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Port Harcourt: New look Int’l Airport Tickles Residents, Stakeholders

By Dianabasi Effiong

When President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated a new International Terminal on Thursday at Port Harcourt International Airport a significant landmark for international travelers was laid.

The occasion was special particularly for those in Port Harcourt and some contiguous states in the South-South Region not just for the project’s aesthetics but economic benefits including employment opportunities expected therefrom.

The construction of the 25163-square-metre terminal building by Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company started on March 1, 2014 after a contract was signed in Dec.3, 2012 at the sum of 111,168,752.55 US Dollars.

Eighty five per cent of the contract sum reportedly came from Export-Import Bank of China as concessional loan while 15 per cent of the sum came as counterpart fund from the federal government.

The main structures at the terminal included two-storey terminal building, the cargo terminal, the apron, external and other ancillary works.

Just before the inauguration by the President, stakeholders commended the Buhari-led administration for such an achievement.

His Eminence, King Achimele Amadi, Nyeweli Omaogwa, the 40th, commended the federal government for the smooth completion of the new terminal.

The monarch said: “I have been on the throne for four years now and this is the first time I have seen new presence of the federal government in terms of project.

“And indeed this project is a welcomed development as it would boost economy and employment in my domain.’’

He also called for the speedy completion of the abandoned IPO/Igwuruta road which was supposed to form part of the project’s corporate responsibilities

He said that the road would facilitate movement of farm produce and boost the economy of airport’s host communities.

Some air travelers and operators of business concern around the airport lauded the completion of the terminal building, adding that the total completion of the airport would be a great achievement.

They separately stated that a befitting and functional airport in tourism and economic development of any nation is always instructive.

Mr Saleh Dunoma, the Managing Director, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, said that air travellers would have pleasant experience with the inauguration of the new terminal at the Airport.

Dunoma also told journalists at the occasion that with availability of world class facilities in the terminal those who hitherto rated the airport as the worst would think otherwise.

He said that the new terminal, jointly funded through the Chinese EXIM Bank and Nigerian government was billed for completion in 2014 but could not be delivered because of several challenges.

According to him, the China EXIM bank provided 500 million Dollars while the Federal Government provided a 100 million Dollars in counterpart fund.

“It has been a whole lot of work because what the government decided to do was to embark on this construction and the re-modelling of the domestic terminal.

“Passengers have suffered and we worked hard to make sure that these two projects are completed. A lot of efforts paid off.

“I thank the government of President Muhammadu Buhari for its support because when they came in, this project was at a very low level of completion and today, all issues have been resolved and this project is ready for commissioning.

“We are going to start using it immediately and the international passengers are going to have a wonderful experience here.

“It is of international standard because all facilities that are required for international operations are provided and the terminal is very apt in design, it is of high capacity,” he said.

According to Dunoma work is also ongoing at the local terminal: “We are almost there because we are also pushing’’.

“But now that this terminal is commissioned and we are going to start international operations here, there will be a lot of space there to work on another project,’’ he said.

The Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika also said: “The project was expected to be delivered within two-year period.’’

According to him when Buhari’s administration came in, the level of work was below 30 per cent and bedeviled by various technical challenges.

He said that the challenge included foundation design change, inaccessibility to the airport, inadequate airport space, master-plan distortion, water and sewer provision, litigation in some cases and inadequate power supply among others.

“True to the person of Mr President (Muhammadu Buhari), soon after we drew the attention of government to these, Mr President graciously approved that the Ministry (Transportation) should go ahead and rectify all the discrepancies, but subject them to due process. These we did

“Then, Mr. President-in-Council graciously approved a total sum of $461 million to be sourced from the same Export-Import Bank of China, to complete all of the projects.

“However, this is requiring a further $69.15 million as counterpart funding.

“If we are able to source this counterpart funding, we should be able to deliver the remaining projects, which are Kano, Lagos and Abuja very soon, because they are all in various stages of completion.’’

According to the Minister, Port Harcourt airport, being the third busiest airport in the country (after Lagos and Abuja), is very important to the Nigerian economy as well.

“It served, last year 2017, 1,080,284 passengers. The old terminal, which is also being rehabilitated, is unable to accommodate the combined requirement of space, to handle such volume of passengers. Hence, the current hardship being faced by passengers, in my opinion, is unacceptable.’’

It is our expectation that the commissioning of other terminals in Abuja, Kano and Enugu, which are being funded by the Federal Government’s appropriation, will follow suit in due course.

He said that, just for emphasis, the new terminal building has the capacity for seven million passengers annually, which is 15 times the number of total passengers for the country of Ghana.

He also reiterated that aviation remains the safest means of transportation currently.

“ Under the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the transportation sector continues to undergo a series of reforms, in order to sustain international best practice, to ensure safety and security,’’ Sirika said.

Gov. Wike was also excited: “On behalf of the government and people of Rivers State, I most sincerely welcome you to Port Harcourt to commission the international terminal of the Port Harcourt International Airport.

“I can tell you that for this today, the people of Rivers State and the Niger Delta are happy for seeing this.What we are doing today will boost the economy of the state, provide employment for our people and will bring investors to this state.Before I came here, I wanted to make a request, but before I did it, the Minister of State for Aviation had taken the word from my mouth.

“He said Mr. President had directed him make sure that the domestic wing of Port Harcourt International Airport would be commissioned in December this year.I hope that my friend, Senator Hadi Sirika, will keep to it, so that the people of Rivers State and the people of Niger Delta will continue to be happy with President Buhari,” he said.

He said that the inauguration of the new terminal by President Buhari indicated that “what has happened today is a clear statement that Rivers State is safe and secure, for people to come and invest’’.

“I urge all of us, who are from Rivers State and who are from Nigeria, to market Rivers State well and not to de-market our state,”he said.

For President Buhari the formal inauguration of the new terminal in Omagwa was not only pleasant but represented “a significant landmark for International air travelers, particularly from the South South region, and the entire Country”.

“You will recall that after opening the major airport terminals in the country in the late 70s and early 80s, not much was added to increase the passenger handling capacity of these facilities by successive administrations.Today’s commissioning is an example of Government’s deliberate policy to sustain the development of infrastructure for economic growth in all geo-political zones of the country,” he said.

Buhari also recalled that his assurance to upgrade and develop Nigeria’s transport, power and health infrastructure, and complete a number of stalled infrastructure projects at the presentation of the 2017 Budget to the National Assembly.

“These include construction of new terminals at the country’s five major airports; numerous major road projects; key power transmission projects; and the completion of the Kaduna – Abuja as well as Itakpe to Warri Railway lines.

“Nigeria having an advantageous central location within the sub-region and our desire to develop into a regional air transportation hub, must upgrade its facilities to take advantage of its assets.The recent decision by the Federal Government to remove Value Added Tax from domestic air transportation is in line with global best practices.

“This will make air travel more affordable and subsequently lead to the creation of jobs by the air transport service value chain as well as increase revenues for government,” the President said.

He said that the construction of four new international terminals at Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kano airports was embarked upon by the Federal Government as part of the infrastructure renewal program.

He said that the renewal programme was envisaged with a view to modernising the aging airport infrastructure to meet global aviation standards and improved service delivery in tandem with best international practices.

Some of those who witnessed the occasion said they were touched by the peaceful atmosphere at the occasion,

They also expressed excitement to behold President Buhari and Gov. Nyesom Wike of Rivers sitting side-by-side and exchanging pleasantries at the occasion in spite of perceived political party differences.