Opinion

Ogun Agro-Cargo Airport: Abiodun’s signature of sterling performance

Some sceptics may not like to agree with me but I cannot hesitate to say that the ongoing construction of the Agro-Allied Cargo Airport situated at Ilishan-Remo, is one of the outstanding signatures of Governor Dapo Abiodun’s sterling performance in Ogun State. Without prejudice to an individual’s right of opinion, it is one project that cannot be wished away because of its numerous benefits to which I shall return shortly for further explanation.

Whatever side of the political divide you belong to, before you say ‘jack,’ please, take your time out to see the massive work going on at the site and ask yourself the relevant question of funding sources at a time when the economy, nay global economy, is in doldrums. It is sprawling, captivating but money-consuming.

Like the Federal Government, the provision of infrastructure is one of the key priority areas of the administration of Governor Abiodun. This is bearing in mind that infrastructure is a catalyst that promotes rapid socio-economic and industrial growth. Over the years, bridging the infrastructure deficit has become a major concern in the country. And Ogun State is not an exception. In order to close the current deficit gap, experts say, it will require an estimated investment of about $150 billion per annum for at least the next 10 years. The gap includes lack of good roads, railway networks, power generation, and transmission, decaying public educational institutions, dilapidated healthcare facilities, and even airports, amongst other infrastructures that drive economic growth.

According to available statistics, over 40 percent of productivity handicaps faced by African countries are caused by infrastructure constraints. There is, therefore, no gainsaying the fact that the dearth of key infrastructure in several sectors of the nation’s economy has been a major limiting factor to its growth’s potentials as well as its competitive capacity globally.

However, while the Federal Government has evolved a number of strategies to fund infrastructure projects, including Executive Order 007 on Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme signed into law in 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari, to encourage private participation in building critical infrastructure, the states have been left alone to grapple with the challenge of financing amidst the declining revenue allocation from the centre.

As in other states of the federation, funding capital projects in a rapidly dwindling global economy has been a major challenge facing the current leadership. But Governor Abiodun is taking it in his own stride. And he is surely not going to shirk his responsibility to change the narrative because his promise to the electorate is to make Ogun State an envy of others.

In the face of severely limited resources, therefore, work is rapidly and progressively ongoing across the state to build a new network of roads and also rehabilitate the collapsing ones. As a mark of his commitment to achieving economic transformation, one of the gigantic projects that will drive the yearnings of this administration to turn Ogun State into an industrial destination of choice, not only in Nigeria but the West Africa sub-region, is already nearing completion. That huge project is the Agro-Allied Cargo Airport which is a product of a vision inspired by the leadership that genuinely believes in building capacity for sustainable economic prosperity for the state and its people.

For the benefit of hindsight, former Governor Gbenga Daniel had envisioned the project as a way of attracting business and investment opportunities to Ogun State, taking cognizance of the advantage of its proximity to Lagos. This was a time when industry owners and importers had to go through terrible nightmares as a result of congestion of the two seaports and international airport in Lagos. Thus, having got the necessary approvals from the Federal Ministry of Aviation and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), former Governor Daniel settled for Ilishan-Remo, a settlement close to Sagamu, as his preferred location and did the groundwork. But he could not complete the project before the end of his tenure.

Consequently, the responsibility of actualising the dream fell on his immediate successor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, who felt that the proposed Cargo Airport was best for his own people. He took a detour and started an entirely new one at another location called Wasimi, a part of the Egba community (Ogun Central) where he belongs.

On assumption of office of Governor Abiodun, Senator Amosun instigated a fresh power struggle that culminated in the subsequent visit of the Senate Committee on Aviation to the two sites in a bid to resolve the seemingly intractable impasse over the right choice of location. In the final analysis, the representatives of the NCAA told the Senate Committee that there was no record of any approval for the establishment of Wasimi Agro-Allied Cargo Airport, but it had all the necessary documentation for the Ilishan Cargo Airport. That intervention ended the undue ego-tripping that would have aborted the lofty idea.

Though money-spinning, Governor Abiodun has left no one in doubt that his administration is genuinely committed to seeing the successful completion of the project.

According to him, the construction of the airport which commenced in March 2022 would probably be the fastest constructed airport on the continent. This implies that all things being equal, the state will witness its first official landing of cargo planes in less than four months from now.

The economic importance of this project cannot be overemphasized. When fully completed, it is projected that it will create additional 25,000 jobs for the teeming unemployed youths.

“The impact of the agro cargo airport will have positive effects on hotels and warehouses being constructed in the area. Nigeria Customs and the Nigerian Air force are coming there. We estimate that in the first 18 months, we will create a minimum of 25,000 jobs in that airport. This is not a PowerPoint airport,” Governor Abiodun said.

Apart from employment creation, the project will also open up the state, deepen the development process, and also provide an alternative to the congested Lagos port facilities. In the same vein, it will also shore up the state’s revenue generation capacity, which is the right step toward financial self-sufficiency.

In addition to all these, it will facilitate the import of key commodities and machinery, enhance positive investment returns, increase foreign exchange earnings through sales of agricultural products and ultimately boost the state’s profile to become the West African trade hub.

Over the years, the lack of storage facilities for farm produce and the challenges arising from aviation bottlenecks have been the bane of exportation by farmers in Nigeria. Stakeholders are already excited that the completion of the Cargo Airport would tremendously boost the exportation of agricultural and allied products by commercial farmers as well as the importation of farm inputs.

Its central location at Ilishan-Remo will further stimulate economic development through the provision of passenger and cargo services needed to support Nigeria’s emerging economy. And above all, when it becomes fully operational, it will result in increased Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the Nigerian economy and an improved business environment. And, of course, the multiplier effects will cut across various sectors to unleash the potential for industrial development and increased economic activities. These are some of the positive expectations from this laudable project both from the government and private sector stakeholders.

We may not all like the man who is doing the job; and, of course, it is not necessary that we all love his calm disposition, but we must all help him to achieve his desire for the state as much as the intention is to serve the greatest number of people. In its short, medium, and long-term objectives, the aim of the architects of this project is to reshape the economic trajectory of the state for future generations of our children and children’s children yet unborn.

As Governor Abiodun had earlier projected, the project is expected to be completed and commissioned before the end of this year. Ahead of that projection, the international aviation sector is already in full excitement waiting for the first official landing of a cargo plane at the Ogun Agro-allied Cargo Airport, the first of its kind in Africa. Among others, international aviation agencies such as the International Air Transport Association, (IATA), an association of airline traders around the world, and local regulatory agencies such as NCAA, NAMA, NIMET, and FAAN, have all indicated interest in the new airport because of its strategic location.

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), two critical components in aviation security and safety, are also not left behind, even as the Fire Station Service within the airport is nearing completion.

For the benefit of doubting Thomas, IATA alone represents 290 airlines in 120 countries, regulating 83 percent of the world’s air traffic. That itself is a huge boost to the state’s economy because the agency includes the world’s leading passenger and cargo airlines.

In appreciation of the enormous benefits of the Cargo Airport, a Non-governmental Organisation (NGO), the International Freight and Cargo Advocacy Centre (CIFAC) lent credence to this, applauding the foresight and great vision of the Abiodun administration to transform the economy of the Gateway State.

A statement issued by the Director-General of CIFAC, Olatunde Awonuga, posited that: “The international cargo airport would further encourage the proliferation of agro-allied cottage industries in the country, thereby boosting the nation’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and other economic indices within a short time frame.

“The strategic location of the airport on the Sagamu-Epe-Lekki bypass road would not only enhance easier, faster, and cheaper access to it by motorists from all parts of Ogun, Oyo, Lagos, and other states in the Southwest, given the opportunity to avoid the incessant traffic on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway but would also boost international trade in the West African sub-region along the Lagos-Cotonou (Benin-Republic) trade corridor and this comes with huge promises in strengthening regional economy and international cooperation among countries in the West African sub-region.

 “It is no gainsaying that the establishment of the airport would give exporters the leeway to export their cash products such as cocoa, kolanut, rubber, and tobacco without necessarily passing through the Muritala Muhammad International Airport (MMIA) in Ikeja, Lagos.”

In readiness for the December deadline target for the commissioning of the project, according to the Ogun State Commissioner for Works, Engr. Ade Akinsanya, the Control Tower and runaway, the two most important features in Airports, have reached 80 percent completion.

To ensure that Ogun State farmers derive full benefit from the project, Akinsanya added that the deal had already been struck with the African Development Bank (AfDB) to site an Agro testing firm at Sagamu. This is a milestone in achieving value-chain addition, because, over the years, the challenge of certification has severely hindered the easy exportation of agricultural produce to other countries.

Without any iota of doubt, the Ogun Agro-Allied Cargo Airport is already a dream come true. And the factional governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ogun State, Segun Showunmi, rightly noted the aggressive drive behind the project, saying that the more you look, the more you appreciate the efforts of the great thinkers who conceived the idea and nurtured it to fruition.

It doesn’t matter your political affiliation, you do not gain anything from being a negative sadist. Showunmi is obviously above the sentiment of his political leaning by a way of subtle acknowledgment of Governor Abiodun’s sheer determination and doggedness he has demonstrated in nurturing the project to completion in the face of the severely limited financial resources. And on this note, “we can now safely say we are on course,” pardon me for dubbing your words.

 

Ezekiel writes from Sagamu, Ogun State

 

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