The trip to the 2011 World Infrastructure Summit which ended penultimate Friday in Paris, France was an eye-opener of sort to the delegation from Nigeria.
Although Governor Mu'azu Babangida Aliyu of Niger State and his Rivers State counterpart, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi received awards for engendering fundamental shift in the economies of their states, participants from Nigeria discovered that the country was deficient in the industrialization strategies it adopted in the past to create long term sustainable change in the economy.
Nigeria, for instance, learnt that several countries that have made economic progress did so through robust Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), for the simple reason that investments in infrastructure usually require huge financial resources which are beyond the capacity of states' budgets. In other words, the delegation from Nigeria learnt that governments have no business running businesses.
Niger and Rivers States however presented impressive proposals that will leap frog the states' economies and put them on the path of development. While Gov Amaechi spoke on his plan to regenerate the state capital through the Greater Port Harcourt City initiative, the Niger State's helmsman briefed investors on plans to build an airport city in Minna, the state capital.
Governor Aliyu informed that the development of the state will initially be focused on the development of economic zones that will incorporate an industrialization strategy around Minna. The vision is to create the Minna Airport City (MAC) as the platform for the economic development. The area of the site is a zone of approxiÂ¬mately 42km x 42km, which stretches from Suleja in the east to Bida in the west, with Minna at its centre.
Aliyu's vision stems from the realisation that airports are shaping businesses and urban development in this century as much as seaports did in the 18th century, railways did in the 19th century and highways in the 20th cenÂ¬tury.
MAC, when built, will be the first of its kind in Nigeria in terms of its layout, infraÂ¬structure and economy. It will be centred around the existing airport on the outskirts of Minna and will be a well planned city that will become a benchmark in urban planning.
Investors from TAV Airports were particularly stimulated by the favourable conditions that already exist. Investors were glad to know the state has vast water resources that support three hydroelectric power stations; Kainji, Shiroro and Jebba and the fact that an estimated 80% of the land area of the state is suitable for agriculture and the range of crops species that can be produced is wide given the soil texture and climatic conÂ¬ditions.
Interestingly, only 25% of the state's 682,331 hectares of arable land has been developed for agriculture. So,an Airport City will improve the potential for the development of Agriculture.
There was also a congruence of thought among participants that airports have become key for the economic development and competiÂ¬tiveness of countries throughout the world. It was agreed that even though the Airport City concept is recent, it has become significant generators and nuclei for urban development and economic regenÂ¬eration.
Airport Cities, Dr Aliyu explained, are a recent phenomenon, where the expansion of the airport triggers the expansion of the surrounding business areas linked by new, fast and efficient transport links. Whereas airports were originally built to perform one function, they are now cities in themÂ¬selves with significant retail provision acting as employment centres and generators of significant wealth. As the airports have expanded and the nature of their business evolved, their peripheries have developed to include major manufacturing and business centres.
Due to its topographically tested existing location, Minna Airport can be developed in a similar manner to airports in Europe, USA and the Far East. It has the potential to become a node for new industries and ecoÂ¬nomic development. National and international companies will want to re-locate there, due to its proximity to the international links afforded by the airport and also the nearby Minna City and Abuja. There is also potential for the airport to become a new cargo hub for Western Africa in the same way that Dallas Fort Worth airport has expanded to become the major distribution centre for USA.
Together with the development and expansion of the airport, the wealth of good arable land around the airport allows agri-business to be developed in tandem. The route of the new fast rail link required between the airport and Abuja will also allow for additional stations linking new commercial and business districts with the airport.
There is no doubt that the Minna Airport City project being actualised through the cooperation of Maevis-Cortis Capital will take Niger State and Nigeria to the next level.
Ndayebo is Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Niger State.