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Abandoned Ogun Airports stirs fresh concerns

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Site of the abandoned Airport in Iperu. Inset is a portion taken over by refuse


Scattered across Ogun State are many abandoned projects. Two of these are the Airports projects, initiated by previous administrations. Despite several billions of taxpayers’ money expended so far, and the displacement of many communities, the projects have continued to lie in ruins. GBENGA AKINFENWA, who visited the two project sites, reports.

Ogun State occupies an enviable position as one of Nigeria’s investment destinations, majorly due to its proximity to Lagos, adjudged the country’s commercial nerve centre. It is also the gateway to Nigeria, as access route to the expansive markets of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
  
But despite all this, it has earned for itself a sobriquet of a state with a penchant for abandoning projects. From minor road construction, infrastructure, to capital projects, the state seems to be leading the pack.  
  
Several viable projects initiated by previous administrations with several billions of naira expended on them, but deliberately dumped by their successors, due to political undertone, are aplenty in the state.

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Two of the massive projects that have got tongues wagging within and outside the state, in the last few years, are the abandoned Airports projects— the International Airport located at Imosan Village, Wasimi, Ewekoro Local Council and the Gateway Agro-Cargo Airport at Ilishan, Ikenne Local Council.
  
The siting of the airports in the state is not unconnected with the fact that Ogun is endowed with vast agricultural potential. Experts and stakeholders in the agric sector believe that the idea of promoting the establishment of the airports will serve as pivot for the development of an industrial state. But these projects have been lying in ruins for years now.
 
Initiated in 2005, the proposed airport in Wasimi is a purely Federal Government-sponsored project.
 
The idea of the conventional airport is for importation of consumer goods, machinery and industrial raw products, export of agricultural products and perishable goods, mail and courier services, a pilot training school, an aircraft maintenance facility and general aviation facilities, including helicopter and air taxi services.
 
It was meant to also create direct and indirect jobs, stimulate economic activities, development of the locality and raising its international profile, as well as the people’s standard of living.
  
Reports have it that the project was not only awarded, but that certain amount of money was also earmarked for its construction yearly. For instance, in 2018, The Guardian scooped from Appropriation Act that the sum of N450m was approved that year, but could not verify if it was released for the project.
  
Despite several billions of naira reportedly expended on the project, however, the only physical infrastructure on ground is the perimeter fencing, measuring 5 by 5 kilometres. Though this has existed for years, The Guardian recent visit revealed that the perimeter fence had been completely removed, to pave way for the expansion of the Wasimi-Imosan Road.
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The commencement of the project witnessed the displacement and take over of about 35 communities, whose farmlands were used for production of such agricultural produce as Ofada rice and high-yield cassava.
  
Unfortunately, the site has now become a haven for criminals, thus raising concerns about the sudden stall in the progress of the project, as it has continued to lie fallow for over a decade.
  
Interestingly, the displaced communities claimed they were yet to receive any compensation for the loss of their land and livelihood. An elder in one of the affected communities, Pa Olukunle Opeagbe, said: “The large portions of our land that were forcibly taken for the project years back are yet to be compensated for. Even though we were not consulted till date, we never protested against it, due to our belief that the proposed project will bring development to our locality and benefit us.”
  
A farmer, Mr. Soji Owoeye, whose five hectares of cassava plantation were affected by the airport construction in Elere area, explained that he was only paid N15, 400. “If the government is serious, there shouldn’t be scarcity of cassava now,” he said. “About five hectares of my cassava farm was demolished for the cargo airport project. I was only paid N15, 400. It was the same experience for other farmers. So, how do you expect us to cultivate again, when we were not well compensated?
  
“Currently, land grabbers have started selling portions of the acquired land because they believe the project has been completely abandoned. If you get there now, some of the equipment used for the perimeter fencing has been carted away. It’s just a waste of resources.”
   
The Guardian learnt that in 2017, the House of Representatives, under the former Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, reminded the Federal Government ‎of the need to complete the airport.
  
The House also urged the Federal Government to urgently pay the compensation, as contained in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to the displaced villagers, whose farmlands were acquired for the airport project.
  
The House equally mandated the Committee on Aviation to investigate the reason for the abandonment of the project, with a view to recommending how to ensure its completion, and to report back within six weeks for further legislative action.
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The resolution followed a motion sponsored by a member representing Ewekoro/Ifo Constituency, Ibrahim Ayokunle Isiaka, titled: “Call for completion of the International Airport at Mosan Village, Wasimi in Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State.”
 
He said: “Nigeria is almost losing out on the Hull Blyth, a shipping and cargo services company that had long ago concluded arrangements to locate a $50m dry port at Wasimi, which would have been completed within a year of commencement of construction works.”
 
Sadly, despite the noise, nothing was done till the end of the legislative tenure. And since the assumption of the current legislative tenure, the issue has not been broached. 
  
In 2015, former Governor Ibikunle Amosun, during his inspection of the project site with his cabinet, said he had written a letter to the Federal Government to appeal and encourage completion of the project, noting that since its benefits to the government and the people of the state are immense, government cannot afford to abandon it. He said though the project is Federal Government-sponsored, the state government was ready to facilitate it, so as to better the lots of his people.
 
Three years after, during the state’s Investors’ Forum, Amosun assured that the airport would be commissioned by February or March of 2019. But the project remained the same until he vacated office.
 
The National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), Ewekoro Local Council Chapter, has expressed displeasure over the sordid state of the project. The Coordinator of the chapter, Comrade Sogo Great Ademola, lamented that if the project had been completed, hundreds of unemployed youths in the council area would have been gainfully employed, adding that the airport would have opened up the area for industrial development.
  
He said: “This would have been a major project that would have benefitted this area immensely. But the stalled progress is a great concern to us. We are appealing to the current administration in the state and our representatives at the federal level to press the right buttons that will pave way for the rejuvenation of this project.
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“As an agrarian council area, this is a great opportunity that shouldn’t elude us. We don’t want this project to go the way of other abandoned capital projects across the country. We are already backward in terms of developmental projects. If we miss this, we may not have any such opportunity again.”

When The Guardian contacted the House of Representatives member, Isiaka on Friday for update on the project, he said when he sponsored the motion on the project in 2015, it was approved and work resumed there in February 2017.

He said the stoppage of work there was premised on paucity of funds. “Don’t forget that throughout last year it was hard for anybody to keep any record of what we have done because of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to assure that immediately we resume plenary session and we scrutinise what is on ground, I will intensify effort to ensure that work resumes.

“It will derive jobs for women and youths, like I said when we resume we’ll be able to scrutinise what is on ground and look at possible interventions to ensure the completion of the project.”

SITED between Iperu and Ilishan in Ogun East Senatorial District, the Iperu cargo airport project was one of the economic projects initiated during the administration of Governor Gbenga Daniel, but abandoned by the Senator Ibikunle Amosun-led government.
  
The Guardian learnt that the airport was envisioned as a potential hub for a new industrial town, providing services and business opportunities to people of the state. Other proposed uses of the airport include services for mail and courier operators, a pilot training school, an aircraft maintenance facility and general aviation facilities, including a pilot training school, helicopter and air taxi services.
  
The cargo airport’s unique selling point, according to Daniel, was its location, off the busy Sagamu-Ijebu Ode Express Road, easily accessible to all parts of the country. He also described the project as a potential major contributor to the economic development of the state and Nigeria, since many businesses were expected to spring up from it.

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Though the then Minister of National Planning and Deputy Chairman of National Planning Commission, Senator Mohammed Daggash said the establishment of the cargo airport was imperative, as it would reduce the crisis of movement of passengers and goods at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, but the former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who hailed from the state, failed to give approval to the project, when it was forwarded to his office around 2005 and 2006.
 
But in 2008, the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua granted cargo and passenger license status to the proposed airport, after deep consideration of the socio-economic and political advantage such project would have on the country.
 
Following the approval, the state government set July 2008 for the beginning of the construction of the airport to be known as Gateway Agro-Cargo Airport at Ilishan in Remo Division. This was followed by the feasibility and development studies of the airport project, including payment of compensation to original landowners on the acquired project site.
  
It then proceeded to contract signing with Dar-Al Hadassah of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for the construction works. The deal involved consultancy for the master plan, a feasibility study, environmental assessment and technical design. The government also signed the contract for the topography survey, to be executed by UNILAG Consult, while Intelcon Partnership Limited got the contract for the soil testing of the proposed airport.
 
However, the face-off between the executive and legislative arms of government, after the impeachment of the Speaker, Titi Oseni in 2008 negatively impacted the project, as the Group of 15 of the lawmakers, led by Tunji Egbetokun, failed to approve the bond part, which could have been used for the project’s take off.
 
The development, which dragged till the end of Daniel’s administration in May 2011, dealt a deadly blow to the project, as his predecessor, Amosun failed to touch the project till he left office in 2019.
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Seven years down the lane, the project is more or less forgotten, just as the potential and gains seemed to be fast eroding.
  
Locating the site of the airport was an onerous task for visitors, as the project’s existence appears to have been forgotten by many. Even only a few commercial motorcycle riders that had lived there for many years knew the direction of the site, as the only signpost, serving as a pointer to the project had rotten over the years.
  
Throughout the Amosun administration’s eight years, nothing was done on the site. Few weeks ago, when The Guardian visited, it was only an uncompleted makeshift structure, meant for storing site equipment that was visible on the large expanse of land.
 
The land, which stretches from Iperu to Ilara has practically turned into a dumpsite. Scavengers and refuse collectors have turned the site to an abode. Based on information, the site has become a hideout for criminals, as there are several footpaths leading to the field.
  
While it was learnt that some sections of the land had been invaded by land grabbers, who are busy carving out portions of the land at undisclosed amounts to unsuspecting buyers, it was glaring that some parts have also been invaded by farmers, as maize, cassava and other crops were planted on several hectares.
 
Undoubtedly, the public funds, which allegedly runs into billions of naira expended so far on the project might have gone down the drain, as the project is as good as abandoned, considering the blame game that has trailed its existence.
  
Sensing that the project was becoming a stillborn, concerned elders and people of the host communities and neighbouring towns, cried out severally that the multi-billion naira-project might be aborted, yet no attention was paid to it.
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The only excuse given by the former governor for his nonchalant attitude towards the project was that he did not meet anything on ground, despite the billions of naira allegedly spent on it.
  
He said: “People talk to me as if the agro-cargo airport has taken off. But up till now, nothing is on ground; not even the feasibility study, which we asked for. Some people said the government owes them billions of naira and that we should pay. I said how?
  
“As we speak, there is nothing that we met that we can say is on ground. When people accused me of abandoning the Agro-Cargo Airport project, I told them I met nothing on ground.
 
“But don’t worry, things will be sorted out. We are going to include the airport in our developmental projects.”Despite his promise, throughout his eight years reign, Amosun administration neither touched the project nor made any move to build on the foundation of the site laid by his predecessor. It was not also on record that he visited the site at all.
  
Prior to the 2019 general elections, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo rekindled the hope of the people of the area during his campaign tour to the palace of Akarigbo of Remoland, Sagamu.  
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Osinbajo said though the Federal Government had played its part by bringing development to the area with an enabling environment, the responsibility to build the cargo airport rests squarely on the state government.

“When Dapo Abiodun comes in as the next governor of Ogun State, he will be able to complete the construction of the abandoned cargo airport located between Iperu and Ilishan road in Ikenne Local Council Area,” he said.
  
But 19 months after assuming office, The Guardian investigations showed that there is no plan yet in that direction. Ground checks also revealed that there is no provision for the projects in the state’s 2021 budget.
 
When The Guardian visited the palace of Alaperu of Iperu Remo, Oba Adeleke Idowu Basibo, to comment on the abandoned project, it was learnt the monarch went for an outing with his cabinet. But after about 30 minutes of searching for any chief that could speak on behalf of the monarch, the reporter left the palace.
  
A secondary school teacher in the area, Mr. Gabriel Owosibo, who described the development as a waste of taxpayers’ money, lamented that one of the challenges of sustainable development in the country is lack of continuity of government programmes and policies.
 

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He condemned the practice in the state, where successive governments often abandon many laudable programmes and projects initiated by the preceding administrations, because they do not want their predecessors to take credit for the success of the projects.
  
Owosibo said the project is as good as abandoned, considering the huge amount that will be needed to bring it back to life. He noted that with the body language of the current administration in the state, nobody should expect any miracle on the abandoned cargo airport, as “the earlier promises made by the Vice President are mere electioneering campaign to win people’s votes.”
  
All efforts to know the state government’s plans to facilitate the execution of the abandoned projects proved abortive, as all entreaties made to the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Dapo Abiodun, Mr. Kunle Somorin on the issue, were futile.
  
But The Guardian learnt from sources within the governor’s office that the current administration, through its body language, is not ready to touch any of the projects, considering the harsh economic reality in the state.
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