April 5, 2010

N64bn runway project: Why National Assembly members are angry

Kenneth Ehigiator
More facts emerged last weekend about the reason members of the National Assembly (NASS) felt so strongly about the N64 billion contract for construction of a second runway for Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Vanguard gathered that beyond the cost of the project, the lawmakers were actually incensed by refusal of former Aviation Minister, Mr. Babatunde Omotoba, to clarify all the technical details about the project.

Sources told Vanguard that the ex-minister was invited five times, but refused to turn up because his favoured contractor lost out in the bid for the contract, which President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is said to have initiated himself.
Intrigues around the project, it was learnt, started after the president had met with some of his aides, including the former aviation minister, and representatives of the four construction firms that indicated interest to construct the runway.

The contractors who got letters of invitation from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to bid for the job include Julius Berger Nigeria Plc; RCC Nigeria Limited; PW Nigeria Limited and Dantata & Sawoe.  However, RCC and Dantata &Sawoe reportedly opted out as they lacked the core competence to build the kind of runway the president envisaged for the airport.

Presidency sources told Vanguard wanted a futuristic runway for the airport, especially in view of dynamic changes in aviation, which had given rise to such massive aircraft as the jumbo Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-400ER planes with maximum take off weight (MTOW) of 569,000kg and 413,000kg respectively, and the growing expansion of the Federal Capital Territory that would continue tio play host to world leaders, some of whom have in their fleet jumbo jets.
He was also said to have made reference to new Katsina Airport which he built during his days as governor of the state.  Yar’Adua was said to have brought back to site severally the contractor that built the 4 kilometre runway airport until they got his exact specification.

It was learnt that with the withdrawal of RCC as well as Dantata and Sawoe, Julius Berger and PW were asked to submit their bids for the 4,445 meters (4.5 kilometer) runway, which was designed to come with 5,600 meters (5.6 kilometer) taxiway; 3,600 meters (3.6 kilometers) service roads and 14,500 meters (14.500 kilometers) perimeter wall and Cat 111 airfield lighting.

The runway also had synthetic designs, which is sharply different from the ordinary runways at other airports in the country.  Because FAAN lacked the capacity to provide the bill of quantities for the project, an international consultancy firm, Ove Arup, was said to have been engaged with the assistance of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to provide all the technical drawings and designs.

The consultants provided the bill of quantities which, Vanguard learnt, was later subjected to scrutiny by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).

Eventually, Julius Berger and PW constructing firms, through FAAN, submitted bids for the project.  While Julius Berger submitted a bid of N83,525,144,449:05 (N83.525 billion), PW put in a bid of N30,205,054,312:60, including value added tax.
But the president was said not to be comfortable with PW’s bid, as the company did not quite get what he actually envisioned as a futuristic runway for the airport that would not need any reworks or replacement for decades to come.  He was said to have fell for Julius Berger’s designs, but asked the company to tone down their bid.  Consequently, Julius Berger reportedly submitted another bid and scaled down the cost to N72,754,601,138:02 (N72.754 billion), including VAT.

This was again said not to have gone down well with the president who asked the company to still scale down the cost without losing the original design.  For the third time, Julius Berger reportedly reduced the cost to N70.1 billion, which was again reject by President Yar’Adua.

The company subsequently tone down the cost of the project to N63.6 billion with a vow not to go down further so as not to alter the original design desired by the president.

While National Assembly members considered the project cost too astronomical, the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) insists that due process was followed in arriving at that figure.  Spokesman of the agency, Dr. Abiodun Adeniyi, who doubles as World Bank consultant on the project, said the contract passed through all the procedures for contract award in the country, describing the project as a futuristic one for Nigeria.
He said:   “I can assure you from the due process perspective that the Abuja airport runway contract went through painstaking vetting, it was painstakingly vetted.   The initial tender submission was over eighty something billion but was scaled down to sixty four billion, we did it after checking, the checking most times are not only local but we externalise it, and we make sure we relate with the best hands in the field in line with international best practice.   We never compromised in this process, I am a Nigerian too.”

“It will be very painful that when you are suffering, when you cannot afford the basic needs of life, some people are out there wanting to stash away billions of Naira.  If you imagine that, most of the times we exaggerate these things, we know that the system is not water tight, we know that corruption is everywhere, without giving any excuse for anybody, it is global.  Nigerian government is tackling the malaise.

“If you look at the company involved, Julius Berger, an international company, that does not get involved in bribery, the company is above board. The question of cash being given is out of existence.  Mobilisation has not been given, but there is absolute commitment on the part of government to see the project through.
“There is absolute transparency because it has been in the card for a long time.  Then, there is petty politics that is beclouding our sense of objectivity . It is very unfortunate.  It is a futuristic planning project for our government, we have gazed into the future.

“The planning for aviation projects is for long time, that is the way to be ahead of the world,” he said.
Julius Berger was to have been mobilised last month for the project estimated to be completed in 2013, but for the controversies hovering round it.

Using Frankfurt Main airport in Germany which major earthworks covered 2,100,000m3, the proposed Abuja airport runway is thrice of that, covering 6,300,000m3.

In another vein, while the total paved area of Frankfurt airport is 440,000m2, the proposed one for Abuja airport is 680,000m2.  The president was said to have contended that Nigeria needed to take her pride of place in global aviation development, recalling a situation last year where on the official visit of U.S. Secretary of State, Senator Hillary Clinton, the aircraft that brought her to Lagos had to be parked in Accra, Ghana, because of inadequate facilities, and was brought in the following morning to fly her out of the country.

Reference was also said to have been made to the ongoing expansion of airport road to six lanes de-congest traffic on the road, which ought to have been done long before now in line with Abuja masterplan.
It was learnt that members of the National Assembly, who appeared stunned by the staggering figure, needed the minister to explain how the cost of building a runway could be as high as N63.6 billion, since they had no knowledge of the difference ordinary runway and the proposed runway, which would be synthetic in nature.

“It was learnt that members of the House of Representatives, having sought experts’ explanation, in the wake of the cabinet dissolution that led to the sack of ministers, decided to soft-pedal on the issue of cost.  Airports with a similar runway across the world include Harare International Airport in Zimbabwe (4,725m); OR Tambo International Airport, South Africa (4,418m); Ndjili Airport, Democratic Republic of Congo (4,700m); Windhoek Hosea Kutako Airport, Namibia (4,673m) and Doha International Airport, Qatar (4,572m).  Others are John F. Kennedy Airport, United States (4,442m); Denver International Airport, U.S.A. (4,877m); Munich Airport, Germany (4,000m); Paris-Charles de Gaulle, France (4,215m) and Frankfurt main Airport, Germany (4,000m).