An agenda for Yobe after the Cargo Airport, by Hassan Gimba

Of recent, a lot of dust has been raised over the decision of the Yobe State Government of Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam to construct an N11 billion cargo airport for the state.
Many commentators are of the opinion that it is akin to putting the horse before the cart, because there are numerous areas, notably education, health, agriculture and infrastructure provision begging for attention, and that such huge amount could be better utilised there. Among their arguments is that giving attention to these areas would empower youths, directly and indirectly and even those who are not so young.
Those for the airport, on the other hand, argue that the state has done enough in these areas and therefore, can go ahead to build a cargo airport, so it can be counted among the states that have airports.
With the entire hullabaloo going on, I thought I should chip in one or two things that may, hopefully, unite the contending voices and proffer one or two solutions, so that we can all move forward to the next stage. I came to this conclusion, because I believe each side has a strong point or two backing its arguments and that both sides took a stance out of their love for Yobe. Therefore, neither side should be seen as an enemy of the state or an enemy of progress. The moment we try to politicise this issue and start calling each other names, we ALL become enemies of the state and of progress.
We must look at everything objectively, with the full knowledge that whatever has a merits account must have a demerits column.
In the first place the issue of a cargo airport is a foregone conclusion, as far as the state government is concerned. The contract has been awarded, MOU signed and the contractor has since mobilised all necessary to site. In view of this, rather than continuing to kick against it the best option is to see how we can help our state, so that the project does not become a drainpipe of resources.
Are you still grumbling that the horse is behind the cart? Come on, let’s teach the horse to push the cart. After all, nothing is impossible or new in this world.
The Yobe Cargo Airport will cost about N11bn, which may be reasonable, considering that the MKO Abiola Airport in Osun State, though concessioned, will cost N69bn and the 3.6km Abuja Airport runway rehabilitation cost N5.8bn. This shows financial prudence on the part of the government and honesty from the contractor.
In Nigeria 28 states have airports, but the most viable are those made so by the governments. The Federal Government has reimbursed states that built airports and if Yobe can get at least 50% reimbursement, the airport would be a good bargain, if used to make gains in the areas of economic development and security.
It would not be out of place to say that Yobe has, largely, missed out on presidential visits in the past as a result of the lack of an airport. It is also doubtless that had there been an airport in the state the challenges faced at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency would have been dealt with easily.
Then, even when the state capital was under siege, air force planes had to be flown in from Yola and because of the distance had to return quickly in order not to run out of fuel, after just some 30 to 40 minutes bombardment. They could not stay to rout the remnant of insurgents who retire to rearm and return.
The state government should, possibly through collaboration, urgently upgrade its abattoir and have a standard dairy where livestock can be processed into different components – meat, cheese, milk, yoghurt, bones, marrow, hoofs, horns, etc. – for export. Most of the meat taken to Saudi Arabia, for instance, is from Chad. Yobe can take a chunk of that market and in other places by using the advantage the airport will provide.
Yobe is blessed with agricultural produce such as vegetables and fruits. These too can be exported.
This means that the state must become serious about farming and/or assisting farmers. Empowering farmers with modern implements and all needed for bumper harvests and fattened, healthy livestock, buying from the farmers at a profit for them and then having processing and exporting done by the state would be a win-win situation for both the farmers and the state.
To achieve this, the state must seek to collaborate with private businesses to build factories and in so doing, the issue of citizens being productively engaged would have also been addressed.
The state can invite hospitals of international repute to manage its new hospital, while Yobe doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospital administrators and managers understudy them. The hospital would then attract patients from far and wide and the airport would be busy.
Umrah and Hajj are other areas where the airport can be put to use. The government’s hotels should be upgraded so that visitors and foreign investors will feel comfortably accommodated.
The state should also, as a matter of urgency, construct a standard motor park, because it would ‘look somehow’ to have an airport, but no standard commercial bus terminal. Also needed is a standard market, which would boost the state’s IGR, provide an outlet for businessmen and be a place where visitors can shop for their needs and souvenirs.
With all this, any Yobean would be proud of his state and government, and Governor Gaidam would have written his name in gold in the history of Yobe.

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