Like unending tales of the proverbial tortoise that never ceases to amaze the listener once the story teller starts, so is the story of the Asaba International Airport that has ever remained in the news since its conception.
Until few weeks ago, the natural person to point finger to as the reason behind the delay of the airport attaining its full operational status since Governor Ifeanyi Okowa came onboard in 2015 is ULO Consultants Limited chaired by Asaba born construction business mogul, Uche Okpuno. The accusation gained weight when the State House of Assembly Committee on Works paid an oversight visit to the Airport and lambasted ULO, the contractor for the project as doing a shoddy job.
This medium exclusively reported ULO withdrawal of services from the airport, which prompted the government to start damage control. Further investigation backed up with documents has revealed the shady actions of the Delta State Government in frustrating the company from fully completing work in the Asaba Airport.
NCAA report on the Airport
In a memo exclusively sourced by this medium, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) revealed that contrary to Delta State Government claims that ULO did a poor job, “the inspection revealed that much progress had been achieved on the construction work on the runway, taxiways and the terminal building and the works done so far meet the Nigerian Civil Aviation requirement.”
The memo sent to the Deputy Governor’s Office was written on 14th February, 2011 and signed by one Alh. Lawal Haruna for the Director General.
At the instance of the Delta State Government under Fmr. Gov. Emmanuel Uduaghan, the NCAA DG alongside his technical team carried out an inspection of the Airport in preparation for the commissioning of the airport for flight operations by April 2011.
The inspection which was carried out from 27th – 28th February 2011 generated a report to the Chairman of the Asaba Airport Project Implementation Committee on 3rd March 2011 commending the level of work done by ULO which included construction work done at the airside. This memo seen by this medium was signed by P. Adebiyi for the DG.
The Asaba Airport our investigations revealed can accommodate some of the world’s biggest aircraft, as built by ULO. Months after the first flight landed in the Airport, the State Government requested from NCAA to conduct a team of Aviation Safety Inspectors from 26th -27th January 2012 for approval of operations of CRJ 900 and B737 aircrafts.
In shocking the State Government who made the request, a written memo with No NCAA/DAAS/ARD/ASA/VOL.1/12 and signed by Alh. Lawal Haruna was dispatched directly to the Governor on 22nd February 2012, where it explicitly stated that”
“Asaba Airport with runway length of 3400m can easily accommodate CRJ 900 and B747 jumbo jet”.
The only obstacle NCAA cautioned against was the “hill after one end of the runway (Runway 11) that constitutes an obstruction within the runway end safety area, though work is in progress to reduce its height”
Gov. Okowa downgrade Airport against ULO’s advice.
Our sources within Delta State Government circle squealed to us that Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa has concluded plans to downgrade the Asaba Airport from the 60m width initially planned by ULO who had already laid a 60m width foundation to 45m. We gathered that the Governor is following advice given him by the Ministry of Works.
Findings by this newspaper revealed that ULO wrote to the Governor kicking against the downgrade noting that only runways of 3km length and 60m width are designated to operate 747 and other bigger crafts, which the NCAA had already approved, noting that it will be counterproductive to reduce the width.
This advice by ULO has been discarded by Okowa. A copy of 24 Airports in Nigeria with their runways specifications (length and width) was also obtained by us.
The unheard and untold truth
The Asaba Airport awarded to an indigenous company in ULO Consultants Limited was built on a terrain of over 10 metres filling at one end named 29 Runway with an approach, built over a tributary River Niger named Anwai with a 3.4km by 60m Runway constructed on it.
On the other end, an initial cutting (excavation) of between 13 metre to over 30 metres hill at another approach at the other end, named 11 Runway, a mean feat of construction, so much that almost 10 years after, no portion of the Runway has failed and the Airport still operational.
Due mainly to political considerations and inadequate funding of the Asaba Airport, the Uduaghan’s administration awarded another airport project in Warri for over N40 billion.
Investigations carried out revealed that the Navigational Aids and Airfield Lights have been vandalized regularly due to state government inability to provide security.
Series of letters written by the contractor and NCAA to the State Government to close some of the gaps were rebuffed which led to the eventual downgrade in 2015 and led to the award on removing the obstacles and rehabilitation of the Runway and Taxiways, which as usual the current state government is frustrating by not making money available to complete the work.