Last week, the Supervising Minister of Aviation, Dr. Samuel Ortom toured the Murtala Mohammed Airport, MMA, Lagos to gain firsthand information on the number of projects ongoing at the complex. After the tour, Ortom granted media interview where he spoke about his impression on the ongoing projects, the N174bn debt hanging on the ministry and future plans for the industry. OLUSEGUN KOIKI was there. Excerpts:
What’s your impression about what you’ve seen on ground?
I had to embark on this tour to get first hand information on the ongoing projects. Before now, I put in place a committee which went round and it is still going round to assess these projects and come out with a comprehensive report on what we have in the remodeling programme of the Ministry of Aviation. You are aware that we have a master plan to revitalize the aviation industry. I’m happy with what I have seen and this further confirms why we have total commitment of over N174bn. As you can see for yourself, you can see there is massive work going on just at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, MMIA, Lagos alone. This is just one airport out of the 22 that we have in Nigeria and simultaneously, work is going on in almost all the airports. At some of the airports, the remodeling exercise has been completed while we have phases one, two and three in some, just as we have in Lagos Airport. We agreed that most of the work be suspended due to lack of funding, but you will also agree with me that for this year 2014, the budget was delayed and it has just been signed into law. Very soon, funds would be made available and we will immediately release the funds to the contractors. What I want to assure Nigerians is that we are going to complete all the projects that we started. We’re not interested in embarking on new projects. We want to ensure that we complete these ones that are ongoing. Even that, we want to prioritize to ensure that we complete them. Those that are near completion may be 70 to 80 per cent, we are going to fund them properly to ensure that we complete them and those that are half way, we will programme them in that manner and make sure that we complete them. I know the funds can never be enough because of the paucity of funds coming from the federation account, but the truth is that through internally generated revenue, IGR, we can still make a lot. What we intend doing is to close the gaps and ensure that we maximize what we are getting through the IGR so that we put it back into these projects. I will also make some passionate appeal to Mr. President to source funds for us somewhere to ensure that we complete these projects and I’m sure Mr. President would oblige us because he is the initiator of the transformational agenda in the aviation industry and he is so committed to revamping the entire 22 airports in Nigeria .He has even gone further to build new terminals and introduce cargo terminals that would further enhance the economy of the nation by ensuring that we export our agricultural and perishable products. So, I think that he means very well and you can see that this is one area you can see, feel and touch the transformational agenda and know that an appreciable progress has been made. I know that we are not where we want to be, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step and Rome was not built in a day. At least, we are better off today. What I’ve seen here with the chief executives of the industry is that in the course of our inspection, we have been able to identify some areas that we need to fix and they are handy and for some we have already taken proactive steps to ensure that they are resolved. This justifies why we have N174bn commitments. In some of these commitments, the projects have not even started and we intend not to embark on any new projects except where it concerns security and safety. We will definitely go into that, but for now, we are comfortable with what we are doing and by the grace of God, I can assure you that we are going to complete all the projects in the sector.
What’s your assessment of the ongoing construction of the second terminal at the Lagos Airport with the loan sourced from China?
I’m very impressed with what has been done on the new terminal under construction here in Lagos, but as you may be aware, we are not just constructing this in Lagos alone; we are doing the same in Port Harcourt, Abuja and Kano Airports. These new terminal constructions are being financed from the loan obtained from China, which was secured by the Federal Government and it is $500m and additional $100m counterpart funding that the Federal Government provided. Work is going on very well from the reports I have received from those on ground. I’m impressed with the quality and standard of work, which have not been compromised by both the contractor and the Federal Government. Whatever they are constructing is what was agreed in the agreement both parties reached before the commencement of work.
During the tour, the Assistant General Manager at the fire station, Mr. Rindap Domtur, disclosed that the department is grossly understaffed and that staff have not gone on training in the last two years, what’s the ministry doing about this?
We are already taking steps to ensure we address this human capital development in the system and its ongoing. I think that it is very important because of new technologies that are coming up, we need to upgrade our staff capacities to be able to live up to the expectation of their responsibilities. Since I came in, we’ve taken this as a priority and now that the budget has been approved, we can go ahead and do this training. This is not just in the fire department of FAAN, but it cuts across board. The CEOs have sent in their proposals and they are going through the due process and I want to assure you that we are committed to ensuring that we train our staff to live up to expectations because in the aviation industry, we take issues of safety and security as priority, and this is a part of it. When you don’t have well-trained staff, there is no way you can man that department effectively. We are committed to ensuring that we adequately train our staff. As an interim measure, I have directed the Managing Director of FAAN, in particular about the fire service to contact those who have retired from the system and bring them back on interim basis as contract staff because even if you employ new staff, they would still need to go for training. It is important that we take note of this now that I’m here to assess the situation firsthand.
The major complaints of the users of this airport including the passengers is the epileptic working condition of the air conditioners, what’s the government doing about this?
We are all affected, even me, I went in and was sweating. I appreciate the fact that work is ongoing. Right now, they are installing new air conditioners around the terminal and for the central air conditions, we have contacted the manufacturer who fixed it and they have assured us that they are going to work on it as soon as they are able to finish the assessment, do due diligence and send in their proposals, we are going to work on that.
From all indications, the calibration aircraft is unserviceable, what is the Government doing about this?
I have directed both NCAA and NAMA to work together on the aircraft, but they must ensure due process in all they are doing. Each of them has an Act guiding its operations and so they are going to meet and make a recommendation to me on the aircraft.
Culled from National Mirror, Tuesday July 1, 2014