It was a historic moment in Ogun State penultimate week when the ongoing Gateway International Agro Cargo Airport in Iperu-Ilishan road in Ikenne Local Government recorded the first aircraft landings. Our correspondent reports that the airport, though yet to be completed, finally got the approval of the federal government ahead of its commissioning in a couple of months according to the state government.
Many analysts and experts in the aviation industry have argued that any airport project is not only capital intensive but a white elephant venture which provides little or no benefit to the masses but they agreed that the structure and the business plan of the Gateway Agro Cargo Airport, if well implemented, can be a game-changer in the government’s import and export promotion efforts.
After the controversy over the location of the airport between the present governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, and his predecessor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, a vision conceived 16 years ago by the former governor of the state, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, now senator-elect for Ogun East, is now materialising with the completion of the 4-km runway which was test-run two weeks ago with the landing of two aircraft at the airport.
Meanwhile, construction work is ongoing for the terminal building, the control tower and the fire station, among others.
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For many, the completion of the runway is significant as it is one of the first safety critical facilities for safe flight operation.
According to the government, the project was designed to create the needed infrastructure to boost exportation of agricultural and non-agricultural goods on one hand and on the other hand, to further reinvigorate socio-economic activities which in the long run are capable of increasing revenue generation drive of the state.
The cargo airport was designed to be an aerotropolis (Airport City) as it is provided with components such as a special agro processing zone to process raw agricultural material for exports, an international testing centre to certify that agro-produce complies with international standards before it is exported, and facility for passenger operations as well as facilities to receive parcels coming into Nigeria that are to be redistributed to other parts of Nigeria.
In addition, it is an important component of Ogun State’s transportation master plan expected not only to connect rail, road and water transportation, but also to decongest the Lagos Airport.
This is why the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, was at the inauguration ceremony to appeal to the governor to follow the business plan of the airport.
He said, “If you have an airport that has the capacity to move cargoes from one place to another, the gains are too numerous, too huge, too much to mention.”
Highlighting the plan for the airport, the governor explained that it is part of an integrated development programme aimed at unleashing the full potential of Ogun State.
“This airport is located in the Remo economic zone which houses the Ogun Special Agro Processing Zone, the entirety of which we refer to as an aerotropolis, the first in Nigeria.
“The Ogun SAPZs ground-breaking ceremony was conducted about two months ago. It is Public-Private-Partnership between Ogun State government and a company that specialises in agro value chain development. It promises to offer about 25000 job opportunities. This further justified the business case for the construction of this airport.
“This test flight despite all odds is very important to us for many reasons; it is one of the necessary activities leading to the full certification and licensing of the airport for safe aviation operations.
“Today’s test flight is, therefore, a landmark event confirming the determination of this administration to develop an airport of international standards in Ogun State to serve businesses, industry, and the people of the state,” he said.
The governor further stated that the development of the airport “is in alignment with the vision of this administration which is focused on providing an enabling environment for public-private-partnership which is fundamental to economic growth of the state and the prosperity of the people of the state.”
“In view of the planned spread of economic activities and clusters across the state coupled with the spatial distribution of current, planned and proposed road and rail transportation networks, the air transportation component of the plan demanded that the facility be located here in the Shagamu Remo nexus of the Lagos – Ibadan and Lagos – Benin Expressway.
“The choice of the location allowed for easy access to the different parts of the state, not leaving out Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria. The eastern and northern regions of Nigeria will also be easily accessed from this same location,” the governor added.
The vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, whose chopper also landed at the runway, said the airport is a dream come true for the Ogun Economic Zone, adding that the impact of the project cannot be quantified.
“So, it is with great pride and joy that I join you here today to witness an incredibly momentous event; the maiden test flight to the recently constructed Gateway Agro Cargo International Airport of Ogun State.
“As we descended to land a few moments ago, we were able to see the runway – a state-of-the-art four-kilometre facility able to take a Boeing 777 and a Boeing 747 aircraft landing and even A380 aircraft. A runway doesn’t get better than this. It is not just the best in Nigeria; it is a world-class airport; with what we all see here this afternoon, Ogun State is definitely taking a huge step forward in fulfilling the dreams of our forebears; dreams of a vibrant, modern and an industrious community living together in peace and prosperity.
“We are now poised to provide facilities for a world-class economic zone. But what a day this is – all of us are witnesses to the first fully functional agro cargo airport in our country. We are witnesses to the landing of the first commercial aircraft at this airport and we saw the crew of the airport live. And the commercial jet itself is one of the fleets of aircraft of Value Jet owned by Kunle Soname, a son of Remo and in particular, Ikenne.
“In a few months, the Kajola Dry Port will also be operational and I am confident that this airport will transform the entire South West region and serve as a catalyst for economic growth and the development of our nation and sub region,” he said.
A former governor of the state, Olugbenga Daniel, who initiated the project, said the airport was conceived as part of his administration’s 25-year master plan. “We felt a number of our farmers can’t export their farm produce and that was why we conceived and we also believed that as an international airport, it will serve as an alternative to Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA),” he said.
A former director with the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Engr Mohammed Sadiq, welcomed the establishment of the airport.
“It is good to have airports everywhere to make journeys easy now that the roads are not safe. Airport will also bring development to anywhere it is located. And any investor that wants to bring development to this area will not find it difficult to come. The roads are not safe due to kidnapping but with airports, this would not be an issue,” he said.
He, however, urged the state government to ensure strict compliance with the specifications approved, adding that it should be made to handle only cargo.
An aviation analyst, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, said the airport would yield enormous benefits if the governor followed his plans to the letter.
“ValueJet may move there and use it as their hub…. I also believe he (Governor) has other programmes as highlighted in his speech to link with the airport. I endorse the project,” he said.