It has been established that one of the challenges of sustainable development in the country is lack of continuity of government programmes and policies. Many laudable programmes and projects initiated by preceding government are often abandoned by successive government because they do not want their predecessors to take credit for the success of these programmes. This scenario has continued to play itself out on daily basis in Ogun state as several viable projects initiated by the immediate past administration of Otunba Gbenga Daniel have been deliberately dumped by the present administration of Senator Ibikunle Amosun without taking into cognizance the huge amount of public funds involved in initiating such projects and programmes coupled with its retrogressive effect on the State’s which could only be imagined.
Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah recently announced that about fourteen perishable cargo terminals that are under construction will be ready before the end of the New Year. The terminals, the Minister said, have been selected in line with regional agricultural comparative advantage and private sector expressions of interest. According to reports, these terminals are located in Abuja, Akure, Calabar, Ilorin, Jalingo, Jos, Kano, Ikeja, Makurdi, Minna, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Uyo.
Cheering as this development was especially in the States where the terminals are located; it is saddening that Ogun State, which arguably was the first to initiate the idea of an Agro-Cargo airport as far back as 2005, could not benefit from such. No thanks to politics of bitterness and the blasé stance of the present administration in the State under the leadership of Senator Ibikunle Amosun.
Ogun State, noted for its vast agricultural potential, began the idea of promoting the establishment of the cargo airport to serve as the pivot for the development of a new industrial town off the Lagos/Ibadan/Benin Expressway as far back 2005. The development of an Agro Cargo airport was not only a part of the economic development strategy of Daniel’s administration to raise the standard of living of its residents but also act as a catalyst for stimulating economic activity within the State especially in the development pressure area included in the Ogun State Regional Plan 2005-2025. In the same vein, the proposed airport would enable Ogun State import consumer goods, machinery and industrial raw products and export agricultural products and perishable goods. It should be noted that a cargo airport would be an economic vehicle for local development and raise the international profile of the State. Hitherto, Otunba Daniel’s administration had envisioned the airport as a potential hub for a new industrial town providing for services and business opportunities to the people of Ogun. Other proposed uses for the airport include services for mail and courier operators, a pilot training school, an aircraft maintenance facilities and general aviation facilities including a pilot training school, helicopter and air taxi services.
While chairing a session on Planning for Development at the 13th Ogun Economic and Investment Summit, the then Minister of National Planning and Deputy Chairman of national Planning Commission, Senator Mohammed Daggash said “the crisis of movement of passengers and goods at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport has made another airport imperative’
After initial reluctance of former President Obasanjo to give its approval to the project in 2005/2006, late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, after deep consideration of the socio-economic and political advantage such project will have on Nigeria, intervened in 2008 by granting cargo and passenger license status to the proposed airport. The approval was conveyed to the State government by the Air Transport Unit which also said its relevant officials and parastatals will supervise the process from the initial stage to the final delivery in line with extant aviation rules in the country. Following this development, the Ogun State Executive Council presided over by former Gov, Daniel set July 2008 for the beginning of the construction of the airport to be known as Gateway Agro-Cargo Airport at Ilishan in Remo Division of Ogun State.
Thus began the feasibility and development studies of the airport project including payment if compensation to original land owners on the acquired project site which had been concluded. Competitive bidding by international developers on BOT/PPP arrangement had also been completed awaiting final investment decision.
The Ogun State Government then proceeded by signing a contract with Dar-Al Hadassah of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for the construction of its planned Agro Cargo Airport. The deal involves consultancy for the master plan, a feasibility study, environmental assessment and technical design. The government also signed the contract for the topography survey, to be executed by UNILAG Consult while Intelcon Partnership Limited got the contract for the soil testing of the proposed airport located along the Lagos-Ibadan-Benin expressway.
According to the former Governor Gbenga Daniel, the event was epochal saying it signified an irreversible step towards the realization of the project. An enthusiastic Daniel charged Dar Al Hadassah, UNILAG Consult and Intelcon to be conscious of time and the need to deliver the project on schedule. UNILAG Consult is the consultancy firm set up by the University of Lagos. He said: “An airport is a highly advanced construction, so we must get it right from the beginning. The choice of Dar Al Hadassah is because we want only the best. The business of airport construction can only be entrusted to those with the technical capability and from its antecedents, Dar-Al Hadassah is one of the best in the world”, he said. Daniel said the unique selling point of the Agro cargo was its location off the busy Sagamu-Ijebu Ode Express road that was easily accessible to all parts of the country. He also described the project as a potential major contributor to the economic development of the state and Nigeria since many businesses were expected to spring up from it.
Speaking on behalf of the contractors, Gamal Abutenidy of Dar-Al Hadassah said his company was pleased to work with the Ogun State Government on the project. He also described the project as viable and strategic to the integrated social and economic development of the state assuring the governor that Dar-Al Hadassah would bring its wealth of experience to bear on the project. Dar-Al Hadassah has handled airports and related construction projects in UAE, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and was among the top 10 in the airport consultancy, construction and management. It secured the airport project contract after a competitive bidding process that involved both local and international companies.
Also, in readiness for the project, an ancillary rail project from Isheri-Ibadan via Sagamu/Iperu, with off-shoot routes to Abeokuta, Ilaro and Ijebu Ode were on board as Phase 2, 3 and 4 of the cargo airport project. Indeed the accepted developer for the main airport had accepted to simultaneously commence the Isheri-Sagamu-Iperu rail line axis for obvious economic viability and development growth reasoning. The first phase of this project was preliminarily scheduled for commissioning in March 2012, if it was not abandoned by Amosun’s administration. The project (phase 1) was to have provided more than 100,000 employment opportunities to Nigerians especially Ogun state residents.
However, the face-off between the executive and legislative arms of government aftermath the impeachment of the Speaker, Rt. Hon (Mrs) Titi Oseni in 2008 had a negative impact on the laudable project as the Group of 15 of the lawmakers led by Rt. Hon. Tunji Egbetokun blatantly refused to approve the bond part of which could have been used for the project’s take off. This development dragged till the end of Otunba Gbenga Daniel’s administration in May, 2011 and the rest is history.
Since coming on board of the new administration, the main preoccupation of Senator Ibikunle Amosun has been to undo what the former administration did and one of this is the outright abandonment of the Agro Cargo Airport. When accosted by journalists and queried about his indifference to the project, the only reply Amosun could give was that he did not meet anything on ground despite the billions of naira allegedly spent on projects. According to him, “People talk to me as if Agro-Cargo Airport has taken off. But up till now nothing is on ground. Not even the feasibility study. But don’t worry, things will be sorted out, in all our developmental projects, we are going to include airport in them”.
But, in a sharp contrast to his promise, what has been the main preoccupation of Amosun’s Administration is building flyovers in the capital city of Abeokuta and two other major towns of Sagamu and Ijebu Ode to the detriment of other real developmental projects.
Miffed by the nonchalant attitude of the present government, residents of Iperu and Ilishan where the airport was cited in Remo axis of Ogun state recently called on Gov. Ibikunle Amosun, to urgently address the issue of the state agro-cargo airport which is gradually becoming a haven for criminals. The people of the two communities, who lamented the abandonment of the project, however, said the project if completed, is capable of generating employment for the teeming youths of the area, who are roaming the streets. Concerned elders and people of the communities lamented that the multi-billion naira project which received accolades from both local and international investors during the ground-breaking ceremony had however, become a haven for criminals.
With the current development, it is doubtful if the current administration is ready to revisit the Cargo Airport project more so as it was not initialed by Amosun’s government. As the vindictive nature of the present administration and tribal politics draw the clock of the State backward in a geometric progression, only a change of governance in 2015 could put the state back on track.
Funmilayo Adeoni wrote from Abeokuta, Ogun State via [email protected]