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Hasty inauguration of Ekiti cargo airport ‘dents’ Fayemi’s last project

An aircraft belonging to the Nigerian Air Force, NAF 930, landed at the Ekiti Agro-Allied International Airport, along Ado-Ijan road, to the excitement of  dignitaries…

An aircraft belonging to the Nigerian Air Force, NAF 930, landed at the Ekiti Agro-Allied International Airport, along Ado-Ijan road, to the excitement of  dignitaries and residents of Ekiti State, to signify that the state now has an airport. The cheering news has however been greeted with mixed feelings, especially, the hurriedness with which the project was commissioned by former governor Kayode Fayemi, despite lacking some amenities.

 

Abiodun Alade, Abdullateef Aliyu, Lagos & Raphael Ogbonnaiye, Ado-Ekiti

 

An aircraft belonging to the Nigerian Air Force, NAF 930, landed at the Ekiti Agro-Allied International Airport, along the Ado-Ijan road, to the excitement of dignitaries and residents of Ekiti State, to signify that the state now has an airport. The cheering news has, however, been greeted with mixed feelings, especially considering the hurriedness with which the project was commissioned by former Governor Kayode Fayemi despite the fact that it lacks some amenities.

Since the completion of the airport by Fayemi and inauguration by the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, there have been divergent views on its readiness and viability. The commissioning was Fayemi’s last major official assignment as he handed over to Biodun Oyebanji on October 16.

During the inauguration, the minister described the airport as “an extremely important project, which would in turn facilitate import and export of goods and commodities.” 

Sirika added that “the state has joined states in Nigeria that have functional airports to boost the export of agricultural products, services, education, tourism and health institutions.”

Fayemi, who expressed satisfaction that the project eventually saw the light of day after 10 years from conception during his administration in 2012, declared, “My job is done, Ekiti kete.”

Government said the airport would open the state to the world and stimulate the growth of other sectors in tourism, agriculture and commerce in cargo-related facilities to bridge the gap on road activities. 

Ekiti is an agrarian state, which is also blessed with mineral resources, such as granite, kaolinite, among others.

According to records, the airport, which can accommodate commercial passenger operation, is on a runway length of 3.2 km, width of 60m, including 7.5m shoulders, strip width of 150m, terminal building for arrival and departure of passengers, a central taxiway and other facilities for use.

The airport presently sits on land covering about 4017.8 hectares from nine communities — Afao, Araromi-Obo, Orun, Igbemo, Ijan, Aso, Ayegunle, Ago Aduloju, Bolorunduro and Igbogun.

But a former commandant of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd), said that a military aircraft landed at the airport did not mean it is fully operational. He explained that an airport is only deemed to be ready when an airline operates a commercial flight to it with passengers.

He challenged the rationale behind using a military aircraft to airlift political officeholders to the newly commissioned airport.

“Does the military aircraft that landed there have any insurance? It is very unfortunate. Let us wait for an airline that would operate a civil flight to the airport with passengers, and an aircraft that is fully insured,” he said.

Ojikutu further asked if the right feasibility study had been carried out to ascertain the number of cargoes that could be lifted out of the airport.

He asked, “Have they done the baseline? What kind of cargos are they going to be carrying out of that place? As you are talking of business plans for the airline, you must also be talking of business plans for other service providers.”

The director of media of the Segun Oni Campaign Organisation, Mr Jackson Adebayo, who noted that having an airport in the state was a good development, said commissioning an uncompleted project was a chronic fraud by the government.

“The fraud associated with the construction of the project has been the talk of town for some time now, that’s probably why it was commissioned even when it was not completed, after billions of naira was spent,” he said.

Describing the airport as laudable, the publicity secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Raphael Adeyanju, expressed concern over the commissioning.

He said, “My only concern is the fraudulent commissioning of the project that has not been completed.  A cargo airport is meant to serve the purpose of agricultural produce, but where are they now? Farmers have been sacked from their farms and there are no roads in the state, so how do you get the produce to the airport?” 

The spokesman of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Mr Sam Adurogboye said, “If the airport was not ready for flight operations, I don’t think they would allow it. For a plane to take off, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) will give a start-up, and if it is not ready, certainly, it will not be approved for flight operations.”

He said the fact that a military aircraft landed at the airport did not mean it had not been approved, saying, “Military airplanes land everywhere.”

No control tower, marking of runways ongoing, cargo apron under construction

Addressing some of the questioned raised about the airport, the project coordinator, Bunmi Akanbi-Awotiku, a former assistant general manager (finance and accounts) at the NCAA, noted that it was classified under a construction permit to be on category 9, in terms of runway length, width and fire cover. He, however, noted that reduction was made to the requirement in order to carry out a test flight before the expiration of the Fayemi administration.

“For public information, the runway length is 3.2km, width is 60m, and the airstrip would be 140m from the centre. These specifications are necessary because the critical aircraft is Boeing 747-400. Our intention is to land the largest aircraft in the world.

“In order to have a test flight before the departure of Fayemi, we only reduce the operational requirement to category 5. This will take an airstrip 75m to the centre of the runway. The fire cover was reduced from 36,000 litres of water to 12,000 litres. Notwithstanding these reductions, all regulatory conditions were met and obtained,” he said.

He also refuted claims that only military aircraft could land at the airport, noting that the NAF aircraft, AKR 42 used for the inauguration has the same engine as civil aircraft. 

While noting that a meteorological station has been constructed for weather information, he said there was no control tower yet. He said what was required for a test flight was to establish a ground-to-air communication by the air traffic controller with the pilot. He, however, claimed there was a mobile tower manned by the NAMA personnel.

He said, “We have started the marking from the Active Runway 21 to a reasonable extent to allow a turbo prop lightweight aircraft land safely. The rain was disturbing us when we started the marking.” 

Noting that the airport is to serve both cargo and passengers, he said the passenger apron, which has been completed, could accommodate three Boeing 737 aircraft, while the cargo apron, which is ongoing, could take two Boeing 747 on completion.

“Many facilities will be in place before operational flights commence. Scheduled flights need several clearances from the regulatory sector, the aviation industry, and we would meet all the requisite obligations. The airport will never be an abandoned project,” he said.

The lawmaker representing Ekiti South senatorial district and the chairman, House Committee on Aviation, Senator Biodun Olujimi, lauded Fayemi’s initiative, saying the airport would facilitate trade, import and export, as well as boost the revenue of the state.

A lecturer from the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Mr Wole Balogun, also said the airport would bring more development to the state in years to come. 

“The former administration’s achievement in this regard is commendable; however, there are insinuations that it is not yet a completed project. But I believe strongly that the new governor, Biodun Oyebanji, would complete the project, he said,” adding that the state would gain more in future.     

The vice chancellor of the Afe Babalola University, Professor Smaranda Olarinde, called on the state government to make the airport functional, and appealed for the construction of motorable roads for easy access.

Mr Yinka Oyebode, the chief press secretary to Governor Oyebanji, said the airport was expected to aid industrialisation drive in the state and attract more private sector investments, as well as assist top players in agric business to transport their produce to local, regional and international markets.

Oyebode, who was also Fayemi’s chief press secretary, further said the cargo airport would, among other things, provide both direct and indirect employment for the teeming number of unemployed youths in the state and make it more accessible.  He said the federal government would site an air force base in the area. 

Daily Trust Saturday learnt that Governor Oyebanji recently called for more military presence and investment in the state as a way of enhancing its security and socio-economic development.

The governor made the request in separate meetings with the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja

He specifically requested the support of the Nigeria Air Force on the cargo airport, urging it to make the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) available for full-fledged air operations at the facility. He added that the presence of the air force would boost users’ confidence and enhance operations in the South West.

In his remarks, Air Marshal Amao said his office was planning the installation of six UAVs in the six geopolitical zones of the country.

He added, “You have made our deployment to Ekiti possible by constructing the runway. We have deployed the UAV in the South South, North West and North East. We are considering Anambra for the South East and Ekiti for South West,” Air Marshal Amao said.

During his meeting with General Irabor, Governor Oyebanji urged the military high command to site the Defence Space Research Institute at the Ekiti Knowledge Zone, where a huge parcel of land has been earmarked for the project.