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After initial crises, Ogun airport nears completion

Successive administrations have attempted to build an airport in Ogun State but the project did not see the light of day in 17 years. OLASUNKANMI AKINLOTAN writes that the current government has almost completed the Ogun Agro-Cargo Airport

In December 2023, the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Wale Edun, said that the Ogun Agro-Cargo Airport, when completed, would add value to the lives of the people and contribute to the rapid growth of the state and the country’s economy.

“It is the type of investment that grows the economy, creates jobs and reduces poverty and it is good for the people of Ogun State in particular as well as Nigeria in general that new economic life is being breathed into the area,” Edun stated.

The minister’s endorsement and the expected economic viability, employment opportunities and revenue generation expectations of the Ogun Agro-cargo Airport have been whetting the appetite and fuelling the eagerness of residents, particularly those living in the Ilishan-Remo area of the state. The airport is reputed to have the longest runway in Nigeria, a 4km long runway.

Early crisis

In 2007, former Governor Gbenga Daniel conceived the idea of Gateway Agro Cargo Airport at Ilishan-Remo. He was unable to kick-start the project before he left office in 2011.

His successor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, had a different idea for the project. In 2018, he proposed to construct a passenger airport in the Wasimi area of the state. Amosun’s administration started the groundwork for the airport but could not complete it before his tenure ended in 2019.

The current governor of the state, Dapo Abiodun, however, in 2021 reverted to the original planned agro-cargo in Ilishan-Remo, his hometown.

However, this did not go down well with his predecessor, Amosun, who insisted that the project must be in Wasimi. Despite the scuffles that greeted the project, Abiodun went on with its construction.

Abiodun and Amosun, who have reportedly not been on speaking terms since the 2019 governorship election, renewed their hostility when the Senate Committee on Aviation, led by Smart Adeyemi ( Kogi West), visited the state to inspect the passenger airport projects.

But while playing host to the Senate Committee on Aviation, in March 2021, Abiodun informed the lawmakers of the plan to continue with the agro cargo airport floated by Daniel.

He said the agro-cargo airport project had a lot of potential.

About 11 years ago, the Federal Government, through the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, designated 13 airports as perishable cargo airports in a bid to transform the aviation sector into a major revenue earner for the country. FAAN promised to develop international standard perishable cargo facilities to enhance their operations.

But as of the time of filing this report, the only functional cargo airports are Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Abuja airports, while the remaining nine cargo airports lack the infrastructure to drive cargo imports and exports.

In this sense, it is, however, believed that the takeoff of the Ogun Agro Cargo Airport will play a role in the actualisation or resuscitation of the FAAN dream in the agro cargo business.

Adeyemi-led committee, however, inspected the sites of the two disputed airport projects.

Amosun led the committee to the project site at Wasinmi and justified why the project needed to be completed.

Speaking with newsmen over the dispute, Adeyemi said Ogun could accommodate the two airports due to the concentration of industries, adding that the committee would come out with its report, which will be presented to the National Assembly.

Truth to his words, the Ogun State governor continued with his aggressive pursuit for the actualisation of the cargo airport.

Failed take-off

Meanwhile, the state government had, on three occasions, failed to fulfill its promise to complete the airport and commence operations.

Speaking with journalists in 2022 during a press briefing at the airport, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Abdulwaheed Odusile, noted that construction work on its international cargo airport was being completed to enable the facility to commence operations before the end of 2022.

In the following year, in an interview with The PUNCH, the state governor promised that the airport would commence commercial operations that year. Also during his 2024 New Year message, the Abiodun administration promised that operations would commence at the airport in the first quarter of 2024.

However, the Ogun Agro Cargo Airport has yet to commence operations for yet-to-be-known reasons.

Checks by The PUNCH showed that the state government had sought necessary approval from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority. When our correspondent visited the airport, it was noticed that both the runway and the terminal building looked ready from the outside. Security men prevented our correspondent from entering the airport complex.

The PUNCH also gathered that the governor had in 2023 met with some aviation companies that were willing to partner and manage the airport. Meanwhile, The PUNCH could not independently confirm if any of the companies struck a deal with the government.

Blue-sky project

However, aviation professionals described the airport as a blue-sky project with low assurance of success.

Aside from the absence of required equipment, the experts also complained that available quantities of cargo for both export and import were extremely low compared to the capacity of the already existing airports in the country.

On his part, NCAA licensed commercial pilot with over 30 years of experience, Captain John Okakpu, stated that considering the proximity of Ogun State to Lagos and Ibadan, which house airports, the idea of an airport in Remo was a wrong move.

“That airport is halfway to Ibadan and the same as Lagos. Why should anyone now go to Remo for the sake of an airport when there is an airport in Ibadan and Lagos? Ibadan has two airports.

“The cargo part of that airport is the most useless thing to think of. We learnt they are targeting Lagos, How can you be doing that?

“For an aircraft, once it takes off, it has to fly for 40–45 minutes before it lands at an average because the engine has to have a complete circle; if not, that engine will die. And a piece of that engine costs $30m-$40m.

“Who in his right senses will now drop cargo in Lagos and then fly to Ogun State for about 10–15 minutes risking $30–$40m? How will that happen? When politicians want to eat their money, they don’t think. The airport will not function. Flying in an aircraft for cargo can cost close to $300,000. So, how much cargo is the aircraft coming to pick up in Ogun?”

According to Okakpu, the Abuja airport operates with less than five per cent of cargo available, which is mostly Federal Government contracts, such as the importation of ammunition or central bank money printed and flown into the country.

Also, a former Commandant of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, Group Captain John Ojikutu, questioned the rationale behind the cargo airport in Ogun State, insisting that the available airports were underutilised.

Ojikutu, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Centurion Aviation Security and Safety Consult, noted that the cargo airports in the country currently share less than 500,000 tonnes, though the airports available could airlift millions of tonnes.

Ojikutu stated, “When you are going to build an airport, it means that you have a plan to drive that airport. What cargo is the Ogun airport going to carry? Anyone who is talking about building a cargo airport in this country does not know the quantity of cargo available in this country.

“As of now, we have less than half a million tonnes of cargo for both export and import and that is too small even for the existing airport in the country. So, out of that already small available cargo, how much does Ogun Airport want to carry? Even the already operational airports can carry even 5 million tonnes.”

While taking a swipe at some state governors for venturing into the building of an airport without proper groundwork and research, Ojikutu stressed, “Today, Ekiti has built one, but it can’t move; Lagos has been trying to build one for more than 10 years now. It has not gotten any headway;  Osun has been trying to do that.  Ilorin Airport has been there for almost 40 years.”

The expert, who was part of the Ogun Agro Cargo Airport Committee during the administration of Gbenga Daniel in the state, recalled warning the then-governor not to build the airport in Ilishan-Remo.

His words, “Where they have gone to build the airport in Ogun State is wrong, very wrong!

“During Obasanjo’s time, he planned that Ogun airport would be between Abeokuta and Ayetoro. That was in 1978. When Gbenga Daniel was governor, I was a member of the committee that he put up. He was trying to site the airport on the same axis that the airport is sitting on now, but I told him that it would be the wrong location. I suggested that it should be located near the industrial area.

“The whole of Ota and Agbara gives Ogun about 60 per cent of its revenue because of the industries there. Why not site it between Ota and Papalanto, which will be central to all that will be using the airport? Because of sentiments without thinking of the benefits for the state, they refused.

“That airport will be there for more than four years. I don’t know the cargo they want to carry. It is too far from the commercial hub… it is a waste!”

Meanwhile, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Information, Kayode Akinmade, disagreed with the experts.

He urged them to wait for the commencement of operations at the airport before assessing its performance.

He added that the airport was cited at its current point in Ilishan-Remo for many reasons, ranging from its closeness to the export processing zone to the high level of cassava production in the state.

He also clarified that the airport would not only be about cargo but also airlift passengers.

 He said, “No one can talk about what it will look like or turn into until the operation commences. And there are so many reasons why that airport was cited where it is.

 “That point is just a few kilometres away from the export processing zone, where all processed goods leaving the country will be certified good before they are shipped out or flown out of the country. This development is a win-win situation for these people. Instead of taking their goods to Lagos, they will just take them from the processing point to the cargo airport in Ogun State.

“Ogun State is also arguably the largest producer of cassava in Nigeria, and that is a very veritable raw material. Many people are bringing their goods for export. Until we start, you can’t talk about what a baby can become until the baby comes to life.”

Akinmade stressed that all those who had visited the airport, including a minister, claimed it would be a game changer.

“However, most of our perishable farm produce, which our farmers do not know how to preserve or export, will also all come to life and value will be added to their businesses,” he expounded.

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