Abiodun/Amosun: How Ogun airport projects fuel crisis between friends-turned-foes - THE NEW DAWN ONLINE


Thursday, August 05, 2021

Abiodun/Amosun: How Ogun airport projects fuel crisis between friends-turned-foes

It is obvious that the Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun, and his predecessor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, are not on good terms. They were at daggers’ drawn prior to the 2019 elections and afterwards. They were once jolly good friends and played local politics together for years until a few years before 2019.

From records, they had helped each other to achieve political aims at particular periods. But, now, the enmity between the two political juggernauts is more than imaginable. It became worse after the 2019 elections.

Coincidentally, they both belong to the same All Progressives Congress, but have so many scores to settle with each other. They played high-powered politics against each other before the party primaries and during the general elections.

After the polls, the political battle between the two gladiators shifted to the control of the party structure.

While the fight for the party structure was on, attention suddenly shifted to the construction of two proposed airports in the state.

The two controversial projects are the agro- cargo and passengers airport, which are to be located in Ilishan-Remo, Ogun East Senatorial District, and Wasimi, Ewekoro, in the Ogun Central Senatorial District, respectively.

While Abiodun is governor on the slot of the Ogun East, Amosun not only represented the Ogun Central as governor for eight years, he is currently representing the district in the Red chamber.

Ironically, both the agro cargo and passenger airports were initiated by the Peoples Democratic Party government of former governor Gbenga Daniel and former Speaker, House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, in 2006 and 2008, respectively.

It was gathered that while the agro cargo airport was initiated by the state government, the passenger airport is a Federal Government project.

It was reliably gathered that the controversy about the projects reared its ugly head following the plan by the Federal Government to release funds for the passenger airport project.

It was further learnt that mutual suspicion on the part of the two sides on how the funds would be handled and fear of likely diversion prompted the bickering among Amosun and his successor.

Our correspondent learnt that the development unsettled the two camps as they made frantic efforts to outsmart each other.

The Senate Committee on Aviation, led by Senator Smart Adeyemi, recently visited the sites and made its recommendations.

Amosun, who is a member of the committee, is believed to have got Adeyemi on his side.

Speaking on the project during the visit by the committee, Amosun said representatives of the Ministry of Aviation had been to the sites more than 10 times.

The former governor noted that for the support of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), the passenger airport would not have got to its present level.

He said, “For me, if it is possible to have more than 10 airports (in the state), I am happy for it. But, I want to safely say that by the benevolence of the Almighty, this airport will see the light of the day.

“Pictures don’t lie; the runway is already established; this is not a game, but a result of hard work and the support we are getting from the Federal Government.

“This is a Federal Government project no doubt, and I am sure that the Federal Government does not waste its money; it wouldn’t be appropriating money to what it will not want to finish.”

But Abiodun said Ogun State needed an agro-cargo and not passenger airport, adding that the state government would continue with the plan to construct an agro-cargo airport.

The governor said the agro-cargo airport project, conceptualised by the Gbenga Daniel administration in 2007, had lots of potential in the overall development of the state in particular and the country in general.

Abiodun recalled that the Amosun administration jettisoned the idea of a cargo airport and opted instead for a passenger airport in 2018 with its proposed location in the Ewekoro area of the state.

The governor insisted that what Ogun State was yearning for was an airport that would support its massive agro development potential.

He maintained that the people of the state entrusted his administration with qualitative representation to create the enabling environment for public-private sector partnership.

According to him, the decision to continue with the agro-cargo airport project in Ilishan-Remo was made by the state’s joint inter-ministerial committee, which evaluated and placed priority on it as against the Ewekoro passenger airport.

He noted that a lot of verifiable work had started on the agro-cargo airport project with the approval of the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.

He informed the Senate committee that there were no details or information on the Ewekoro project in the handing over note that Amosun administration left for him.

Abiodun said, “This administration is deliberate and methodical. The need to have a cargo airport was made by our joint inter-ministerial committee and we consequently evaluated the initiatives that were started by previous administrations, because government is a continuum.

“After a thorough evaluation, the choice of the cargo airport location in Ilishan was unanimous; it complements the agric/processing factories in that corridor with access/egress road network.

“To that extent, our decisions are guided by the principles of good governance; is it fair, just and equitable to all? Is the process transparent and inclusive? Did the people make an input? Is it of economic importance/value? Will it possibly impact the life of our people? We must hold ourselves accountable at all times. After all, the people are the essence of governance and we are only holding the office in trust for them.”

While faulting the Wasimi airport, Abiodun said comparatively, his government did not get the details and information of the location in the handover notes, claiming that the whole process was shrouded in secrecy.

The governor said a committee headed by the national President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers was commissioned to investigate the proposed airport, and it found out that there was no approval by the Ministry of Aviation or the NCAA.

He also noted that the proposed location of the airport had the largest cement factories in the country, and that those factories were emitting dust particles and pollutants into the sky.

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He, however, said his government had redesigned the location for a more complimentary purpose to the factories as trailer/container transit terminal and park.

The governor solicited the support of the committee for the first international cargo airport in Nigeria, adding that the first phase was expected to be completed by May 2022.

The state Commissioner for Finance, who doubles as the Economic Adviser to the governor, Mr Dapo Okubadejo, in a presentation described the project as a viable one, which would unlock significant value addition opportunities across the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

“This cargo airport is located within the agricultural belt in the state and strategically located at the interconnection between the East and West highway (Benin-Sagamu) and the North-South highway (Lagos-Ibadan),” he stated.

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation said the Wasimi airport was not a new project to the National Assembly, adding that it was a project that had been ongoing over the years.

Adeyemi stated, “The National Assembly has been appropriating funds for it, even this year. Maybe what has been appropriated in the past was not enough, but the fact that the Wasimi airport is not a new airport; it is something that I inherited. I saw it over the years and it has been occurring in the budget of the Federal Government.

“We are equally aware that there is another one that the state government is working on, which we visited yesterday. Ours is to go back, sit down with the Minister of Aviation and the principal officers to discuss what we have seen and what we think should be the way forward.

“Ours is to make sure that money that has been appropriated or when money is appropriated is spent for the purpose it is meant for. Ours is to make sure that the appropriation takes into consideration the needs and the aspirations of the people.

“And like I said, this is not a new project; this project is known to us; nobody will tell us that the National Assembly doesn’t know about the Wasimi airport; over the years it has been in the budget; so, it is not a new project; ours is to ensure that when projects are started, they are completed.”

When asked whether his trip to the state was sponsored by Amosun, Adeyemi said, “The essence of electing representatives is to defend the needs and aspirations of their people; so, if we are here because of Senator Ibikunle Amosun, I think it is worth it; it means that he is somebody, who wants the best for his people, and if he can bring us here, I don’t think anybody should lose sleep over that.”

Shedding light on the controversy, a former Secretary to the State Government during Amosun’s administration, Taiwo Adeoluwa, described the controversy trailing the project as needless.

He described the views of Abiodun and his team as competing claims on the ownership, relevance, stage of work, viability, documentation and priority between the Federal Government-owned Abeokuta international airport in Wasimi and the proposed Ogun State-owned Ilishan cargo airport.

Adeoluwa said the former administration had resolved not to trade claims with the current.

He said, however, the stance had to change after “watching the video and reading the accounts of the meeting between the Senate Committee on Aviation and officials of the Ogun State Government and the many lies and concocted half-truths.”

“We consider that we owe our people and Nigerians at large the duty to speak the truth without necessarily infringing on our ‘Sidon look’ disposition,” he stated.

Adeoluwa recalled that the Wasimi airport project was conceived in 2008 by the Federal Government as an airstrip.

He added that the location was particularly well thought of due to its proximity to Yewaland, Ogun West Senatorial District and two giant cement plants, which would serve as its immediate neighbours, as well as its proximity to the Olorunsogo Power Plant and industrial areas in Agbara, Ota and Abeokuta, and the Sagamu Interchange industrial hub.

Adeoluwa added that the Federal Government had since 2009 been making appropriations and consistently prosecuting the project.

He explained that the perimeter fence was completed in 2010, a year before Amosun assumed office in 2011.

On the Ilishan cargo airport, the former SSG said efforts to know the progress were futile as the contractor engaged by the former administration allegedly refused to cooperate with the Amosun government in 2011.

According to Adeoluwa, the contractor refused to provide the drawings and technical details.

“For unclear reasons, he chose litigation after we rejected the humongous monetary claims. When we visited the site, we observed that it was in a built-up neighbourhood and there were several encroachments. There was nothing on the ground, not even a perimeter fence to delineate the project site. The only feasible thing was a signpost with the Ogun State logo and indicating the name of the project,” he added.

While acknowledging the suitability of the location for a cargo airport, Adeoluwa, however, said, the large-scale encroachment and built-up areas had made the site unsuitable for the project.

Explaining why Amosun shifted his attention from an agro cargo airport to a passenger airport, the former SSG said the administration relied on experts’ advice.

He said the experts opined that an airport in the Ogun East Senatorial District would be best sited in the Ogun Waterside and Ijebu East local governments areas to serve the Olokola Free Trade Zone and would make more sense on account of the proposed deep seaport project for the area as well as activities along the Ijebu-Ode/Epe corridor.

Adeoluwa stated, “Besides, the experts equally pointed out the suitability of the axis, because it is a green field and free of encumbrances. They were very clear that the site chosen in Ilishan was unsuitable for an airport.

“Faced with these practical and technical realities, our attention shifted back to the Federal Government-owned Abeokuta International Airport, Wasimi, which was already on going.”

He accused Abiodun of making efforts to render the Wasimi airport project moribund.

He stated, “Very early after it took office, the Ogun State Government forcefully halted the then ongoing works at the Wasimi site. It told the contractors that Ogun State did not need the airport anymore and directed the contractors to remove their equipment from the site.

“The Abeokuta International Airport project in Wasimi has come to stay. It is serviced by a 12km access dual carriageway under construction, and a fully established and defined six-kilometre runway, among other components at different stages. ”

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