The Chinese and Nigerian governments in 2013 struck a loan deal to build four new airport terminals in Nigeria. On paper, it was a fairly good deal in the light of gross infrastructure deficit and inadequate funding to fix it. But there is more to critical infrastructure gap in Nigeria than a lean purse to bankroll it. In between are the issues of sharp practices and poor execution that will cost Nigeria another $400 million. WOLE OYEBADE writes.
Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA), Omagwa, Rivers State, is the major gateway into the oil-rich Niger Delta region, but a perfect contrast to the wealth and glamour known of petrodollar economies.
Its arrival terminal is a ramshackle makeshift corridor; ill-protected by leaky canopy. Woe betide arriving passengers when it rains.
The heat and pungent odour oozing at dry seasons are not to be preferred.
Though the airport is the third busiest in the country, all services are manual. So, luggage could take eternity to arrive - if they do come.
And any urge to use the convenience often end in regrets. Despite being the home state airport of the current Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, the aerodrome remains in its utter abandonment and a disaster personified for years.
It was then a no brainer that the airport became a global reference point of what a modern airports, local or international, should never look like.
International travel website, The Guide to Sleeping in Airports 2012 report, tagged PHIA the worse airport in Africa and the world.
Even the airports in Lagos and Abuja that have semblance of sanity were ranked among 10 worse in the world. To say the least, the infrastructure gap is an eyesore!
Chinese loan to the rescue
Aiming to make new friends in regions that have potential in the extractive industry and commerce, China was taking note of development in the oil-rich Niger-Delta and Nigeria's import dependent population of over 180 million.
So, bilateral trade between Nigeria and China was launched and on the upsurge year-on-year.
As it stands, China is Nigeria's biggest trade partner.
In 2006, trade between the two nations stood at $3 billion -- up from $384 million in 1998.
As at last year, the investment was in excess of over $17 billion.
With the China-Nigeria trade romance destined to favour the latter than former, Chinese' investments started extending to social services and critical infrastructure like the airports, perhaps to compensate for gross trade differential (put as 780 per cent between 2013 and 2015).
No free lunch though. In 2013, China and its Nigerian counterpart inked a loan deal of $500 million to build a state-of-the-art terminal at PHIA and three other airports in the country.
The four airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano, are the busiest in the country and gateway to commerce in the most populous African nation, yet some of the worse aerodromes in the world in terms of infrastructure.
China in the deal would offer the loan of $400 million at 2.5 per cent interest rate, while the Nigerian government would pay a counterpart fee of $100 million for a project scheduled to run between 12 to 18 months.
The new terminals, "designed to rival some of the best around the world", were to be one of the achievements of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration (2011-2015), ahead of the 2015 reelection bid.
It was a straightforward deal ab initio. However, 18 months later, terminals were not delivered just as the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan lost the election to remain in office.
So till date, none of the four terminals has yet been commissioned.
But on its trail is an uneasy disquietude about how poorly the projects had been packaged and the liability awaiting Nigeria courtesy of the deal.
No end in sight
The Chinese construction giant, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), did commence work in 2014, with plans to deliver in March 2015.
As at the last check, the new terminal at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos has been built.
The all glass façade edifice, on the left side inwards the old terminal, has in the last one year remained empty -- without the fittings.
At least three subsequent attempts to have it completed and commissioned in the last two years have failed.
Ditto for the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja.
The terminal, built at the estimated cost of N61.2 billion ($200 million) is to offer befitting services to airport users visiting the Federal Capital and accommodate new traffic on account of the Abuja new metro rail and the proposed second runway already appropriated in the 2018 budget.
It will be recalled that the National Assembly's joint committee on aviation, on an oversight function in November 2017, said they were impressed with the level of work at the facility, concluding that it was 80 per cent ready.
The construction company, CCECC, said the terminal would be ready February 2018, "barring shortage in power and water supply".
Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation and leader of the team, Adamu Aliero, said the joint committee was working with the Ministry of Aviation on "ways to secure funds" to ensure the terminal was delivered with all equipment in place.
Aliero said: "Once they bring it to the notice of the legislature, we will do the needful and give necessary support because we need this terminal to be put to use immediately after completion.
"There is no point having a terminal without water and electricity.
The existing power and water supply is not adequate to accommodate the terminal without an upgrade."
Defective by design
Implicit in the words of the visiting Senate committee members were the defects in the structural design and location of the new terminals in Lagos and Abuja airports.
Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, publicly faulted the positioning of the new terminals, describing them as wrongly placed.
Sirika, who was short of describing the terminal investments as a waste of fund, said the project in Abuja alone would require the sun of N5 billion to sort out the mess created by the wrong locality.
The Abuja terminal is blocking the control tower and fire service station. Similarly, that of Lagos is also obstructing power cables that supply electricity to the existing international terminal.
In fact, MMIA recorded several power outages until recently, all of which the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) blamed on the construction activities at the new terminal.
However, Sirika said: "Because it (Abuja terminal) has been built, we need to knock down the N3 billion control tower and also knock down the fire station, which will cost about N2 billion. The same thing with the one in Lagos, which is sitting on heavy cables.
"If I have that $500 million, I will use it to develop the Murtala Muhammed Airport as hub of aviation in Nigeria and West Africa."
Besides, the unusual open space between the old terminal and the new one in Lagos, appears to marvel keen observers.
Chief Executive Officer of African Aviation Services Limited, Nick Fadugba, said partnership remains the best strategy to develop modern airport and having the deals channeled in the area of infrastructure development at aviation hubs was laudable.
Fadugba was, however, shocked that the two terminals were not connected contrary to the norm around the world.
He asked: "So, how do you connect the world with an airport with two terminals that are not even connected?
The idea of a hub is all about connectivity. We seem to be losing the concept of connectivity around here.
Because I cannot just understand it and someone in the authorities should explain.
"If you arrived at the old terminal and going to the new one, how do you get there?
I cannot see an air bridge; I cannot work it out or understand what is going on. To succeed we need the ease of connectivity," Fadugba said.
Not a stellar performance
Findings by The Guardian revealed that the execution plan of the project was the sole initiative of the then Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah. Oduah allegedly bypassed FAAN in the design and its implementation.
Oduah was later fired by the President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 over alleged N255 million worth of bullet-proof cars purchase scandal, among others that violated the Nigeria's public procurement and appropriation laws.
Sources within the authority said: "Perhaps, the then FAAN MD knows about the project, but no one else in the authority is aware of it.
Just like members of the public, we all heard and saw that they were building new terminals.
So, your question of who designed such incoherent structure should not be directed at FAAN.
"What I know is that the whole project, though a good, but it is already a mess.
We may really not get to use it the way such deals are used.
A whole lot of under table dealings are not made open by this government because the joke is really on us.
It is more or less a what to do with: to pull it down or continue to amend the defects."
But where is the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) during the project design, procurement and implementation stages of the faulty terminals?
The NCAA is the apex regulatory body that by law oversees all activities, especially safety-related, in the air travel sector.
Spokesperson of the NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, said there was no denying that there was interference in the project by the then minister of aviation, but the core mandate of the apex regulator is safety, which has not been breached in this matter.
Adurogboye explained that airports around the round are always evolving to keep tabs on growth and innovations.
"With new developments are changes and relocations here and there. Certain things have to be modernised.
Now, we are moving from Category One to Category Three status at Lagos and Abuja airports, it means that certain facilities have to change.
"Lagos tower was copied from Netherlands and the Murtala Muhammed Airport II (MMA2) design adopted from Johannesburg, but in those places, those facilities are hardly the same.
So, it is not entirely a bad thing that some facilities have to be relocated at our airports.
But once it concerns safety parameters, then NCAA comes in," Adurogboye said.
But at what cost are all of these changes and relocation?
Terminals to cost extra $400 million, plus more
Experts are of the view that since the project is a loan deal, the extra cost incurred is on the account of the Nigerian government.
On the average, the cost of each of the airports refurbishment would have been about $125 million or N19 billion (at N180/$) or N38 billion, if at the present exchange rate.
The minister during a recent inspection of the terminal in Abuja hinted that it would cost additional $400 million to be completed!
Sirika said: "Unfortunately some of the components are very complex. They will delay the job. Some of them are from the foundation problems.
A classical example is the problem of linking the old terminal to the new building. For us to get to the end of this project, it would take an excess of $400 million."
The huge addition is to provide sewer, water, electricity, extra aprons, move the control tower, provide fire service and link the old airport to the new one.
Notwithstanding the grandiose cost "the government would have to think of how to utilise the airport despite its shortcomings", the minister said.
Aviation Security expert and Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), a think-tank group of the sector, Group Capt John Ojikutu (rtd), said in normal circumstance, the Nigeria civil aviation regulations require that any construction, reconstruction, design or redesign of any part of the airport must have the approval of the NCAA.
"The former minister never did but override the regulations," Ojikutu said.
He added: "I would have thought that the present minister would have suspended the projects to ensure they conform to the national regulations immediately he took over, if he was properly briefed by the responsible NCAA authority. I doubt if that ever happened.
"That would explain why the integrity and certification of Abuja airport should be questioned if, as we all know now, that the refurbishment of the airport has caused some safety defects with the location of the control tower relative to the new terminal building.
"The NCAA role can only be probed, if and only if, there are evidence that suggests that it approved the redesign or the refurbishment or it did not raise objections to the reconstruction or follow the due diligence.
To correct the defects on safety in Lagos and Abuja is huge.
And I ask, as I have always done, what sort of people are we?" Ojikutu queried.
Apparently unaccounted for is the debt burden of $400 million at 2.5 per cent interest rate owed to China.
By the deal, the debt is already five years old while the terminals are already depreciating.
It, therefore, stands to reason that if the transport ministry aims to change the narrative about how poor the PHIA and other airports are, riding on Chinese engineered terminals, then it may have to wait longer.