Chinedu Eze writes that the completion of the new airport terminals, expected to boost passenger capacity, is long overdue
In 2013, the Nigerian government and its Chinese counterpart deepened their diplomatic relationship when the later offered $500 million loan to Nigeria for the building of four airport terminals in Kano, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Lagos in addition to the building of international terminal for Enugu airport, which loan was earlier secured from the Chinese.
During a visit to China in July 2013 by a delegation of Ministers of the federal government, the Chinese company, Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) which spearheaded the construction of the terminals in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos and Kano said the project would be delivered in 20 months and work started shortly before the end of 2013.
In fact, during the delegationâ€™s visit to China, the then President of CCECC, Yuan Li told the top government officials when they paid him a courtesy visit at the companyâ€™s headquarters in Beijing that the work would be completed in 20 months and the quality of the work to be done at the airports would be of the highest international standard comparable to similar projects executed by the company in other parts of the world.
But four years down the line, the airport terminal projects are yet to be completed; so they are more than two years behind schedule.
Some aviation inside sources told THISDAY that when a new government led by President Muhammadu Buhari took over in May 2015, there was fear that the contract would be cancelled â€œbecause the new government did not see anything good done by the past administration and it was assumed that any negotiation and contact entered into by the past administration was laden with corruptionâ€.
The source said that caused a delay and there was also effort to scrutinise the loan and all the accouterment about the projects, which arrangement stipulated that when completed the Chinese would operate the facilities to recover their money on a kind of build, operate and transfer contract.
In fact, last year, while addressing stakeholders in Lagos, the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika condemned the new terminals under construction and said that the ones in Abuja and Lagos were wrongly located because they blocked control tower and the fire service and boasted that the present administration would concession the major airports so that the reasonability of funding and managing them would be taken over from the government.
Level of Work Done
By October 2017, work at all the terminals had reached advanced stages but work had stopped at some of the airports. When THISDAY visited the construction sites at Lagos and Enugu airports, there was no discernible work going on; although the construction had really reached advanced stage.
In fact, last week, the joint committee of the National Assembly on Aviation said the work at the Abuja Chinese terminal was 80 per cent completed and the terminal was now projected to be completed in February 2018 and to start operation shortly after if there would be adequate power and water supply to the facility.
The committee said it was impressed with the level of work so far done by the company and urged it to ensure that all that was required was fixed before the facility would be put to use.
But, the project manager, Kelvin Lee said unless there is upgrade of existing power and water supply they would not be able to commission the terminal on the agreed date.
He said without upgrade of the existing power and water supply capacity, the facility would not be functional.
Lee said it would be of no value to complete a terminal of such magnitude without requisite power and water supply and urged government to facilitate funding to accelerate the provision of support equipment that would enable the company deliver the terminal before the end of next year.
Lee said the company was working within its scope to complete the terminal, but would require government to relocate the control tower and fire station which currently pose an obstacle to some sections of the new terminal.
His observation was an indication that even when the terminal was completed, it may not start operation until the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) upgrades power supply at the airport, which would take another long time to complete, considering the slow pace and the bureaucracy involved in carrying out projects in the agency because of interferences from the Ministry of Transport.
New Completion Date
With the level of work already done on the terminals at the five airports in the country, it is believed that the projects would be completed next year. But it is not certain that the facilities would start providing service immediately after their completion because of the issue of electricity supply and other structural issues raised in some airports.
For example, a new control tower and fire service would have to be constructed in Abuja, while in Lagos the terminal was said to have been built before the existing terminal, nearer to the runway but because FAAN was at loggerheads with a firm it concessioned that part of the airport, a concession that had been dogged by controversy, which forced the agency to locate the new terminal at the present place.
A FAAN official told THISDAY on Tuesday in Lagos that electrical cables were uprooted to pave way for the construction of the new terminal and there are other constructions that would take place to access the new terminal like new taxiways and new security fencing.
â€œThe terminal was wrongly located but that was the only choice we had because the other side of the current terminal, which was the right place to build the facility was under litigation, but with the new location, there are a lot of things we must have to put in place to access the terminal and link it with the existing one. I know that will take another time; so you cannot just say when the new construction would be put into use,â€ the FAAN official said.
New Passenger Capacity
The Minister of Transport, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi said last year that the new terminal in Lagos would generate additional 15 million passengers annually making it a total of 30 million passengers that would be processed from the Lagos airport.
Also in recognition of the new terminal the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos was rated the 5th busiest airport in Africa and one of the upcoming airports in the continent.
The airport, which comes after the OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, the Cairo International Airport, the Cape Town International Airport and the Mohammed V International Airport, Casablanca, Morocco, was rated as one of the fastest growing in Africa with the new terminal which was expected to go on stream at the end of 2017.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has made a 20-year passenger growth forecast that passenger numbers are expected to reach 7.3 billion by 2034, which represented a 4.1 per cent average annual growth in demand for air connectivity and African airports were rated amongst the fastest-growing markets.
It is also projected that with its growth rate, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and other major airports in the country would benefit from the increased passenger movement with the expansion of the terminal facilities.
It is also expected that that with the certification of the Lagos airport by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) on behalf of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) that more international carriers would operate into the country and that would boost passenger capacity. The current international terminal would not be able to accommodate the new passenger movement.
Chinese Agreement and Concession
From all indications, the plan by the federal government to concession the nationâ€™s major airport will be in conflict with the agreement under which the Chinese built the airport terminals. It was expected that when completed the investors would manage the facilities until they recover their investment, but now government said it would concession the airports. Although government has not explained what it intends to do with the Chinese interest, but industry observers do not see the rationale behind the plan to concession airports without honouring the agreement already made with the Chinese government.
The observers said government is a continuum; that is the way it is seen in international diplomacy so the agreement reached with the Chinese that made them build the terminals still subsists, â€œespecially when the present administration did not stop it when they took over in 2015. They wouldnâ€™t have done that anyway; because that would have triggered a backlash.â€
There are indications that no pressure might push the federal government to back out on its decision to concession the nationâ€™s airports. This is despite the agitation by the industry labour unions and the attendant threat that they would paralyse activities in the industry if government did not rescind its decision.
This is because government said it is convinced that the only way the airports could be developed is when the private sector injects funds to modernise airport facilities through public, private partnership (PPP). Government also knows that it would not be able to raise funds on its own to fund airport infrastructure; so concession for Nigeria may have become inevitable; although there are doubts it would be transparent.
But it is expected that old agreements including subsisting concessions and the Chinese arrangements should be honoured.
FAAN officials said most operations at these airports earmarked for concession have already been given out in concession, from the hospitality services, to carousel management and others, the agreement have been subsisting and may last for many years.
The Chinese government facilitated a loan from the Chinese Exim Bank to Nigeria to build the new terminal by the Chinese companies which would recover the loan by operating the terminals. Now that it is taking this long time to complete, industry pundits are of the view that the new terminals may become obsolete by the time they would be put to use as aviation technology continues to advance every day.