Evaluating the proposed Yobe Cargo Airport

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By Eng. Ali Goni
Media reports have shown that Yobe State Govt. has approved the development of a cargo airport at the cost of some N11 billion, said to be ‘first’ of its kind in the North East of the country. It is always the desire of citizens of the state for developments to take place. Projects by govt. are often measured as the pace of development. The construction of a cargo airport with monumental costs, however, requires close assessment due to its sheer size and its impact on the resources of the state. It is desirable to assess the expected cargo that will be available in the state when the airport is fully developed – the vital reason to develop the facility.
Consideration must have been given to the types of cargo that the State will either produce or import to provide for continued use and relevance of the airport.  It is, however, puzzling what products are produced or manufactured that will require haulage by cargo planes.
Agricultural products do not require such facility to export out especially with huge markets around the country and neighboring countries.
The approved Fed. Govt. cargo airport of the northern states is at Ilorin. A visit to the airport shows large cargo buildings and one wonders if full use of the facility with daily cargo flights takes place.  Ask a major dealer of goods at any of our towns and you will be told all products come cheaply by road.

Maiduguri Airport

Several airports have in the last 10 years been built in many state capitals across the country and are now largely idle except periodic commercial flights in a day – if ever, by the rich who can afford. If indeed the state has plans for full manufacturing of agricultural products in the coming years, must an airport be developed now? Is it not wiser to industrialize first before considering this project? Has the government considered Maiduguri International airport with robust facilities only 140Km away which can serve all the needs of Yobe State in the coming years?
The airport can indeed serve for cargo needs of the state if ever desired. If cargo sheds are not available at the Maiduguri Airport, simply acquire 100 hectares of land at outskirts of Bulumkutu Quarters of the town – some short drive to the airport – and build as many as may be required.
Aircrafts are fed with cargo from trucks haulage and do not have to enter cargo sheds to load and unload! The use of the airport for this purpose does not require structural changes anyway. It is available when Yobe State prepares to export its goods.
It is noteworthy to state that Cargo airports across the world are built close to heavy industrial zones to facilitate haulage of manufactured goods easily as against transporting them to congested airports has huge charges.
One would, therefore, ask: which products are on ground that will require massive haulages by the presence of cargo airport in the state? Is Yobe State really heavily industrialized to require cargo airport? Was the essential need for this facility really evaluated? It is likely that preliminary actions on the project may as well have already taken place such as designs and payment of compensation to farmers. The cost of these is however viewed insignificant when compared to the cost of construction and can accordingly be written off.
The sum of N11 billion now voted for the project can wisely be channelled to more product development programs of the state. There are at least 6 developmental issues that require more urgent attention. Basic medical facilities in many towns of the state as indeed in other states of the federation are still primitive.
It is now well known that patients travel to other neighbouring states to get treatments. If some of the funds are used to upgrade say 5 hospitals of the major towns to international standard, this will bring direct relief to the citizens.
Similarly, imagine more funds injected into the education sector thereby further improving the quality of education of the teeming youths. It is noted with happiness that the state has put serious efforts to rehabilitate schools ravaged by insurgents. It is, however, doubtful if all institutions have received major improvements.
The quality of infrastructure – township and rural roads, water supply, electricity supply etc of several towns, and farmlands – require heavy financial injections to improve the facilities. These will have a direct benefit to the citizens of the State.
A major problem now facing the nation is youth unemployment with its attendant consequences such as drug abuse and crime.
There is a large number of youths that have completed secondary school education with no opportunity of getting admission to tertiary institutions. This problem pervades all states of the federation. The few that indeed graduate with degrees and diplomas often do not find suitable employment, if ever.
The development of artisan schools to train our youths for self-employment remains the only best option of empowering them. Imagine training some 1000 youths annually in carpentry, welding, vulcanizing, tailoring, plumbing etc professions and indeed providing implements to them free to ‘commence life’ thereafter. This effort will transcend all sectors of the economy of the state creating value chains in employment, family support, reduction in crimes and indeed wealth creation of the common men and women.
Dedicating some of the funds set aside for the cargo airport, if properly managed, will provide the needed funding for such ventures.
There are several ‘unproductive’ streams in the State and constructing small earth dams will provide opportunities for not only dry season farming but boost fisheries farming.
Several products such as tomatoes, vegetables, onions, etc can be grown in the dry season period thereby boosting incomes of the populace.
The country currently suffers acute shortage of tractors for mechanized farming. A bold step to reduce the use of primitive hoes and other farm tools can start with massive importation of tractors and related implements to be offered on loan to farmers.
This will provide enviable commencement of mechanized farming by peasant farmers thus reducing their pains in farming and haulage of farm products.
Generation of income to the citizens will lead to increased wealth across the state and with its low internally generated revenue (IGR), this will provide the desired platform for greater income in form of taxes.
It is now widely known that almost all the states of the federation cannot sustain themselves directly without recourse to the monthly shared federal funds. It is time hard options are explored to lead to self-sustenance.
Citizens of the country have witnessed a remarkable drop in incomes – except of course those that have returned to the countryside to pursue serious large scale farming in response to the current administration’s focus on alternative sources of national income.
Yobe State citizens will gladly wish to be part of the new agricultural drive. The contract for the cargo airport project may indeed be in place with mobilization payments as standard procedure made to the contractors. The matter can be settled by changing the contract scope of works to the provision of basic infrastructure such as earth dams, roads, drainage works, etc. No contractor will contest this except to charge for mobilization costs.
It is visible that some of the objectives of the current administration of the state are to genuinely leave legacies when it vacates office. This is viewed positively and commendable.
The state government was only recently cited as one of the few that promptly paid its retired staff pension and gratuity. This is in addition to several roads built in the recent past.
The government, in its desire to indeed leave a commendable legacy, should jettison the planned development of the cargo airport and pursue more people-oriented projects.
This is a clarion call on the State and indeed other States of the federation, to undertake projects that have a direct benefit to the teeming masses at this trying time. History will be on their sides.
Engr. Goni wrote this piece from Abuja.
 

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