How Govs Wasted N374bn On Unviable Airport Projects

…Many abandoned, others linger for years

Abia makes U-turn, says only 5% of residents travel by air

Ministry grants Edo approval

 

Despite the obvious failure of some airport projects embarked upon by some state governments to take off effectively, more state governors are still desperate to build unviable aerodromes in their domains.

In this circumstance, the regulatory authorities are “forced” to spend revenue earned from four viable terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kano to subsidise operations in the 20 other airports managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

From estimation, not less than N374 billion have so far been expended on such projects by the states, development, observers reckon as a mere conduit to siphon public funds than for economic interests.

Even as most of the aerodromes currently operate far below the requisite capacity, Edo State Government was recently granted approval by the Ministry of Aviation to site another airport in the northern part of the state, besides the one in Benin City, the state capital.

Stakeholders are worried that the rate at which state governments were going about it, virtually all the states in Nigeria would have at least an aerodrome in the next five years. While very few of them are viable, many others have been described as ‘white elephant projects.

This much was disclosed by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Smart Adeyemi, last month when the Ministry of Aviation came forward to defend its budget.

 

LOCATION STATUS PROPOSED COST
Lekki Airport                                 WORK YET TO START ₦71.64 billion
Ebonyi International Airport          UNCOMPLETED ₦10 billion
Anambra Cargo Airport                  COMPLETED ₦10 billion
Bayelsa International Airport       COMPLETED ₦65 billion
Gusau Airport                                 UNCOMPLETED Unspecified
Ekiti cargo airport                          UNCOMPLETED ₦20 billion
Abia Airport                                    PROJECT ABANDONED ₦40 billion
MKO International Airport, Osun    UNCOMPLETED ₦40 billion
Ogun cargo airport                           UNCOMPLETED ₦40 billion
Lafia Airport                                      UNCOMPLETED ₦40 billion
Wachakal Airport Damaturu        UNCOMPLETED ₦18 billion
Dutse Int’l Airport                             COMPLETED ₦20 billion

 

Adeyemi described most of the airports established by state governments as white elephant projects. He said that aside from Lagos, which has 65 percent passenger traffic, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, and most of the other states’ airports lacked the required 500,000 to one million passenger traffic on yearly basis.

The Nigerian aviation industry statistically contributed about N120 billion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2016 alone while N59 billion directly came from the airlines, airports, and ground services, N34 billion came directly from the supply chain, N26 billion from employees consumption and supply chain, N78 billion in catalytic benefits through tour operations.

However, the recent trend in Nigeria points to the proliferation of airports without rising traffic, enhanced disposable income to fly, economic/ social activities, dwindling resources to the states, and competing demands of governance.

A former Assistant Secretary-General of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Mohammed Tukur, told our correspondent that for a country of more than 200 million people, it is quite unacceptable that both domestic and international air traffic for2019 was between16 million and 17 million.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has also been financially encumbered to run these airports that are handed over to them after construction by state governments to manage.

 

Proposed Ekiti cargo airport

Several state governments in Nigeria are in a ‘rat-race’ to build their own airports, which are being used as a ‘status symbol.’

Those that struggled to successfully complete theirs have discovered that the project is a huge waste and a drain on the lean purses as many of the aerodromes are not viable.

Many of the governors had thought that the construction of airports would spur economic development and business activities in their states, link states to the national rail line, and create a cargo airport as a hub for the export of agricultural produce. An air transport expert told Aviation Metric that there was no point in building facilities that do not have a direct impact on the people.

The signs that some of these facilities are already turning to abandoned projects are visible following the financial woes states have found themselves. Nigeria’s financial crisis, which affected all the three tiers of government – federal, state, and local governments – has led to the suspension and in some cases, abandonment of airport projects embarked upon by states.

The states conceptualising building airports as of 2014 include Ekiti, Nasarawa, Ogun, Taraba, Lagos, Anambra, Osun, Zamfara, Yobe, and others.

Akwa Ibom and Jigawa had long completed theirs. Some of them, like the Minna airport with one of the best runways but largely underutilised and unviable, were established over 30 years ago.

The airport comes alive only during Hajj operations and for charter operations. Air Peace and one other carrier recently began services to the airport with few passengers travelling through it. Katsina airport is barely used except for charter operations.

Makurdi is largely used for military operations while Ibadan airport was idle for nearly 30 years save for Overland Airways and Air Peace that operate to the airport. Its proximity to Lagos has deprived it of the needed traffic.

 

 

Dutse Airport, Jigawa

Sokoto and Birnin Kebbi lack economic and business activities. The same with Jos airport lacks both business and economic activities and further compounded by security problems since 2002.

States with viable airports are Lagos with an average of eight million passengers yearly; Kaduna (400, 000), Port-Harcourt (1.2 million), and Abuja airport (five million). Viable airports are the busiest airports by passenger traffic. Out of the states, which currently operate their airports, only about two – Uyo and Asaba – are viable investments, considering the passenger traffic and income.

Anambra International Cargo Airport could be the next viable airport because of its proximity to Onitsha, which is the industrial hub of the South East region. Some experts, who preferred anonymity, said: “Most of these state airports are tools to siphon funds with over-bloated and ambitious projects.

For example, the Ahmadu Bello Airport in Birnin Kebbi was built with N18 billion while Jigawa airport was built at a cost of N20 billion.

The belief of most of the states at the project conception was that the Federal Government would contribute and assist them.

In the same vein, Nassarawa and Ekiti states with monthly revenue from Federation accounts not exceeding N3 billion planned to build N20 billion airports. Both Bayelsa and Anambra airports had since been completed and opened for commercial operations.

The N10 billion Anambra airport, experts said, is a well thought- out project as the aerodrome is strategically located and one that could draw traffic from Asaba airport and other neighbouring towns.

 

Newly built Anambra cargo airport

Its proximity to Onitsha which is a business hub in the South East makes it very viable, unlike many others that are said to be a conduit for alleged siphoning of government funds.

There has been an ongoing plan to build an airport in Ado-Ekiti, a plan that the state has been on for years.

Our correspondent, who visited the site, observed that farmers had cleared a large portion of the land, suggesting that rather than planes landing there, crops would be grown on the field in this year’s cropping season.

Investigation by Aviation Metric revealed that a former Zamfara Governor, Mahmud Shinkafi, had awarded the cargo airport contract at the cost of about N9 billion in 2009.

Similarly, the completion of the Damaturu Cargo International Airport project in Yobe State, promised by former Governor Ibrahim Gaidam, is yet to see the light of day.

The project was estimated to cost N18 billion. Abia State Government has abandoned its proposed airport project over its un-viability under the present economy of the state. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu recently told journalists that the government would not embark on it because other states in the southeast zone have established airports.

The Lekki Airport project is projected to cost ₦71.64 billion in its first phase, planned to be situated 10 km from Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ), and was originally proposed to open in 2012. It was designed to cater to Airbus A380, making it a Code F compliant airport. Not much was done on the project by former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.

The project, which was a brainchild of the administration of Babatunde Fashola, was designed as a public-private partnership (PPP) between the state government and a would-be investor.

The Ogun State Government had in 2007 signed a contract with Dar-Al Hadassah of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for the construction of its planned agro cargo airport.

Construction work started last year on a federal airport project at Wasinmi, near Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. About 16 villages were cleared for the airport project, which construction is being handled by a German construction firm, PW Construction.

The cost of the Ogun State Cargo Airport is unknown but not a few believe that it would be approximately between N30 billion and N40 billion. Of the seven states listed, Bayelsa and Anambra were the only states that completed their own aerodromes.

 

Yenogoa international airport

The Bayelsa State Government in February 2019 opened its over N60 billion international airport while the Anambra State Government commissioned its own airport on November 1, 2021, and has since put the facility to use. The airport, known as Bayelsa International Airport, was opened with an inaugural flight by former Governor Seriake Dickson.

Commenting on the development, aviation security consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (Rtd), said: “Only very few airports are viable in Nigeria and what do we do about the ones that are unviable?”

Ojikutu said it would not be economical to have another airport in the South-West as Akure and Ibadan airports have been ‘‘dormant” for a long time.

He insisted that it was a wrong priority for any state in the South West, except Lagos to plan any airport project. “We have about 25 airports in the country; seven of them are owned by state governments. But these airports cannot boast of more than 300,000 passengers each year,” Ojikutu added.

Head of Engineering, Ibom Air, Lookman Animashaun, an aircraft engineer, said construction of aerodromes by state governments would be good only if it will bring development, adding that most of the airports built now were just conduits and one that does not bring prosperity to their people.

Wole Shadare

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