the project null and void.”

He alleged the announced N13.7bn meant for the repairs of the dilapidated runway was a move to cheat the Ebonyi people of their legitimate funds.

He added, “Budgeting such a huge sum of money to renovate a project they boasted completing before his ascendancy to power as governor is just a continuation of the financial heist.”

Several calls made to the APC Chairman in the state, Stanley Okoro-Emegha, were not answered or returned as of the time of filing this report.

Also, when contacted, the Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Engr Jude Okpor, said he would not comment on the matter.

In a WhatsApp message to our correspondent, he said, “I align myself with His Excellency’s response on this issue during the media chat and hereby adopt same as my reply.”

However, some critics described Umahi’s successor’s attempt to use asphalt to overlay the defective concrete tarmac/runway as attempt to allegedly conceal the shortcomings of concrete technology.

Umahi had faced several criticism from stakeholders including from federal highway contractors over his decision to dump asphalt for concrete technology.

SourcePUNCH

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