By Kayode Sesan
As controversy continues to rage over the Nigerian Presidency’s decision to build a presidential helipad in President Buhari’s hometown of Daura, Katsina State, information from a Nigerian web portal and Nigerian Air Force sources have revealed that the Nigerian Presidential air fleet has three Augusta Westland AW139 helicopters.
The specification of the helicopters in Nigeria’s presidential fleet further heightens concerns over the actual size and cost of the proposed helipad in Daura. The AgustaWestland AW139 is a 15-seat medium sized twin-engined helicopter developed and produced principally by AugustaWestland. It is marketed at several different roles, including VIP/corporate transport, offshore transport, fire fighting, law enforcement, search and rescue, emergency medical service, disaster relief, and maritime patrol. The AW139 is a conventional twin-engine multi-role helicopter. It has a five-bladed fully articulated main rotor with a titanium hub and composite blades and a four-bladed articulated tail rotor. It is fitted with a retractable tricycle landing gear, the two aft wheels retract into external sponsons, which are also used to house emergency equipment. It is flown by a crew of two pilots, with up to 15 passengers accommodated in three rows of five.
Investigations by BREAKING TIMES revealed on Sunday that while a helipad could cost from as low as $10,000, certain specifications could cost as much as $500,000 depending on the size of the helicopter, helipad capacity (some can take as much as 4 helicopters) its maintenance and management costs.
Meanwhile, mixed reactions have trailed the Presidency’s plan to build a helipad for the President’s use in his Daura, Katsina State hometown. Some Nigerians have queried the move over its cost, considering that there is an airport in Katsina amid complains by the Buhari administration that it met an empty treasury left behind by the outgone government of President Goodluck Jonathan. Some have also described the move as a misplacement of priorities as President Buhari is yet to make key appointments in his government a month after his inauguration.
Cheta Nwanze, a journalist with the defunct NEXT newspapers, has dismissed the public uproar over the Daura helipad. According to him, it takes just about “8 bags of cement” to construct a helipad.
However, in 2013, the government of Rockhampton in Queensland, Australia put the cost of building a helipad in a government hospital at $5 million.
The Nigerian Government is yet to make clarifications on the type of helipad it is considering for the President in Daura and at what cost to taxpayers’ money.