Special Adviser on Due Process/Projects to Governor Isa Yuguda and also the Project Administrator, Bauchi International Airport Project, Mr. Aliyu Jibrin spoke to Segun Awofadeji on the benefits of the project, among other issues. Excerpts:
Malam Isa Yuguda was Minister of Aviation for two years but could not build or facilitate the building of an airport in the state. And now as Governor he is almost completing the construction of an international airport. How come now?
The history of the Airport dates back to the Second Republic when the Shehu Shagari administration rolled out its intention to implement the project but could not take it to any level except the identification of a possible site. Between 2004 and 2005 when the Governor was Minister of Aviation, he made concerted efforts aimed at resuscitating the project including giving out contracts for certain civil works and provision of equipment.
Unfortunately, by the time he left his efforts were not followed up and taken to a point of realisation. Now, this is a project he has been passionate about and with his experience in the aviation sector and a full appreciation of the benefits derivable from the operation of an international airport, he initiated a programme for its implementation including a robust planning mechanism; the result of which is quite visible in the execution.
The over N7.9 billion Bauchi international airport was conceived to develop the state's tourism potentials while reducing dependence on the oil economy, as well as open up the state to the whole world for an enhanced socio-economic activities in the state. The strategic location of Bauchi State as a gateway to the North-East sub-region and also being a home to the West African premier Game Reserve, the Yankari Game Reserve, makes the construction of an international airport imperative.
Taken into cognisance the paucity of funds at the disposal of the State Government, how is the present administration able to fund a project of such magnitude?
A project of such magnitude requires adequate planning with a clear understanding of the dynamics of its implementation which includes, among other things, the project financing and its execution. It is also important to appreciate the fact that a project of such scale would normally be financed by a combination of equity and debt and in doing that you manage your cash outlays in such a way as to continue to meet your obligations as well as continue to provide social service.
We have structured our financing requirements for the project in the best possible way to ensure that it is not stalled at any point of its execution and it is completed on time. It is in this respect that we set aside sufficient funds from our accruable revenues and a minimal level of debt which will be paid before the completion of the project to ensure that we reach a significant milestone in terms of execution reaching up to a minimum level of 80 per cent while the balance is paid on a periodic basis as may be required or as certificates of payment are issued. From this arrangement, we have perfected our financing strategy in the execution and are on course towards the completion of the project right on schedule.
What is the progress of work on the new airport project?
The Governor just recently laid foundation for the airport project. We have already completed both the arrival and departure halls of the Bauchi International Airport and we have the international and domestic wing of both arrival and departure, we also have the VIP section. It is at the level of painting now, and it is estimated that about one million people will be coming in and going out in a year.
We have the apron where all the planes coming into this airport will be parked; they will load and offload here. We can have six 747 Boeing aircrafts at the same time parked here conveniently, while there will be smaller aircrafts without any hitch. It is proposed that this airport is going to serve as the second cargo airport that will complement the Aminu Kano International in Kano. The airport has to be a very strong one because of the cargo planes; that is why we are having this strong basement at the tarmac so that it can contain cargo without sinking.
So, apart from traffic passengers we are going to have cargo planes coming into Bauchi. We have two taxi runways, taxi runway number and taxi runway number two, so that when you have two planes landing at the same time, one will go this way and the other that way, so you can see it is going to be busy airport, that is why we have two runaways.
Also, the control tower there, it is now at its last floor which is the sixth floor, and it is a six storey structure. You can also see the fire service department beside it, they have even done the roofing, so that one too is almost ready and it is going to accommodate six fire-fighting vehicles at the same time. And at the back of the arrival and departure halls we are going to have parking lots, it is going to be a business area.
So, from what is happening, the contractors are going ahead of schedule because they are not supposed to be where they are by now based on the phases that we have in the contract, but because of the enabling environment just like we keep saying the contractors have been conforming. They promised us that by the end of February it will be handed-over, ahead of scheduled period, the schedule is supposed to be April this year.
So by the grace of God, by the end of the whole exercise, this airport is going to be the fifth international airport in Nigeria. We have Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Port-Harcourt, so Bauchi is going to be the fifth. At the back of the arrival and departure halls, we have parking lot that could accommodate 1,500 cars at a time, and the traffic passengers in a year is about one million people who we expect would come and go out of this airport, you can see the traffic flow, then cargo planes will be diverted from Kano to come and land in Bauchi.
Electricity is the key to the operation of any airport, especially of an international standard like that of Bauchi...how is the government going to cope with the needed power supply to the airport?
The design of the project has been made to take cognisance the need for constant power supply at the airport. In this respect adequate generating plants will be made available in the immediate short term while our Bauchi Independent Power Project, which has reached an appreciable level, is intended to provide the required power supply for not just the airport but for our ailing and potential industries; for local consumption and for possible export on to the national grid.
The opposition parties in the state are opposed to this project saying it's not the priority now. In brief what benefits does the State intend to derive from the operation of this airport?
The dream of Bauchi State having an International Airport has long been awaited because successive administration lacked the political will to do so. Air transportation is not only relatively safer, but is faster and more comfortable than road transportation. With an international Airport in place, Bauchi State will attract both local and foreign investors that will go a long way in boosting the socio-economic status of the state.
Though oil was generating more revenue for the country but I want to assure you that investment in tourism can generate revenue three times more than oil, hence the need for a befitting airport system in the state.
Bauchi is known as a tourist haven blessed with Yankari Game Reserve, the premier Game reserve in Nigeria and a lot other attractions including the Lame Burra Game Reserve; the Panshanu Stone Heaps; the Geji Rock Paintings of the monolithic age; the International Birds Sanctuary in Udubo to mention but a few. The State is also blessed in terms of the potential for agricultural production with 80 per cent of the 49/259 sq km land mass suitable for a variety of food and cash crops.
Mining activities undertaken on a small scale has indicated the availability of a number of solid minerals on a commercial basis. I could go on and on in terms of the potentials that abound in the State. Our intention is to open our State up to tourists and potential investors in order to attract foreign exchange as well as investments which we believe will enhance the economy and put the State on the path of sustainable growth and development.
What mechanism(s) are you putting in place by way of Revenue Generation Committee that will identify and propose revenue generation drive for the upcoming airport?
In view of the potentials that abound in the State which I earlier highlighted, the Government has appointed a high-powered Committee on Revenue Generation which has been working for the last few years in order to draw up a framework for the generation of a sustainable IGR for the State. One of the major recommendations of the Committee was the need to restructure the State Board of Internal Revenue in order for it to function effectively. I am glad to note that with the blessing of the State House of Assembly, a law giving the Board some degree of autonomy and strength was passed.
The Board has been repositioned and can presently rank among the best in the country. It has acquired and is operating on a modern IT based platform and with an improved welfare package; it has been able to attract the best staff members. Leveraging on the competencies developed by the Board and the continuous work of the Committee, I believe the derivable benefits in terms revenue generation from the activities of the airport will be fantastic.
The issue of insecurity is one big challenge in the country for now. How is the government going to ensure security of the airport when put to use and the state in general?
Well, the security situation is a general phenomenon in this country, it is affecting everybody and the government is doing its best to ensure that we have adequate security in place, like my Governor used to say, I will repeat it, that for now Bauchi remains the safest state in this region, so Bauchi is even the safest state, we are doing our best about the issue of security.
Aliyu Jibrin, an Engineer, was a product of University of Maiduguri and was first appointed as Director General (Projects) by Governor Isa Yuguda in his first term. He is also Special Adviser on Due Process/Projects to the Governor.