N7.5bn hill demolition …Delta Airport not ready for Jonathan
Demolition of a hill to allow President Jonathan’s aircraft to land at the Asaba airport may not be completed by tomorrow as planned by the Delta State Government, despite voting N7.4 billion for the project, Daily Trust’s investigations show.
Jonathan is expected to be in Asaba tomorrow for the conference of South-south states, but his plane would not be able to land in the state capital until the hill is pulled down because it obstructs air traffic, according to commissioner of economic planning Ken Opara.
Two weeks ago, Opara announced after the state executive council meeting that N7.4 billion had been budgeted for the demolition of the hill so as to allow the president’s plane to land.
But a Daily Trust reporter who visited the project site quotes officials as saying that it was unlikely for the demolition to be completed by tomorrow.
The officials, who pleaded for anonymity because they had no permission to talk to journalists, also told the reporter that what the government referred to as a hill was just a pile of sand.
They said the excavation of the pile of sand may take months to be completed, and that the airport cannot accommodate large aircraft even after the excavation until the runway is expanded.
“The airport area naturally has heaps of sand. When the airport was being constructed in 2007, it was the same type of heap of sand that was excavated before the runway was constructed,” one official told Daily Trust on Friday.
“Now that the state government is planning to expand the runway of the airport, the heap from the end of the runway has to be further excavated. That cannot be done in the next 5 days before the expected arrival of Mr. President. Even after the excavation of the sand, the runway must be expanded to accommodate the Presidential jet,” the official said.
A pilot with one of the two airlines operating at the airport, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “Only smaller aircraft operate at this airport. There is no hill around the airport flying zone. If you know the number of teams of experts that carry out feasibility studies to determine where an airport will be sited, you should know that no airport can be sited close to a hill that will be obstructing flights.”
He added: “I think they are only trying to tell you about that heap of sand that need to be demolished before the runway could be expanded to accommodate bigger flights. Except for emergency landing which is usually a costly alternative to crash landing, no bigger flight will contemplate landing at Asaba airport as it is today. This is a daylight operating airport that no flight can land in the night because it does not have landing lights and other landing facilities needed for night landing.”
Some people in Delta State questioned the government’s wisdom of spending billions on the excavation.
A former special assistant to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, Chief David Omoru, said the project had been guzzling too much public funds.
“From the outset, that airport has been a problem in terms of funding…. It started with N12 billion to N17 billion to N24 billion. As I am talking to you now, over N40 billion has gone into that airport,” he said.
“Now the issues that are there is that the viability of the airport is still under contention…. Talking about whether there are rocks or hills around the airport requires a lot of experts to determine. Flights have been coming and going out of the airport but the issue of hills disturbing flight did not come up until at a time the President is coming, that means the project is meant to satisfy the president.
“We are talking about N7.4 billion even when there are countries in the West African sub-region like Gambia, Sierra-Leone and Liberia that the GNP (Gross National Product) in a year within that range they are talking about. So, why should a state government earmark N7.4 billion to demolish a hill? Which hill and what is in that hill? You said you were at the airport, did you see any hill? I think that amount is outrageous.”
On April 10, economic planning commissioner Ken Opara told journalists at the Government House in Asaba that N7.4 billion would be used to demolish a hill obstructing large flights. “The hill needs to be destroyed within the next ten days since we are expecting president Goodluck Jonathan in the state for the South-South Economic Summit, we want him to land in Asaba rather than going to Benin,” he had said.
Efforts to speak on the issue with the Delta State commissioner of information, Mr. Chike Ogeah, over a period of five days were not successful. On arrival in the state on April 15, this reporter called the commissioner on the phone and asked for his official reaction but the commissioner promised to invite him to his office the following day.
The commissioner did not invite the reporter as promised, and so this reporter sent a text message to him on April 16. The text said, “Good evening, sir. We spoke on phone yesterday. I came to the state since yesterday to do reports on the N7.4 billion hill demolition project at Asaba airport and the security situation in the Delta especially the issue of kidnapping. I spoke to stakeholders and was in your office thrice today to address some of the allegations on government but could not reach you. How can I reach you before I return by noon tomorrow, sir? Shehu Abubakar, Daily Trust, Abuja.”
The commissioner replied same day by 7.49pm thus: “My brother, I am in Uyo (Akwa Ibom state) on assignment with the governors (of) South-South, back in Asaba by Wednesday…. We need to talk. I will give you all the facts you require in all your work.”
By Tuesday, April 17 at 5.24pm, this reporter again sent the following text message to the commissioner: “Good afternoon, sir. I sought and got two days extension of my stay in Asaba to be able to have the interview with you tomorrow. Wishing you safe trip, sir. Shehu Abubakar, Daily Trust.” The commissioner replied same day at 6.50pm thus, “I will be in Asaba on Thursday by God’s grace.”
On Thursday, April 19, the reporter waited all day long for the commissioner in his office but could not see him. He then sent another text message to him at 7.59pm, saying: “Good evening, sir. I do not know if I should call you tonight on phone by 9pm and have the interview with you on phone since it is not going to be a long one. Shehu Abubakar, Daily Trust.”
The commissioner replied at 8.18pm the same day, thus: “We will have a live interview tomorrow afternoon. I am actually at a meeting.” But on Friday, April 20 at 2.16pm, the reporter sent a text again to the commissioner thus, “Good afternoon, sir. Grateful, let me know when and where to meet you for the interview. Thanks. Shehu Abubakar, Daily Trust.” The commissioner replied at 2.34pm thus, “My office, 5pm.”
Four minutes later, the reporter replied the commissioner: “Thanks, will be there, sir.” When the reporter visited the Delta state ministry of information where the commissioner’s office is located, 29 minutes before the time fixed by the commissioner for the interview, the staff in the commissioner’s office told the reporter that it was time for them to close for the day as there was no instruction from the commissioner that they should remain in the office beyond that time.
At 4.31pm that Friday, the reporter sent a text to the commissioner saying: “Good afternoon, sir. I am waiting in the SA’s office (Special Assistant to the Governor on Media) as your office is closed. Thank you, sir. Shehu Abubakar, Daily Trust.”
But the commissioner neither showed up for the interview nor did he reply to the text till dat