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Colonial airport in Potiskum craving for new identity

From time immemorial, Potiskum has been a thriving trade hegemony in Yobe State because of its strategic position as a centre of commerce, learning, spiritual…

From time immemorial, Potiskum has been a thriving trade hegemony in Yobe State because of its strategic position as a centre of commerce, learning, spiritual and cultural revival.   

Till date, the town is second to none in Yobe State when it comes to business activities because people from neighbouring Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Bauchi and Gombe States, as well as numerous others from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Central African Republic have stakes in the ‘biggest cattle market in sub- Saharan African,’ which is also situated in Potiskum.    

The predominance of Potiskum as a beehive of activities predates Nigeria’s independence, as there are traces of colonial presence in the town and in its vicinities, notable of which is the airport in focus, said to have been built by colonialists in 1945.   

Unfortunately, the airport is now a shadow of itself as planes no longer patronise the airfield due to many reasons, including negligence, lack of safety and bastardization of the historical site.   

As is typical in government’s ways of doing things, the airport was only cleaned up in January 2009 to allow for the landing and take-off of two helicopters, one of which conveyed President Yar’adua for the late Governor Ali’s funeral. Hurriedly, then, the landing field, which suffered decades of negligence, was dusted for the President’s coming and soon after his departure, it was abandoned, as the whole area was deserted again.   

Our correspondent, on a reportorial visit to the airport, described it as an eye-sore, maintaining that virtually all the structures, which hitherto made the aerodrome a money-spinner, tourists’ attraction and a sprawling means of transportation, have  collapsed.   

The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) office in the field, which is supposed to be responsible for the transmission of air traffic information to aircraft flying over the airfield, is not fully functional as the Omni-Directional Range Equipment installed there was not equipped with computers to enable the workers scientifically spot planes hovering over Potiskum.

The whole airport presents a disturbing look, typified by structures with blown off roofs. The fire station, terminal building, staff quarters have all become neglected, even as the whole place has been overtaken by weed. Reptiles, including snakes, have also found abode in the dilapidated buildings.   

“You will not believe it, but I want to tell you that many people, including security men, fire service men and many aviation workers are still collecting salaries on the grounds that they are working at the airport,” Malam Audu Maude, who resides close to the airport, told our reporter.

Unfortunately, however, his claims could not be verified because there was no one to talk to at the airport and NAMA does not have any office in Yobe State to throw light on the status of the airport.

With the fact that relevant authorities have withdrawn interest in the affairs of the airport, it was also observed that its vast land is now under serious threat by tresspassers who now sell plots to unsuspecting people for residential purposes, thus encroaching on the runways.

The airport has also become a driving school as people learning how to drive cars are also patronizing the place on daily basis. Animals, including cows and sheep have also found it as a free graze land.

Observers say if the airfield was once a beehive of activities during the colonial days, it can still be useful today. Musa Ajiri, an old man in Potiskum said, “the airport came into being during the scramble for Africa by the colonialists because Potiskum was a sprawling town in the north which was earlier annexed by Germans before the British took over.   

“The aim of constructing the airport was to make the movements of the white men in and out of Potiskum easy because the town was also the gateway to other nearby towns in the north, which had enhanced trading activities and other associated commercial services in the region,” he said.   

He said around 1945, the airport was a fascinating scene to behold as planes carrying goods and the colonial masters took off and landed in Potiskum on a daily basis.   

He said even if the federal government would not revive the airport, the Yobe State government should reactivate it for official and commercial purposes. “I think, instead of always going to Maiduguri airport, which is over 130 kilometres from Damaturu, it would be easier and more economical for the state government to start using the Potiskum airport, which is closer,” Ajiri observed.   

He pointed out that the people of Yobe state would be happy if the airport, which is the only one in the state, would be reactivated so that the place could have a new identity because, for now, it is more of a historical monument, rather than a functional airstrip for aeroplanes flying people into the state.