By Tersoo Zamber
All over the world, airports are viewed as economic and social infrastructure as well as catalyst for rapid development. Airports, no doubt facilitate the fastest and safest transportation system.
They also generate employment to many people from wide range of supply chain and ground services. The sector is said to have contributed about 120 billion naira to the nation’s GDP in 2013.
A recent report by Airports Council International indicates that non-aeronautic revenues accounts for about 45 percent of revenue from the sector. Unarguably, airport project is capital intensive because several billions of naira is required to construct it over a period of time. In recent times, state governments have delved into the construction of airports.
At present, out of the 36, only few states do not have or are yet to start the construction of airport.
At a glance, airport construction appears novelty and commendable. But from an in-depth point of view, it calls for reappraisal and timely redirection. First, the proximity between these states to cities where airports existed even before some of these states were created is indicative of the fact that such new airports are needless, to say the least.
This is so because, even with the deplorable condition of roads, it takes less than two hours from Kano for instance which had airport long time ago to Dutse in Jigawa state which came up with another airport only to be left for occasional hajj operations. The same story can be told of Sokoto and Birnin Kebbi, Benin and Asaba, Lagos and Ibadan as well as Bauchi and Gombe airports. The list is endless.
Such airports become dormant soon after completion, while some are abandoned at various stages of construction. This explains the case with the Ogun state cargo airport initiated in 2005 but has not seen the light of the day.
This is clearly a waste of resources that could have been channeled to projects that have more impact on the people. Again, a survey shows that only about 5, out of the 28 airports in the country are viable and sustainable.
They are the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, Port Harcourt International Airport, Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano.
The number of flights in the rest of the airports is no cheering news because no flight either took off from or landed in them in a long while. It can be argued that the gale of airports by state governments is grand standing rather than for the purpose of need. Analysts have posited that such airport projects are avenues for misapplication of public funds especially by the Governors who are not sure of their second term bid.
The one that is perturbing is the construction of airports by states which currently owe workers salaries for many months. Recently at an event to mark the tenth anniversary of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar on the throne, he stressed point blank this misplaced priority by some state governments.
According to the spiritual leader, the governors were embarking on airport construction instead of fixing roads and paying their workers whom they owe for many months. Indeed, his observation attracted varying reactions.
While some viewed his remarks as timely advice to the states, unfortunately others saw it from a sentimental point of view. Benue state is the latest entrant into the league of airport constructors with the commencement of cargo airport construction.
It must be noted that the Jonathan administration planed to bring on stream 15 cargo airports across the country but none was realized. Besides, constructing a new airport at a time workers are owed for many months is tantamount to a debtor building a castle while his creditors are starving and begging for their entitlements.
The claims that investors will provide funding for these airports should not blind fold the governors not see the other side of the bargain. The states can initiate partnership with the military authorities to use their airports where they exist. Alternatively, the states should deliberately establish processing factories in areas according to their agricultural advantage to mop up farm produce.
They should heed to the clarion call to fix the roads and ensure security and welfare of their people which is obligatory.
Tersoo Zamber is of Radio Nigeria, Abuja
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