Our attention has been drawn to a story captioned “Six Days to End of Tenure, Yobe Governor Approves N6bn for Upgrade of ‘Non-existing Airport’” published by the online news medium Saharareporters.
That the Yobe Cargo Airport, located on kilometre 20 along the Damaturu-Gashu’a highway, is a project that is currently ongoing and that has made significant progress is a fact well known even to the most cursory observer. The Nigerian media space was awash with several stories – and photos – about the airport project from the day it was approved by the State Executive Council on September 13, 2017, at the initial cost of N11, 327, 120, and 487.24 to the beginning of construction work on October 17, 2017 to date. To say that the airport is ‘non-existing’ is, therefore, a disservice – and even dishonesty – to truth and the sanctity of evidentiary proof.
But here is what is more significant: The N6 billion additional funds that the Executive Council approved last Wednesday didn’t happen simply because the government was in a hurry to spend money six days to the end of the governor’s tenure, as Saharareporters wrongly suggested. It was the culmination of a process that began following the inspection visit that aviation experts from regulatory agencies including the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Ministry of Aviation paid to the project site in Damaturu.
As a cargo airport designed to meet international standards, the regulatory bodies made observations and recommendations that should be adopted and implemented as the construction work progresses.
Part of the recommendations was for the scooping of earth on the runway to be extended from one meter to four meters and the length of the runway itself to be extended from 3100 meters to 3600 meters and for a Runway Safety Area of 500 meters to be provided. This is to make the runway capable and amenable to large cargo aircraft with 400 or more tonnes of landing weight.
The visitors also suggested that the Control Tower be extended and expanded from a one-storey design to a three-storey structure and the fire service station to accommodate four instead of two fire service vehicles.
There was also a recommendation for an upgrade of the Airport Lighting System that was originally planned to meet the standard of at least CAT II to improve the capacity of the airport to dispatch and receive flights in reduced visibility. This entails improving the cabling and power requirements of the airport.
It is these and other recommendations that made the State Government to ask the contractor to submit a bill of quantity to accommodate the expansions and upgrades that were suggested. It is clear that it is more cost-effective at this point to accommodate these observations than to wait until years later when it could become necessary to undertake but at possibly more exorbitant rates.
Once the contractor made his submission, the Yobe State Bureau for Public Procurement went to work and the bill of N8 billion that the contractor submitted was brought down to N6 billion.
It was the submission made by the contractor and the vetting process by the Bureau of Public Procurement that eventually led to the approval granted by the State Executive Council last Wednesday. It was due process and due diligence all the way. It was simply happenstance that it came as the administration was ending its eventful tenure.
But as anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of governance knows, Governor Gaidam is empowered by law to continue to serve the people of the state until the very end of his tenure on May 29, 2019. Serving to the very end also entails making expenditures on behalf of the people if and when necessary.
The Yobe International Cargo Airport, which now nears completion, will be one of the most modern airports in Nigeria and would provide opportunity for the state government and businesses to tap from the state’s vast agricultural and other resource endowments to export different commodities directly to other parts of the world.
Observers have argued that with an effective commodity board, the cargo airport can be used effectively by the Yobe state government to export processed meat, hides and skin and agricultural produce to markets in the Middle East and elsewhere where they are in high demand.
Bego is Governor Gaidam’s spokesman; he wrote in from Damaturu, Yobe state