Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja
There were indications on Wednesday that the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation might recommend the revocation of the N64bn second runway contract for the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

The contract, which was awarded to Julius Berger Plc in January this year, had raised eyebrows due to what the committee described as 'clear inflation of the contract cost.'

As an investigative hearing into the transaction opened in Abuja on Wednesday, the committee said that evidence it had gathered showed that due process regulations were breached by the Ministry of Aviation, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and the Bureau for Public Procurement.

The committee, headed by Mr. Bethel Amadi, said it was amazed by how a competitor to Julius Berger, PW Nigeria Limited, which quoted N30bn for the same contract, was by-passed for the former.

The committee stated that JB initially quoted N83bn for the contract, but later reviewed the figure to N72bn.

The company eventually won the contract for N64bn after the BPP claimed that it had examined and approved the process for the award of the controversial project.

The immediate-past Minister of Aviation, Mr. Babatunde Omotoba, and the Managing Director of FAAN, Mr. Richard Asuebeogun, testified before the committee on Wednesday.

A representative of the BPP, Mr. Nebolisa Emodi, stood in for the DG, Dr. Emeka Eze, while officials of JB and PW also addressed the committee.

The committee observed after the testimonies of the officials that it would appear that JB was positioned right from the conception of the project to execute the contract, while the award process was simplified to favour the German construction giant.

Giving a summary of the committee's position, Amadi said that inasmuch as the House was in support of the second runway project, it would recommend that due process regulations be complied with in the contract award.

He said, 'This committee is in support of the second runway project because of its importance; we even believe that Abuja, as the Federal capital, is due for a completely new and befitting airport.

'This investigation should not be taken to mean that we are against the project; we owe Nigerians the responsibility to ensure that appropriate pricing is negotiated for the country.

'The project has to follow due process in terms of costing and compliance with due process laws of this country.'

In his testimony, Omotoba admitted that though he was not an aviation expert, he had queried the outrageous cost of the project when FAAN presented the estimates to him.

The former minister noted that he initially thought that having quoted N30bn for the same project, JB was asking for N64bn, PW should have been given the contract.

He, however, told the committee that FAAN later convinced him that JB had a more comprehensive technical design for the job and had a scope far wider than the submissions of PW.

'I asked the necessary questions; I am an auditor, so I know that I needed to ask all the questions regarding the cost,' he added.

Aisuebeogun and FAAN's Director of Engineering Services, Mr. Saleh Dunuma, stated the side of the organisation.

The MD informed the committee that there was some urgency in the runway project, a reason it opted for selective (restricted) tendering to pick contractors.

He said that the present runway in use at the airport was over 30 years old and had developed dangerous cracks at the point of landing and take-off by aircraft.

He added that the first runway needed total reconstruction but that it was not possible to embark on such a project without providing an alternative runway.

The MD noted that the reason necessitated the conception of the second runway in addition to the plan to make Abuja a hub in the West-African sub-region with the capacity to accommodate A380, the world's biggest commercial plane.

Aisuebeogun defended the cost of the project, claiming that it would include perimeter fencing, category three airfield lighting, crash roads, satellite fire system, associated civil works as well as navigational aids.

He told the committee that of the six companies pre-qualified for the job, namely, Julius Berger, PWD, Dantata and Sawoe, China Habour and RCC, it was satisfied with JB's estimates.

But, he could not convince the committee on why JB, with the highest bid among the six, won the contract and not PW, merely saying that 'it is very expedient to construct second runway for Abuja and the runway needs urgent repairs because of critical nature of safety.'

It was Dunuma's testimonies that shocked the lawmakers as he disclosed that FAAN officials did not visit the site of the runway before the agency commissioned consultants to begin work on the design.

'We did not visit the site because we did not have the capacity to do so; we assumed that the ground was flat.

'We gave them a bid document that will guide the consultants and the contractor on the type of project we want', he stated.

Reacting to this disclosure, Amadi said, 'From the beginning, FAAN made up their mind to give the job to Julius Berger and you wonder why the hurry to award this contract. They should tell us why they wanted Julius Berger at all cost and they should tell us what they are hiding.

'The disclosure from the director of Engineering of FAAN that they did not visit the site shows that he is not competent for this position he is holding.'

A member of the House, Mr. Dino Melaye, who sponsored the motion for the probe, presented comparative figures on new airports built in parts of the country to the committee to buttress the position that the contract was inflated.

He said for instance that a new runway built by the Akwa Ibom State Government 'with better facilities cost N13.6bn.'

Melaye told the committee that the length of the Akwa Ibom runway was 4.2km same as that of the Abuja airport.