Anyone plying the Makurdi-Lafia Highway would notice a huge signpost bearing “The IDPs Mega City” on an expansive land which was earlier proposed for a cargo airport by the Benue State Government.
Despite the signpost which has been there for some time, work is yet to commence on the site located at Kilometre 28 close to Daudu in Guma LGA of Benue State and about a 20-minute drive from Makurdi, the state capital.
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Daily Trust gathered that the idea of building a mega city for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Benue State was conceived by a development partner to enable proper resettlement of the IDPs.
The State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) had said the population of IDPs was steadily rising such that in recent times they were nearing two million in 27 official and unofficial camps across the state.
SEMA’s Executive Secretary, Dr Emmanuel Shior, had several occasions called on the federal government to intervene in the plight of the IDPs so that they could return to their ancestral abodes to resume their normal living.
Shior had also consistently reminded the federal government of its promise to rebuild the homes of the IDPs destroyed by attackers.
Though some individuals have stressed the need for the IDPs to be rehabilitated in clusters, the challenges of providing them with befitting shelters, as well as other amenities, have continued to linger.
Our correspondent gathered from sources that the project intended as a housing estate for the IDPs is being anchored by the private sector, while the state government, through the Ministry of Lands and Survey, allocated the space for the development partners to drive the vision with the cooperation of all and sundry.
However, when our correspondent sought to know level of the state government’s involvement in the project, the SEMA responded in an SMS: “It’s not government, but a development partner. The person coordinating is called Bishop Collins from Abuja. You can contact him, pls.”
However, effort to contact the said Bishop Collins was not successful.
Similarly, the Commissioner for Land and Survey, Benard Unenge, did not respond to calls or messages put through his telephone to expatiate on the matter.
But his counterpart in the housing ministry, Chief Dennis Ekpe Ogbu, who admitted that the project was being driven by a private concern, said it hadn’t yet reached the stage for his ministry’s involvement.
He said, “We’re yet to come into the project. We will come in vetting for proposal, structural drawings, architectural spacing and all of that.”
It would be recalled that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders supports SEMA in providing water, sanitation, non-food items and shelter for IDPs across Benue State.
The MSF Project Coordinator in the state, Mitch Rhyner, earlier this year expressed worry about the continued stay of the IDPs in school environments and called for their speedy evacuation from the school premises to enable normal classes resume in the affected schools.
Rhyner told journalists in Makurdi that, “One consequence of people staying in a school is that the school is no longer being used, and that is going to be bad for education. One of our goals in our advocacy is to have shelters built so that people can leave the schools and the schools can be used for classes.”
Meanwhile, the state government, had in January, 2016, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Aerotropolis Development Company Limited for the establishment of a cargo airport in the state under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP).
Afterwards, in November, 2017, the state government designated the cargo airport land for the IDPs Mega City project. This was after the state government had signed an MoU with Petrolex Group and Cargo Development Company (CDC) for the construction of a gas turbine and other economic development projects in the state.
Speaking during a brief ceremony at the government house in Makurdi, the Chairman of Petrolex, Otunba Segun Adebutu, said Benue was strategic to the firm’s next investment destination for its N20bn oil and gas project.
Adebutu said the project would include the construction of a 100-250MW gas turbine power plant, a Jet A1 aviation farm and over 30 retail gas and petrol stations across the state.
On his part, the facilitator of CDC, concessionaire for the cargo airport, Robert Orya, expressed optimism that the project would address issues of post-harvest losses by farmers in the state, increase warehousing and semi processing facilities in about seven LGA.
Orya said, “The airport will be a hub to Nigeria and Africa at large. Benue is largely an agricultural state; we have challenges of preserving and storing our farm produce, especially fruits and vegetables. So the project, if completed, would tackle such issues.”
Orya further said that in the course of the project a minimum of 15 pilots would be trained, adding, that the duration of the project would be 24 months, with the state government contributing only 15 per cent in the tripartite agreement.
The then Chief of Staff (CoS) to Governor Samuel Ortom, Terwase Orbunde, noted with delight that the tripartite agreement in which the state was an equity partner would harness the economic potentials of the state.
Interestingly, by November, 2019, two years after signing the MOU, Governor Ortom disclosed plans by his administration to construct a new airport in order to boost investment and trade in the state.
This was also after the Ortom administration attempted to construct a cargo airport during his first tenure but failed to actualise the dream through the Cargopolis Development Consortium which planned the project expected to gulp N37.9bn, with the state government providing N3bn as compensation.
It was, however, gathered that the project stalled due to non-payment of compensation to the proposed airport’s host community in Daudu in Guma LGA as the villagers invoked snakes on whoever stepped foot on the land for the purpose of commencing construction.
Ortom, however, made the disclosure of the new airport in an interview with newsmen in Makurdi shortly after presenting the 2020 budget estimate to the House of Assembly, explaining that the state government had no financial commitment in the first project.
He had then said, “Benue State Government did not have any liability whatsoever (in the first project). We are talking about Benue State’s project because we have seen that it is very critical for a state which is the ‘food basket of the nation’ with vast potentials in terms of entire value chains. We believe that with the establishment of an airport, international and national investors will come to invest.”
The governor added that the project, which would be financed with Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), would be completed in two phases at a cost of over N11bn.
However, nothing was heard again about the project until recently when the same space was reallocated for the IDPs Mega City.