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Long, hellish trek to flight at Abuja international airport

What particularly constitutes an eye sore when one visits this vital airport these days is the endless stream of cars caught up in nerve racking…

What particularly constitutes an eye sore when one visits this vital airport these days is the endless stream of cars caught up in nerve racking traffic. It is a regular sight. Right from the entrance to the airport where spirited checks are made on incoming vehicles even to the link road snaking into the international wing of the airport, cars of various sorts battle to make their way into the premises with one mission or the other in the minds of the occupants. These days however the traffic snarl is more vigorous at the international wing of the airport. The road leading to the domestic wing is more or less deserted with only a few cars rolling into its car park and a few other people strolling into the various shops and eateries at the local wing.

The seeming isolation at the local wing which used to be beehive of commercial activities can be linked to the massive rehabilitation works going on at the wing. The work which commenced in October last year is yet to be completed. This has consequently put intense pressure on the Terminals A and B of the International wing which now plays host to thousands of passengers, tourists, airport workers, transport agencies and other ad hoc staff including the ever present airport touts and cab drivers.

The congestion the repairs have caused on activities is further compounded by other reconstruction works, albeit on a lower scale, going on simultaneously on the two other terminals. The management of the airport also says that similar renovations and upgrade of facilities are going on at the access roads leading into the airport, the various car parks and even the runways. This it adds is meant to give the airport a facelift and equally upgrade it to meet internationally accepted standards. The pressure the reconstruction is asserting on passengers vis-a-vis vehicular movement, access to the terminals and flight processing, however, is leaving not a few regular users of the airport disenchanted with many calling on the relevant authorities to hasten the pace of work going on at the various sites of renovation.

An airport staff who spoke on condition of anonymity noted that the pace of work is giving not only the patrons of the airport sleepless nights, many of the staff are equally displeased with the unpleasant consequences of the rehabilitation.

‘You can see for yourself that the work is far from being completed. Many of us (staff) believe that this work could have been completed much earlier if the contractor handling the project has been given a deadline and adequately monitored to ensure that the repair works are carried out and completed on schedule. The most pressing need now as a result of the slow pace of work is the decongestion of the airport. It has security challenges and also has graver consequences of allowing patronage to fall. Many are unhappy about the many hours lost trying to get into the airport on daily basis in order to carry out one assignment or the other. I think the renovation can be carried out more quickly than at present,’ he asserts.

Findings from aviation sources reveal that at present massive rehabilitation works are also going on simultaneously in about 11 airports across the nation with a view to making them attain the standards of major airports in more advanced countries across the globe. The effect of the renovation is particularly more chaotic in Abuja’s airport due to it’s central status as far as Nigeria is concerned.

While a few of the passengers who spoke with Sunday Trust equally express concern over the agony, they are now made to pass through whenever they come into the airport and how this adversely affects their perception of services at the airport, a few ironically believe that the temporary pains are in order if only it would translate into their dream of having a world class airport at the end of the exercise.

Kunle Oke, an employee of Petroleum Training Institute, Warri is a regular face at the airport since he makes reservations there most weeks. He sees the current rehabilitation as necessary. His only fear is that the stress suffered by passengers may not lead to the dream of a better airport in terms of service delivery and infrastructure. ‘If what we have been promised will eventually come to pass then there is no problem.

We all know that for every good thing sacrifices must be made. The pains passengers are going through now are the necessary sacrifices. I want to believe that at the end of the rehabilitation exercise we will have cause to smile when what we see on ground is commensurate to what they promised us.’

Another passenger, Francis Andrew who is seen calmly perusing a daily amidst the din of hammers hitting concrete at the international wing views the process optimistically. ‘When the current minister of aviation came on board and made promises to revamp the airports, people like us saw it as another charade as others have equally gone through that path in the past with no results to show for it. But with what we see on ground now we may have cause to hope that our airports will become world class. To be sincere though it is not convenient for most of us that use the airports these days due to congestion and slow processing of our travel documents by the service providers I want to believe that it would be a thing of the past soon when they complete all the projects at the airport.’ He resumes his reading after his short comments.

Online records also reveal that the Abuja Gateway Consortium signed on 13 November 2006 a USD101.1 million contract for the management of the airport over the next 25 years. ‘The contract includes the construction of an airport hotel, private car parks, shopping malls and a bonded warehouse, totalling USD50 million, during its first five years in addition to an upfront payment of USD10 million. Total investments will according to the business plan, amount to USD371 million during the period of the contract. However, late president Yar’Adua revoked the contract on April 2008. The Plans called for construction of a second runway. The contract was awarded to Julius Berger for $423 million in April, but was revoked in June due to the high cost. The Federal Government approved fresh bids for construction of the second runway,’ says Wikipediaonline.

Regional General Manager of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, North Central, Chris Bature in a chat with Sunday Trust appeals for understanding and calm from it’s numerous customers liking the present scenario with ‘the birth pangs of an expectant mother which will ultimately translate into a joyous bundle that would wipe away the past agony for all.’ He enthuses further: ‘to say that we do not know that the rehabilitation works presently going on is having adverse effects on the people will be false. But what they will see at the end of the whole process will bring smiles of satisfaction to their faces and will also make them forget all the hardships they went through.’

He says the rehabilitation works is an integrated renovation package that will take care of virtually all aspects of airport operations. ‘Three things that usually pose challenges for airport administrators are security structures, seamless vehicular movements on the premises and quality services by our numerous service providers. When the rehabilitation is complete all these will be taken into consideration and the challenges posed by them in the past will remain in the past as they would have been taken care of by the rapid reconstruction works.’

He also says that work is ongoing majorly at the domestic wing hence the subsequent pressure on the international wing which itself is undergoing minor repairs. The lighting on the runways and also facilities at the various car parks and access roads are equally getting a facelift. The result of this according to him would be the birth of a world class airport that would stand tall among the comity of airports around the world. He also added that the congestion presently being experienced at the airport could be partly linked to the poor services of some of the service providers who at times delay passengers without cogent reasons. ‘We have had series of meetings with them on these salient issues. They have given us assurances of improvement in service delivery.

We believe that by the time rehabilitation works are completed in the airport, Nigerians will have cause to smile and even give us a pat on the back for a job well done,’ he concludes. He refuses however to give a time frame of completion attributing that to mixed signals from the contractor handling the project.

Passengers like Sandra Okoye just coming into Abuja say they cannot wait to see the ‘transformation’ being envisaged. ‘We see how airports look like when we go abroad. While we commend them (airport authorities) for taking a step to improve the dismal state of the airport, we pray that what we will see on ground at the end would be worth the hue and cry.’

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