Daily Trust (Abuja)

22 February 2013

Nigeria: The White Elephant That is Kebbi Airport Project

opinion

It must have come as a rude shock to the people of Kebbi state to learn that the state government is embarking on an airport project, said to cost thirteen billion naira, although the real figure is shrouded in secrecy. This shows the predilection of the governors to turn their states into private estates even before the ink dried up on their signature on the oath of office. It also shows the profligacy in the misuse of public resources which has become second nature to governors especially the northern governors

Few social phenomena are as old, recognised as critical, and poorly misunderstood as leadership. A leader should have a helicopter view and a sense of perspective. At this stage of its development and in the face of competing needs, the building of an airport does not come close to the priorities of Kebbi State. It is a luxury the state cannot afford and an immense waste of scarce resource. Kebbi was ranked fourth in the poverty index in the country. This near bottom league ranking of the state and several governance and development indices suggest that resources are better directed at problems affecting the human person in the areas of education ,agriculture , poverty reduction and other programmes aimed at improving human welfare.

In his first term, Governor Dakingari embarked on some useful projects in the areas of new schools, roads and hospitals across the state. Regrettably these structures have now turned into abodes for lizards and rats because there hasn't been any conscious effort to equip them. To make matters worse the few doctors and nurses have been leaving the state in droves as a result of the inability of state government to pay them the agreed salaries and allowances. What is even more surprising is that the state could not even complete the specialist hospital at Kalgo embarked upon more than five years ago and meant to decongest the Sir Yahaya hospital in the state capital. The new schools built across the state have remained hollow structures because they have not been equipped and no investment has been made in teacher training and development. The old schools have further deteriorated and the pupils learning in deplorable environment.

Some of the reasons advanced for the construction of the airport are so lame they have crutches, and others are so pathetic and laughable to be taken seriously. Chief among the reasons is that the airport would reduce the "suffering" the state pilgrims go through during the annual hajj pilgrimage. Another is that it would open up Kebbi state to foreign investment. This ridiculous reason (given the proximity of Sokoto airport a mere 150km away) is to use religion as a tool to deceive the gullible public .The Sultan Abubakar airport has served the people of former Sokoto state comprising of the present Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara well since 1976. Does it therefore make sense to construct an airport just to cater for an annual rite? What many people are asking is the role of the state house of assembly (which to many is a mere appendage of the government house) in this matter. As an institution meant to check the excesses of the executive, the state house of assembly is complicit in the waste of our commonwealth on a project whose economic viability is non -existent now or in the future.

The bulk of the funding of this airport would come from the local government joint account, with each local government allegedly forced to sign away six hundred million of their fund. The irony behind all these is that no local government has executed any meaningful project in their domain worth N20 million in the last four years. The state government recently bought the latest Prado jeeps for each of the local government chairman while they do not even have enough money to undertake basic sanitation and evacuation of refuse.

What is the economic viability of the proposed airport? How many flights come into Sokoto airport weekly to even warrant the building of another one in Kebbi? How could the FAA grant a license for this facility without ever questioning its viability? What is the exact cost of this project? As the people of my dear state ponder over this question and demand answers, it has become more imperative to ask our legislators if this project has been included in the annual budget and if it was even debated upon in the state house of assembly. Does the governor not think that the alleged N13 billion naira meant to upgrade the airport can be put to better and more sensible use?

Argungu is of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Ebutte Metta, Lagos

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