From AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, Abuja
Former aviation minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, has said the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati lied against him. Fani-Kayode said he thought Abati was self-serving, adding that if he focused specifically on what Abati said of his own tenure as minister, he could not come to any other conclusion “rather than the fact that Reuben Abati is a liar. Fani-Kayode, who was reacting to an article written by Abati, entitled:
The hypocrisy of yesterday’s men, published in some Nigerian dailies, further said: “Abati sought to ridicule and demean those of us that served former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s government and that are not very impressed with the performance of his boss.” He said the essay written by Abati was nothing but the usual smear campaign and a crude attempt to intimidate, which had been the hallmark of the government whenever they were faced with even the mildest form of criticism.
Focusing on the aviation aspect of the essay where Abati said: “When one of them was in charge of this same estate called Nigeria, he shut down the Port Harcourt airport and other airports for close to two years under the guise of renovation…,” Fani Kayode said: “Abati indulged in a shameless and pernicious lie when he wrote that as minister of aviation, I ‘shut down Port Harcourt airport for two years’ and ‘allowed grass to grow all over it’.
“The fact that we asked President Goodluck Jonathan to account for the 67 billion USD that he squandered from our foreign reserves has clearly upset him. “We dared to ask about the money and so, we were singled out and targeted for a tongue-lashing and a long lecture from the Presidency.
Yet, we remain undeterred. “Abati indulged with a response other than to say that he told a shameless and pernicious lie when he wrote that as minister of aviation, I ‘shut down Port Harcourt Airport for two years’ and ‘allowed grass to grow all over it.’ “This is false. It is a classic case of disinformation coming from a man that is obviously suffering from a very low self-esteem.
It is clear that Abati, who is a journalist, has forgotten the most important tenet of his profession, which is that ‘facts are sacred and opinion is cheap’.’ “Ordinarily, one would have ignored his bitter rant, but it is important that I set the record straight for the sake of posterity,” Fani-Kayode declared. Relieving the episode, Fani Kayode said Abati only turned the facts upside down.
“Port Harcourt International Airport was closed on December 10, 2005, after the Sossolisso Air crash in which 100 people were killed. The crash affected the runway of the airport very badly and consequently, the then minister of aviation, Prof. Babalola Borishade closed it. “I was redeployed from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to the Ministry of Aviation in November 2006. This was 11 months after the Sossolisso crash took place and that Port Harcourt airport had been closed. “It is clear from the foregoing that I was not the one that shut down Port Harcourt airport.
When I took over at Aviation, my priority was to carry out all the necessary repairs at Port Harcourt airport and to open it as quickly as possible. “I was saddened to discover that in the previous 11 months before I got there, nothing had been done and the contract to repair the runway had not even been awarded. “Consequently, within a month of my being appointed minister of aviation, we set to work and awarded the contract to Julius Berger at the cost of N3 billion. 50 per cent of the money was paid upfront and Julius Berger set to work immediately.
The runway was fully completed and the airport was in pristine condition before I left office on May 29, 2007, just six months after I awarded the contract. “However, despite this, the airport could not be opened before we left because the runway lighting system was still in the process of being installed. The Yar’Adua government went ahead and opened the airport a few months after we left office even though the runway lights had still not been installed.
“The record shows that from the day that I was appointed minister of aviation and the time that our mandate ran out seven months later, my staff at the ministry and Julius Berger, worked night and day on the runway project at Port Harcourt International Airport to ensure that we finished it in record time,” Fani-Kayode said. “And this we managed to do. It was my project. I sourced the money for it, I paid for it, I forced the contractor to move fast on it and I finished it.
The fact that the Yar’Adua administration did not complete the lighting system and open the airport for another few months after we left office, even though the runway was ready, is for them to explain and not for me. “I repeat that it was under my watch that work commenced, that it was rebuilt, that it was completed and that it was fully restored and after that, the airport was ready to be fully utilised.
“Given these facts, how Abati can peddle the lie that I was the one that not only closed the airport, but that I also kept it shut for two years, did nothing there, caused it to remain idle and allowed grass to grow all over it honestly baffles me,” Fani-kayode stated.