Saturday, November 12, 2011

Nigeria: Needless Airports. (Editorial)


Latching on to the populist notion of attracting investors to catalyse local development, several governors have muscled their way to build airports in their states. Their sincerity is questionable. These expensive projects are mere flights of fancy. Shortly after completion, these facilities, become the state chief executives' airstrips that receive only their chartered flights. Few investors fly in to justify the contrived visions. Essentially, these costly airports have become desolete,, except for pilgrimages or political campaigns.

Nigeria has about 24 airports operated by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), four of which are of international standards. The Akwa Ibom and Asaba international airports, which opened for business recently, are owned by Akwa Ibom and Delta state governments respectively. In addition, there are airstrips or airfields scattered around the country, built mainly by the Nigerian Air Force and multinational oil companies.

In a milieu where a poor sense of infrastructural prioritization is the vogue, what factors should determine the necessity and viability of an airport? Just last month, the administration of Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State awarded a contract for the building of its long-proposed international airport at the cost N7, 998,595,433 to Triacta Company Nigeria Limited. Should a full-fledged airport be the priority of the Bauchi State government? Bauchi is only 117 kilometres from Jos where the Yakubu Gowon Airport has been in negligible use since 1988 when it was commissioned.

Three years after ex-Governor Danjuma Goje built the Gombe State International Airport, the developmental priority of the project remains debatable, given the poor economic status of the state as graphically expressed by its youth unemployment and educational backwardness. Commissioned on September 9, 2006, by President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Kebbi State Airport located in Ambursa is rarely patronised. For most people flying into the area, including government officials, the preferred facility is the Sultan Abubakar III International Airport in Sokoto.

The Minna International Airport in Niger State and Umaru Musa Yar'Adua International Airport, Katsina, share comparable operational blues. The Taraba Airport being built in Jalingo has been under construction since 2005 and government officials are still not certain when it will be completed. Lagos State is mulling an airport around the Lekki/Aja area with the usual glib justifications.

The proximity of these airports reinforces their perception as prestige and vanity projects. The Benin Airport in Edo State is an hour's drive to the Asaba airport. Asaba is about two hours' drive to Enugu which has an airport. The Owerri Airport and Port Harcourt International Airport are separated by about two hours.

Therefore, local airports have been built by political rather than market logic. However, the negatives of this approach are not secret. Huge funds are wasted on terminals and runways that simply are not needed. Rather than establishing the need, feasibility studies are often distorted to justify the projects.

The meaningful development of national rail and modern road and maritime transportation networks would help to kill off the trite argument of politicians for building airports in every hamlet and short-changing their constituents in the process. These are the strategic policy options before the central and state governments.

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