Concerns over suspension of work at Akanu Ibiam Airport
Concerns have continued to trail Federal Government’s order suspending ongoing reconstruction at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, over ravaging COVID-19, as apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said the pandemic should not be used as an excuse to further delay work at the airport.
This is coming on the heels of allegation that the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has not completed any project in the zone, since it came to power in 2015, and that there are fears that the airport, which was shut in August last year for repairs, may toe the same line.
When it closed the airport for repairs, government had initially proposed a December 2019 date for its rehabilitation and reopening. However, the date was shifted to Easter this year, in a bid to engage in holistic reconstruction.
However, Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, recently announced that the date was no longer feasible, as government had been forced to suspend work at the airport, due to workers, who downed tools on account of Coronavirus pandemic.
He explained that about 90 percent of work needed to reopen the airport by Easter, as promised, had been achieved, and if the workers had worked for seven more days, the project would have been completed.
He, however, promised that work would continue, as soon as the pandemic subsides, and pleaded with the people of the zone to bear with Federal Government, as the COVID-19 pandemic had altered governments’ projects globally.
Reacting to the development, yesterday, Ohanaeze Ndigbo said though it was aware that the pandemic had affected many governments’ plans and projects, it should not be used an excuse to delay the airport project.
Deputy National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Chuks Ibegbu said: “COVID-19 is affecting everything, but once it subsides, they should start work. We hope the pandemic will not be used as excuse to delay work on the airport further. Ndigbo cannot accept that excuse.”
Also, Emeritus President General, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, dismissed as “hollow,” the excuse of the lockdown for not getting the airport ready by Easter.
He said: “The closure of this airport nearly one year ago and lacklustre approach to its reconstruction will always stand against the Federal government. Initially, the Federal government, through the Minister of Aviation, tried very hard to put the blame for all the problems on Enugu State government.
“The Federal Government renovated the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport within six weeks. The Federal Government, through the aviation spokesmen, assured us of a similar feat. The deadline shifted from August to December and finally to Easter. The lockdown is only three days old and nine days to Easter. For this excuse to be acceptable, the Minister must show that 99 percent of the renovation has been completed and that test running of the airport is what is left…”
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) said the Federal Government was sustaining the ‘apartheid policy’ of exclusion of the Southeast from enjoying strategic national assets by suspending renovation works at the Airport.
HURIWA dismissed as infantile, the Aviation Minister’s explanation for suspension of work, given that the work that commenced months ago has a timeline of April. It added that the Minister’s attitude since the airport was closed was a clear indication that it might not be reopened soon.
HURIWA, in a statement signed by its Executive Director, Emmanuel Onwubiko and made available to The Guardian, added: “This is a political prank taken too far. The Minister should tell the workers to return to site and safely deliver the project, observing social distancing and deploying the services of technology and protection gears to deliver the contract they ought to have delivered today being April. Is Sirika unaware that cleaners and other essential service providers are at work now? Is the minister not working, and we are aware that his office operates virtually 24/7, as there are emergency flights that are still being allowed to operate with special permission?…”
Meanwhile, Chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum (SEGF), All Airport Rehabilitation/Palliative Works Committee, Chris Okoye, said the only work suspended was the runway civil works, being handled by PW contractors, which suspended work for 14 days, due to the rising Coronavirus pandemic.
He said all other works, such as perimeter fencing, among others, were continuing at the site.
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