State Governors and self serving, white elephant airport projects 

Mon, Oct 30, 2023
By editor
8 MIN READ

Opinion

A popular Yoruba adage says, “E fi ẹ̀tẹ̀ silẹ̀ npa làpálàpá”. In direct translation, it means,  “You leave leprosy  and you are treating ordinary fungal infection”.

In its deeper translation, the adage means, not solving a problem from its root. It also translates to misplaced priority which leads people to chase shadows, spending time and resources on that which never satisfy not endure.

This adage, best describes the egocentric frenzy of many governors to build airports in their states;  projects that have no direct impact in addressing the teething challenges of poverty, unemployment, among the people they govern.

It is a common trend that upon conception and inauguration of these white elephant projects, the governors do assure the people that, upon completion, the airports will open opportunities for more economic activities, employment generation, increased revenue inflow, as well as attract investors to the states.

However, these expectations mostly never come  through, as most of the airport projects are abandoned while some that are completed are neither viable nor self sustaining owing to dearth of passengers, high operational cost, among others.

It has been observed, therefore, that rather than the misplaced priority of the prodigal awards of the states’ scarce resources on airports, governors should always strive to address the immediate needs of their people.

They should, rather, shift focus to road and rail networks, build  functional clinics, invest in agriculture and other projects that will have direct impact on the life of the masses, most of who, do not even know what planes look like.

According to a recent aviation report, not less than N374 billion had been expended on airport construction projects by the states.

It was also observed in the report that the projects were mere conduit to siphon public funds by state officials  rather than the economic interest of the state and the people they were to serve

In separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), some aviation experts expressed the concern that despite the obvious failure of some airport projects   to take off effectively, more state governors are still desperate to build unviable aerodromes in their domains.

According to them, “it is curious that while most of the existing airports in the country are battling operational cost and debt burden, some state governors are still working hard to railroad scarce resources to build more airports”.

Mr John Akpan, an Aviation expert con­demned the plan by the Ogun State government to either construct passen­ger or cargo airport in the state.

Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun, and his pre­decessor, Sen.   Ibikunle Amosun, had differed over the nature and loca­tion of two airport projects in the state

While Abiodun made a case for an agro-allied car­go airport at Ilishan-Remo, Ikenne Local Government Area, Amosun is backing a passenger airport at Wasi­mi in Ewekoro LGA.

Akpan described the plan as a wasteful venture and a white elephant project that may not be actualised.

According to him, the airports would only add up to the number of non-per­forming and underutilised aerodromes in the country.

He wondered where the passengers or car­go traffic would come from considering its closeness to the airport in Lagos.

“I do not think Ogun State needs or can afford an international airport at this time.

” Where will the passengers come from? How many international airlines are lined up begging to fly directly to the state? Isn’t Lagos close enough with ex­isting facilities?

“In my opinion, any thoughts of building an airport; passenger or cargo in Ogun state is probably built on fantasy and not reality,” .

“Such resources could be diverted into construction of good roads, provision of quality health facilities for the people and development of the agricultural sector of the state, ” he said.

Mrs Ngozi Adejumo, a travel agency operator in Abuja said the same narrative in Ogun applied to Ekiti, Benue, Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Kogi and Yobe states which embarked on the high capital intensive projects of building airports in their domains without economic justification or logic outside of being self-serving

According to her, for any modern airport to be viable, it requires, at least five million passengers yearly based on the

recommendation of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Adejumo said except the Lagos and Abuja airports, none of the other aerodromes in the country has ever boasted of such traffic in the country

She, therefore, underscored the need for state government to step up measures at improving  agriculture and rural development rather than  embark on  white elephant projects that do not improve the living standard of the masses.

Speaking in the same veins, Mr Yinka Folarin, the National Secretary, Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR),  said states government often embarked on white elephant projects  as status symbol, to satisfy sectional interest in disregard to general public interest.

Folarin insisted that If governance is about the people, then, their participation in project conception, development, implementation  and evaluation should have been accorded priority.

” Failure by governments to carry people along through debates and other stakeholders’ engagements, often lead to wasteful spending of the state resources. and poor delivery.

” The motives behind our governors’ unpopular policies are not far fetched, as they are often conceptualised out of greed, abuse of power, sectionalism, sensationalism and what we may term corruption via capital flight, ” he said.

To check the trend, Folarin noted that the legislative arm of government must put in place laws that would promote the citizens engagement in governance, especially the budgetary process.

On the major needs of the rural populace, he listed good roads, electricity, adequate water  and, healthcare facilities, community schools and sustainable security as major needs of rural populace that government needed to priotise.

Corroborating the position that airport projects in some states are self serving, Mr Tersoo Kula, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to Gov. Hyacinth Alia of Benue state alleged that the previous administration in the state had nothing to show for the airport projects it embarked on.

According to him, the administration of the immediate past governor of the state,  Samuel Ortom embarked on the construction of two airports at two different intervals and at different locations but none came to life.

He said there was nothing to show physically that the state embarked on such projects anywhere.

“The rot is much, the abandoned projects are also much. Some of the projects are also not abandoned,  but deliberately conceived to be conduit pipe where money was consistently siphoned.

“Is there any place you see even a beacon mounted to indicate that an airport is being constructed in the state by the administration?

“We didn’t inherit such thing, it only existed on paper and that is why we are still checking the books to see exactly what was done.”he said

It would, however be recalled  that the Ortom’s administration inaugurated the construction of a N37bn Cargo Airport along Makurdi -Lafia road and later a commercial airport at Kura village, along Naka road.

Also speaking with NAN, Dr Bachama Nigel, Head of Economics Department, Gombe State University, described as “waste” the Gombe Airport executed by the previous administrations in the state.

According to him, the airport was not viable and its existence since its inauguration was only to serve the privileged few.

Conceived in 2005, the multi- billion Naira

Gombe Lawanti International Airport launched its first flights in 2008, while its first International flight was en route Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Owng to non viability and indebtedness to the tune of N607.9 million, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN)  announced  the closure of the airport in May 2019

It took the intervention of former President Muhammadu Buhari for the federal government to announce the take-over of the airport from the state in Sept. 2022.

The state Governor, Inuwa Yahaya had explained that the move would ensure the availability of funds to maintain the facility throughout the lifespan of the airport’s operation.

Alluding to this development, Nigel stressed the need for governors to channel states resources to projects that will have direct impacts on the well being of the people as against white elephant projects like the airport

The don advised governors to priotise

agriculture development projects such as construction of earth dams,  mechanisation and farmer support services.

He urged the state legislature to ensure thorough scrutiny of projects proposed by governors to ensure that they are people oriented.(NAN)

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October 30, 2023 @ 7:51 GMT|

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