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Business News of Thursday, 18 November 2021

Source: tribuneonlineng.com

Controversy trails FG’s plan to refund N1.6bn airport projects to Bayelsa, Kebbi

Federal Government of Nigeria Federal Government of Nigeria

The Federal Government has been faulted for its plan to refund N1.6 billion to Bayelsa and Kebbi states for the construction of airports by the two-state governments.

Players in the sector are arguing why the Federal Government would pay back the two-state governments for the airport projects voluntarily carried out by them in their states, querying the viability of the airports when over 20 aerodromes in the country remain unviable.

The move was contained in the 2022 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly recently.

The full budget proposal of the Ministry of Aviation indicated that the project was “ongoing.”

For instance, the Sir Ahmadu Bello International Airport in Birnin Kebbi which was commissioned in 2014, was handed over to the Federal Government in 2020 after six years of unfruitful operations.

In February this year, the state government had announced that the Federal Government would refund N1.6 billion to it, being the amount of money spent to construct the airport.

Equally, the construction for the Bayelsa International Airport commenced in 2012 and was commissioned in February 2020 by Mr Seriake Dickson, the immediate past governor of the state.

Commenting on the planned refund, an aviation analyst, Group John Ojikutu (retd), described as a waste of public funds.

Ojikutu queried the viability of the two airports and the motives behind their construction by the state governments in the first instance, saying that there was no basis for their construction in the first place.

Ojikutu wondered why state governments preferred to build airports, rather than concentrate on other pertinent issues and infrastructure in their states, especially at a period of global and national decline in air and passengers traffic.

According to him, the recent N5.1 billion planned to be expended on Katsina Airport apron expansion and another N1.6 billion refund for Bayelsa and Kebbi governments, totalling N6.7 billion, was sufficient to provide a minimum of six landing light facilities and equally train 200 air traffic controllers beyond basic aerodrome control to approach/departure control levels in six airports.

His words: “How much passenger traffic do we have at Kebbi and Bayelsa within the yearly 16 million national air and passengers traffic statistics? Only Katsina Airport had figures of 4,023 passengers traffic and 908 (14 international and 894 domestic flights) air traffic recorded in 2019; none for Bayelsa and Kebbi.

“What justifies the refund of N1.6 billion to Bayelsa and Kebbi State governments for the construction of airports in their states when most safety infrastructure and landing facilities are either lacking or deficient at most of the federal airports?”

Adding his voice, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Tropical Arctic Logistics (TAL), Mr Femi Adenij described the planned refund as a “political settlement” for state governors.

While decrying how education in the country was going down the drain with irregular payment of teachers’ salaries, with most of the country’s roads not motorable.

Adeniji declared: “Yet, money is spent on building airports. The cost of building one runway is three times the cost of building roads.

For Comrade Olayinka Abioye, the immediate past General Secretary, National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), it is inconceivable that a state like Kebbi, which established its airport in 2014 expected a refund from the Federal Government when it chose to build an airport by itself.

Abioye equally expressed shock that the Bayelsa State Government would seek for refund, stressing that airport construction was not a necessity for any government that lacked the capacity to do so.

The union leader insisted that airport construction for most state governments was an economic disaster waiting to happen especially when a new government takes over in such a state.

“When our airports loving governors vacate the seats, and the new helmsman does not see such venture as an attractive one, what will happen? This is one question begging for answers, and I do hope time will unravel such.”