By Kenneth Ehigiator
The construction of the proposed second runway for Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, has generated so much controversy, considering the cost which is put at N64 billion.
The House of Representatives has even begun an investigation into the project meant to built between now and 2013.Â While the House of Representatives is on the project, the Senate has also started its own probe into the project cost to ensure Nigeria was not fleeced.Â But Head of Communications of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), the agency which screened the project cost, Dr. Abiodun Adeniyi, is appalled by the groundswell of criticism against the project.
Can we meet you?
Well it is only natural for me to introduce myself and the office I represent as if affects the award of the contract. I am Dr Abiodun Adeniyi, the Communications Consultant for the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).Â Â I also double as the spokesperson of the agency in the Presidency. I am serving in this capacity under the aegis of the World Bank Economic Reform and Governance project.
What is your reaction to the avalanche of criticism and controversies that trailed the award of the second Abuja Airport runway being handled by construction giant Julius Berger Limited?
Simply put, I speak for the agency, and I intervene for the bureau when it comes to issues like this.Â Â I can say that I am in a good position to speak on this issue because the Abuja Airport runway contract went through due process, and that due process certification is based on technical issues, and we have more than enough experts in the bureau that certifies any contract to get them done and that the contracts have value for money , and that the processes for deciding on which company that should handle any contract is transparent, and the essence of the Bureau for Public Procurement is to ensure transparency, value for money, competence, and to democratise the public contracting systemÂ and, of course, we are always told before the bureau came into existence, before due process came that contracting process in this country was largely based on nepotism, people cannot get contract if they are not connected , but due process came in and democratise the process.
The law was a statutory document that institutionalised due process itself as a process of bidding itself, it is a stepping stone towards good governance, towards probity, to ensure that infrastructure, which is the bane of Nigeriaâ€™s development, is properly provided for Nigerian people and it was on the basis of that influenced the decision of the bureau to be painstaking in the vetting of the second runway contract for Abuja Airport.
What is your reaction to the allegation that it is bogus, a deal or something phony?
We are in a democracy, and democracy is about questioning, and especially about providing answers.Â We have a trinity _ the executive, legislative and judicial arm of government. And all these arms are independent; they can raise questions whenever they deem it necessary that is what we are going through.
If this arm does not raise questions as an institution, even the people who seek participation in a democratic process are always free at any time to raise questions and they are always justified whenever they raise questions.
There is nothing extraordinary happening on the queries raised concerning the Abuja airport runway.
Again, we have our own limitations as a system, which are perceptions right or wrong.Â We have the wrong perception that we exist in a corrupt society, a system that is always less than transparent, when people hear figures, they scream, they think something funny must have gone wrong, such belief will always come to reinforce our existing perceptions that our leaders are corrupt, our system is corrupt, the second runway project is a victim of such perception.
When you look deep, if you look at the technical implications, the processes that led to the award of the contract, was nothing less than salutary. Yet, people are making comparison about airport projects done in other places and being far less, compared to the amount for which the Abuja airport project is constructed for.
In this case, we are looking at a runway of the best quality, world class standard, that can take planes in the eight hundred series, consider it a runway for Nigeriaâ€™s federal capital, Africaâ€™s most populous country, the most prominent black country on earth, and we cannot make do with only one runway, and building another one has to be much more sophisticated, much more qualitative than the existing one, which is more than twenty years old.Â Â Taking emotions and sentiments apart, you will realise that the processes that led to the award of the contract was transparent, nothing phony happened.Â Nothing phony went underneath.
What was the role of the agencies involved in the contract?
We exist in a political environment, and the human being is inately political, all kinds of political undertone influenced our decisions, the way we react, we also have that within this matrix as well.Â Â We are talking about government agencies, civil servants by law, are not supposed to be heard.Â That might have been their limitations, but if they are asked to talk, they have explanations to give and, of course, they have arms in their departments that can clear the air.
What is your advice on the controversy?
The problem as I said earlier is borne out of perception, we would always want to sympathise with members of the public because governmentâ€™s sin in the past has failed them. There have been all kinds of failures in the past and it is very difficult to convince the ordinary Nigerian out there that government is sincere on a project where you are talking about billions of Naira.
What is important is faith, a renewed faith, that there are institutions that should hold government responsible for checking and balancing processes.
I can assure you from the due process perspective, 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.Â Â 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 out there want to stash away billions of Naira.Â Â 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.Â 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 gaze into the future. The planning for aviation projects is for long time that is the way to be ahead of the world.
Like Britain and America, nothing should stop Nigeria from aping and idealising these best practices in infrastructural development.Â There is no reason we should lagging behind, and I want to believe that steps are being taken, the second Abuja runway is designed to take care of the future for aviation in Nigeria.