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With work yet to be fully completed, the Ogun agro cargo airport recorded its first test flights last week Thursday to the joy of many. Not a few believe that with the airport expected to commence cargo and passenger operations this year, it would act as a catalyst for economic growth, writes, WOLE SHADARE
So long, so good
For more than 16 years, it looked like a dream that could only materialize on paper. The hiccup associated with seeing to the actualization of the Gateway International Agro-Cargo Airport in Iperu-Ilishan Road in Ikenne, Ogun State was just in a realm of a dream. Will this project ever take up was the question on the lips of many Ogun sons and daughters and aviation enthusiasts.
Sitting on about 5000 hectares of land strategically located with its proximity to the Lagos-Ibadan and the Sagamu-Benin Expressway, the airport is provided with a five-storey control tower obtainable in similar airports in developed countries.
The maiden test flights were important milestones that signal the imminent commencement of aviation activities at this strategic air transportation infrastructure initiated by Governor Abiodun’s administration.
Gateway International agro-cargo airport was designed to support Ogun state’s continued industrial and economic growth and further enhance air transport connectivity across Nigeria.
Prince Dapo Abiodun
Dream turn reality
Former Governor Gbenga Daniels initiated the project in 2006 but did nothing until his tenure elapsed, fueling insinuation that it might be another White elephant project or at best, one conceptualized to siphon the state’s resources.
What was conceived 16 years ago became a reality as Governor Dapo Abiodun matched his words with action by giving the state something to be excited about as he etched his name in history as the Governor whose administration built an agro-cargo and passenger airport less than four years he assumed office.
The state, on February 22, 2023, recorded a remarkable feat, as the first commercial flight landed at the Gateway Agro Cargo International Airport along Iperu- Ilishan road in the Ikenne Local Government Area of the State.
The first flight landed at about 2.15 pm to the cheering of hundreds of people from the state. The Agro Cargo Airport was the idea of the Gbenga Daniel’s administration conceived in 2005, abandoned by his successor Ibikunle Amosun but actualised by Abiodun.
Abiodun said the maiden test flight was one of the necessary activities leading to the full certification and licencing of the airport for safe aviation operations.
He submitted that the timing of the development of the airport was not accidental, at a time the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement had become effective.
The governor added, “The development of this project comes at a time when the country is vigorously pursuing strategies to promote increased export activity, for which the airport would be a key point of departure for export goods.
“It comes at a time when the AfDB-sponsored Special Agriculture Processing Zone was established in the airport zone in conjunction with the Federal Government, a zone to also include various industrial and logistics activity centres and termed an Aerotropolis that would benefit from the airport and air transportation services.
“It comes at a time the federal government has reconstructed the Lagos to Shagamu Express Way and is on the verge of concessioning the Shagamu to Benin Express Way ensuring safe and efficient land access.
“It comes at a time the federal government is about to start developing the east-to-west standard gauge rail line linking Lagos to the airport and to the east of the country.
“It comes at a time the state is embarking on a sister development, the development of a Dry Port and Port City at Kajola at the junction of the Lagos to Ibadan and the proposed East to Gateway Airport to the East (Calabar) rail line, essential providing connectivity between the Apapa ports to the Airport.
“It comes at a time the federal and state governments are developing the strategic east-to-west highway that will connect Ilaro in Ogun West Senatorial district to the newly reconstructed Interchange to Abeokuta highway in Ogun Central via Kajola and Papalanto, sites of the Dry Port City and Dry Port, to the Gateway Agro Cargo Airport at the geographical centre of Ogun State.”
Abiodun receiving Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika at the Ogun cargo airport
The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, appreciated the effort of the Abiodun-led government for bringing the project into reality.
Osinbajo noted that the project would no doubt bring about economic prosperity, not only to the state but the country in general.
The VP said: “I am super proud to be a citizen of Ogun State, from Ikenne-Remo in Ikenne Local Government Area of the state. This is an incredibly momentous event.
“With what we all see here this afternoon; Ogun State is definitely taking a huge step in fulfilling the dreams of our forebears.
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, said the airport project would add value to the Gross Domestic Product of the country, its people and their well-being.
He noted that Mohammadu Buhari’s administration had witnessed the establishment of many airports since it came on board in 2015, stressing that the airport would engender economic prosperity in the state.
Airports as engine of growth
Airports are more than runways and terminals. Airports are powerful engines of economic growth and possibility for local communities not only in Nigeria but across the globe.
In the next five years, virtually all the states in Nigeria will have at least an aerodrome. Never mind that many of them might not be completed while others could become abandoned projects.
A former Managing Director of FAAN, Mr. George Uriesi said he had learned not to disparage the construction of airports by State Governors in Nigeria, adding that if they have the honest desire to make them work, they are a great economic gateway.
According to Uriesi who is the Chief Operating Officer of fast-rising Ibom Air stated that “If not right away, then gradually, as long as they know what to do with them, they will eventually come in handy. Uyo is a perfect example. The ‘oyinbo’ textbook prescription says that it would ‘cannibalize’ Calabar’s traffic and create two less viable airports, 10 minutes flying time apart. But alas, yes it did affect Calabar’s traffic initially, but Calabar recovered and resumed its growth side by side with Uyo, in the immediate aftermath of the Duke years (due to Governor Duke’s investments and positioning of Calabar then as the local go-to tourist destination).”
With subsequent neglect of that strategic direction and abandonment of that trajectory, Calabar degenerated into the almost no-go place it is today, while Uyo over the last few years became the fastest-growing domestic airport. Calabar cannot blame Uyo today for its drop in pax traffic. It can only blame the economic non-strategy of the State’s government.
On the other hand, Bismarck Rewane in his current macroeconomic analysis names Uyo as one of the 10 fastest-growing cities in Africa. Of course, the existence of the airport is a major catalyst for this”.
The real problem in this whole airport thing is that the politicians usually have different motives for going into airport projects. For one, it is a ‘sure banker’ project for a Governor’s term in office. But we have to look beyond that to make good use of it when it is delivered. Not a few are convinced that there’s space for every one of them to become good economic catalysts for their catchment areas if ‘sense’ is applied”.