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Animals, land grabbers take over colonial Idah aerodrome

Idah aerodrome, which was once the pride of Kogi State and northern Nigeria, is now home to land grabbers and animals. Daily Trust Saturday looks…

Idah aerodrome, which was once the pride of Kogi State and northern Nigeria, is now home to land grabbers and animals. Daily Trust Saturday looks into the historical significance of the aerodrome, its present state and the need to salvage it.

Idah aerodrome, which was constructed in 1953 during the reign of Ameh Oboni as Ata Igala and under the colonial administration, is now an eyesore. It has been overtaken by shrubs.

Located at Akpata-Ega in the Ogbogbo area of Idah in the present Igala Mela/Odolu Local Government Area of Kogi State, historical records credit the construction of the aerodrome to the brain wave of Ata Oboni. The paramount ruler was said to have been fascinated with the then Kano aerodrome when he and chiefs from other native authorities in the northern region travelled to receive the representatives of the Queen of England. Moved by the then Kano aerodrome and its importance, Oboni was said to have sought and got approval in 1952 from colonial administration to replicate the same in the Igala Native Authority, which was acclaimed the second largest native authority in the Northern Protectorate. 

An elder in Idah community, James Ijomi, lamented what he described as an “ugly twist of fate,” saying it is unfortunate that the effort of the then Ata Igala was wasted.

The octogenarian recounted the heydays of the aerodrome with nostalgia, saying it was heart-cheering during their childhood days to stand by the sideways of its runway with his peers to watch a particular plane on its hangar.

“Those of us in the same age group would gather early in the morning once we got the hint of a plane at the hangar until we were arrested and beaten by the local police called Odegeli in Igala language. They would admonish us to go to the farm to help our parents rather than be at the aerodrome to catch fun. But we did not stop going to the place,” he said. 

He also lamented that the runway of the aerodrome, which was a delight to watch during their childhood days, is now in the hands of land grabbers and home to shrubs, where wild and domestic animals jostle for food to survive.

Our correspondent gathered from an ex-military officer who claimed to have fought the Nigerian civil war that activities at the Idah airstrip were grounded decades ago to prevent the then secession campaign from the eastern part of the country from annexing the area and using it as a launch base against the country. 

“It would be a tactical error to allow the secessionists gain advantage of a strategically placed Idah airstrip during the insurrection period (1967-1970). To de-escalate hostility via that flank, the operation at the airstrip was suspended,” the ex-military captain, who did not want to be named, said. 

He also said the resultant changes after the insurrection period failed to re-focus the aerodrome and revive it, adding that the place became a territory of scavengers because it was abandoned. 


Our correspondent gathered that land grabbers took advantage of the situation and invaded the aerodrome, selling the land to feather their nests; thus, undermining the authority of Kogi State and the federal government. 

A resident of the area, Mathew Ojima-ojo, said land grabbers invaded the area in droves, selling portions of the land, which have now been developed into houses.

“To our surprise, we woke up one day to start seeing houses springing up on the land. We no longer see airplanes there but houses and other structures. It is the height of recklessness and irresponsibility of human behaviours against the interest of the country and the Igala nation,” he said. 

However, Daily Trust Saturday gathered from government sources that a solution seems to be in the offing as the present Ata Igala, Alaji Mathew Opaluwa Akpa, is trying to reclaim the land.

Sources from the palace also told our correspondent that since his ascension to the throne, the present Ata has drawn the attention of the federal government through the state government to the airstrip, which is said to be yielding the desired results. 

“The land has been fenced on the order of the federal government. The work was contracted out and completed in the last few weeks in response to the request of the Ata Igala,” a palace official who craved anonymity said.

Recalling the significance of the aerodrome to northern Nigeria, Idah elders who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday recalled how colonial masters like district officers and the then premier of the Northern Protectorate, Sir Ahmadu Bello, utilised  its services to run the administration of the region, meeting up targets and emergencies.

The chairman of Uja’Ache Igala, a socio-cultural organisation of the Igala nation, Comrade Goodman Akwu, said the aerodrome served the colonial masters and heads of regional governments in different capacities. 

Comrade Akwu recalled a particular episode where the leadership style and humility of Sir Ahmadu Bello were demonstrated. He said the premier was expected to observe his Juma’at prayers in Sokoto from Kaduna and a plane was always at the hangar at the Kaduna aerodrome to fly him down. He recounted how his routine clashed with an incident in Idah, where a district officer was alleged to be critically ill on a Friday. He said the crew, acting on a radio message from Idah over the condition of the officer, flew there to convey the sick officer without the consent or knowledge of the premier, who was to use the plane after the meeting.

“The pilot thought he would return before the premier finished the said meeting, but he got it wrong. Sir Ahmadu Bello came out of the meeting for the trip to Sokoto and learnt that the plane had left for Idah and had not returned.

“There was apprehension among members of staff, and the people insinuated that the premier might sack the crew members for the unauthorised journey. But he called for vehicles to continue his trip to Sokoto to observe his prayers. He said the crew should rather be applauded for their decision as it was a life-saving mission,” Akwu said.

Residents of the area who spoke with our correspondent said that if revived, the aerodrome would help in the exploration of oil as there are two oil wells in the region – Odeke and Omambo in Ibaji Local Government Area of the state. 

An elder and resident of Idah, Usman Ataojoko, also said that if the airstrip is revived, “more lives and property would be saved and hoodlums terrorising the area would be put on their toes.”

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