They have waited for so long for the airport to come to reality. It has passed through different governments in the state. But now, the take-off of the Bayelsa Cargo Airport is on the horizon. PAULINE ONYIBE reports from Yenagoa on the expectations of the people
It all started during the tenure of former Governor Timipre Sylva as the governor of Bayelsa State. Sylva had cited the Bayelsa International Airport at Zarama, along the East-West road. But the immediate past Governor Henry Seriake Dickson came on board and took it to Amassoma community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of the state.
As the governor then, he tried his possible best to make sure that the airport, which he later renamed Bayelsa Cargo Airport became operational.
To see that the dream of having an airport in the state became a reality, Dickson, in 2012, according to record initially said that the airport will gulp about N25 billion although several months later, there was an upward review of the contract, which took it up to N90 billion according to available records.
Although the actual amount spent so far on the airport still remains controversial as this correspondent was not able to get the actual amount as at the time of filling in this report, the Bayelsa State government then under the restoration government had said it spent only N60billion as agonist the N90 billion being rumored by the All Progressives Congress(APC).
The party had criticized the project then in a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Doifie Buokoribo, alleging that the N80billion project was executed at inflated costs.
“Governor Henry Seriake Dickson collected a N40 billion credit facility from a commercial bank to commence work on the project. “As against the initial estimated cost of N40 billion, the Bayelsa State governor himself disclosed in Amassoma, on 26th May 2018 that N80 billion had already been spent on the project.
“Add the loan interest of N32 billion to the new figure, and the cost comes to N112 billion,” the party said. But Dickson maintained that the project was handled by Dantata and Sawoe at the cost of about N60billion, adding that by the time compensation were paid to landowners in the five communities, who provided space for the airport, the total cost would be close to N65billion.
Dickson said the report that the state government spent between N120billion and N150billion on the project was not true. Just recently again, the Bayelsa State Deputy Governor, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, debunked the rumour surrounding the amount used in building the airport. He disclosed that the total cost of the airport was N56 billion and not N100 billion.
“What the then state government spent in constructing the Airport in this extremely challenging terrain was N56billion and not the N70 to N120billion that is being bandied about all over the place.
“By and large, whether the airport has gulped N120 billion or N90 billion, that is not the issue now. “The issue is that very soon, that airport will start full operation courtesy of Governor Douye Diri as the perimeter fencing, which was said to be the reason why the Nigerian Aviation Authority has denied the airport operation permit has commenced.”
In fact, a visit to that airport by South South Focus showed that the airport fencing as it was called by some staff there has gone far. Of course, the Managing Director of the airport, Henry Ungbuku, had assured recently that the project was at its final stage of completion. Ungbuku said the airport was being constructed to guarantee security for the people of the state, including the oil workers.
“The airport will accommodate Boeing 747 aircraft, with the benefit of category II landing facilities to ensure that there is no flight disruption during bad weather. He urged investors to come to the state as enabling environment will be provided for their business to thrive.
Although Peremobowei Ebebi, former deputy governor of the state and an All Progressives Congress candidate for the Bayelsa West Senatorial by-election had condemned the building of the airport by the immediate Dickson, stating that “Airport that we never needed he built it. Who did he build that airport for?
“The airport was built in a wrong place at a wrong time and at a time that we didn’t need it. What is our population? What is the travelling ratio by Bayelsa people to Abuja or to Lagos?
“In 10 years’ time, we may not be using that airport because airport needs commercial activities for it to be viable. If at all he had the progress of Bayelsa at heart, he should have built that airport somewhere along the East West Road but we don’t need it”, Ebebi said.
But Kenny Ikputu, the Public Relations Officer of the airport, who spoke to this correspondent on the telephone because he was not around when she visited the airport, maintained that “the fencing of that airport is almost completed.
“The fencing is not something that you can just stand at the terminal building and see. Why not come on a different day so that you will see? You will not just hear from me; you will see and you make your conclusion by yourself. “If I even send picture, it will still look as if it was manufactured. The government has started doing the fencing speedily and the fencing is almost completed.
The fencing is almost 90 per cent completed.” And for the host communities of the airport, they are expecting much. Fredrick Adoewori, former youth president of Amassoma community, said: “I’m aware that the fencing work has gone really far but I have not gone there to see things by myself. “It is only the people that are working that do tell us that Douye Diri is doing the fencing work speedily; that it will soon be completed. “Amassoma is a catchment area.
We need employment. Secondly, one of the fears we are having is that airport is not a motor park that any person that wants to work will start working. Before airport starts, we know that people are supposed to go for mini trainings. Those things we have not seen.
So, our concern now is that there are people in other areas who have gone through the trainings. “Since they are not training us that are in this area, we believe that they will just bring those people and take over the jobs that we are supposed to do. “And the only jobs we might end having is may be security and casual workers. And by the time all the communities that host will come together, they will see protests.”
His Royal Highness, Graham Naimgba of Amassoma, said: “I’m not seeing that airport taking off for now. They have not told us anything. Let them take care of the youth and us the community leaders.” His Royal Majesty Bubaraye Dakolo, Agada iv, the Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom said: “We are not expecting anything from the government.
“We are expecting that people will take advantage of the opportunity that will come to the airport. The airport is providing a lot of opportunities from transportation to hospitality to cargo. “It means that a lot of things could be exported. So, there is enough space for factories. Hotels can be built in my kingdom. People in my kingdom could go and get their own shops in the premises.
“People should create jobs for themselves. How many jobs do you think that government will create there? The locals can benefit from creating job for themselves. “A lot of preparation can be made by the local people. For instance, there are to be airport taxis. If the Amassoma people didn’t bring the taxis, Igbo people will bring them. “It is for the local people to prepare. There has been enough time to prepare. People should not go into touting and racketeering.
“People should look at opening proper restaurant around the airport to service those who will be coming. They shouldn’t look at the negative ones. “The government itself should prepare and ensure that there are no incidences on that road that will threaten visitors. Let them ensure that everyone is safe because one incident alone could damage that airport.
“Government should sensitize the communities on the opportunities that are available at the airport. If you have a license to get fleeting company such as private jets, helicopters, people can do that.”