Interview: Hadi Sirika

What were the biggest challenges involved in the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport renovation?

HADI SIRIKA: There were quite a few challenges, beginning with the fact that it was not a proper procurement, but rather an emergency one. Appointing the right consultant for the project, understanding the enormity of the failure at the runway and selecting the right contractors were all major challenges.

Shutting down an airport and all of its activities, especially in a capital, is a massive undertaking. With its 6m passengers per annum, Abuja is not a small airport, plus the city is the seat of power and foreign missions.

After several considerations, Kaduna was deemed the most appropriate choice in terms of logistics. This was another important matter. The dilapidated road to Kaduna was fixed in record time. The train schedule was changed to accommodate the flight needs of the passengers, both in Abuja and Kaduna. Moving all of these passengers posed a problem, therefore we provided complimentary train and bus services. This proved to be very successful.

Security was yet another challenge. To that end, we designed – in conjunction with the Nigerian Police, Nigeria Civil Defence, the State Security Service and the military – a security programme to ensure passengers’ safety for the 200-km trip from Kaduna to Abuja.

The government also had to communicate with the general public about the available services. We created a website and printed a large number of fliers.

We talked with imams and leaders of faith, asking them not to pray on the road on Fridays, which is a common practice on the road to Kaduna. In certain areas we asked truck drivers not to park on the road, and thanks to this the traffic is flowing freely. We also had to face criticism by some who argued it was possible to repair the runway without completely shutting down the airport. This was not feasible, and we were able to convince those who were advocating for the non closure that this was necessary. The Council for Regulations of Engineering agreed with us. We also met with stakeholders and representatives from foreign missions to explain and discuss the solution.

There were also concerns that the economy was going to be irreparably damaged; however, the situation spurred business around Kaduna, and Nigeria as a whole gained as a result. Kaduna’s airport needed renovation and new instruments to ensure it matched international standards. Most of these activities were not ours alone, but involved a large number of ministries and agencies. However, the level of coordination was excellent and the project was carried out in the scheduled six weeks and within budget. This was a major success for Nigeria.

What comes next in terms of priorities for capital upgrades of Nigeria’s airports?

SIRIKA: We are in the process of concessioning airports right now as we no longer have the ability and capacity to fund them. We will start with the four international airports Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. These will be concessioned first. The concessioners will rebuild them to international standards and manage them, while paying concessioning fees. They will operate them for an established amount of time, likely a few decades, and then they will come back to the hands of Nigerian government. We are looking at starting the concessioning process before the end of 2017.

How would you rate the current state of Nigeria’s domestic aviation sector?

SIRIKA: In terms of safety and security, the International Civil Aviation Organisation recently gave Nigeria an A rating. However, in term of the growth of the industry and performance, I would not award the country with a good mark. Nigeria is average, and this is due to many factors. A major factor is a lack of funding for local airlines. However, the potential of the sector is very high. Nigeria is one of the best countries in Africa to invest for aviation, with 180m travelling passengers.