By Kayode Olaitan
The Dutse International Airport was projected to gulp N11.7 billion. The State Governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, said the cost of the project was small compared to the amount similar airports were constructed across the country. He said recently that full flight operations will begin on July 14 at the Dutse International Airport. There are however mixed feelings about the project.
Tourism experts affirm that the airport, located in a strategic plain of the agrarian Jigawa, about four kilometres to Dutse, will boost the economy of the state.
Observers note that the airport, intended to be the perishable cargo hub in the region, will greatly enhance the income of farmers in the area who would have access to international markets for their produce.
Besides, they opine that the airport will boost tourism in Jigawa, as it has the capacity to accommodate jumbo aircraft with its 3.6 kilometres runway.
Lamido said the building of the airport became a necessity in order to attract investors to the state.
He said in an interview recently that there were many investors willing to come to the state if there was a functional and safe airport.
“The airport is a thing of necessity; when Bill Gates came to Nigeria to boost global fight against polio, he was to come to Jigawa on polio issues but because there was no airport, he couldn’t come.
“The access was not just there because of the feeling of insecurity travelling on our roads; even from Kano State,’’ he said.
Lamido said the project, which started in February, 2014 was worth N11 billion, observing that the airport would be the hub in the region in terms of agricultural produce export.
“We are also into livestock production; therefore we can export the produce from the airport, so it is going to be a cargo cum commercial airport.
“People from the Federal Civil Aviation Authority are there now working on where they are going to put the foundation for the warehouses.
“So, this state has the potential to be the hub of the north in terms of economy, tourism and a number of things,’’ he said.
Malam Nura Mohammed, a farmer in Jahun, a major town in the state, said with the airport, a lot of perishable agricultural produce could be exported to other parts of the world.
He noted that in the past, perishable goods, such as vegetables, water melons, mangoes, tomatoes, pepper and groundnuts, among others, that were produced in excess, wasted.
Ms Stella Oduah, then Minister of Aviation, during her inspection of the airport, promised that the Federal Government would also construct a perishable cargo terminal to enhance the transport of agricultural produce in the region.
She assured the residents of the state of the support of Federal Government in the effective running of the airport to boost socio-commercial activities in the state.
“It is the vision of the government to mainstream aviation to accomplish several economic purposes.
“The airport will also deal on perishable items; Jigawa should be our perishable hub for this area and we have huge plan for perishable cargo,’’ Oduah said.
President Goodluck Jonathan laid the foundation of the airport on Nov.6, 2012 while the first flight was taken by Lamido to Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, from where he left for Saudi Arabia for the hajj.
Malam Umar Kyari, Lamido’s Director of Press, said government embarked on the airport project in order to boost economic development in the state.
“The proposed airport was an attempt by the administration to boost the economic activities of the state.
“The airport would also go a long way in attracting more investors, based on the World Bank’s report which described Jigawa as an investment haven because of the prevailing peace in the state,’’ he quoted Lamido as saying.
In spite of the benefits of the airport as outlined by the governor and his aides, some residents of the state believe that the airport ought not to have been built.
Alhaji Faruk Aliyu, who lost at the last governorship election on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change, said building an airport in Jigawa could be “a misplacement of policy.
“With Kano, having an international airport; and being only 100 kilometres away from Dutse, there should have been no need to venture into that kind of project.’’
Supporting Aliyu, Alhaji Nasiru Dantiye, a former member of the House of Representatives, said an airport project might not be one of the projects that could attract investors to a state.
“I have not seen where airport will help the economy when other infrastructure has not been put in place. Jigawa is 80 per cent an agrarian society, the government has not provided essential agricultural implements nor agro-chemicals as well as markets for the produce,’’ he alleged.
Lamido however disagrees; he said that Katsina State, Gombe State and Kebbi had built airports which had opened up commercial activities in the states, insisting that the case of Jigawa would not be a different story.
The governor said that the state government spent N393 million for payment of compensation to the indigenes for the acquisition of their lands.
He said that his administration had completed the construction of the runway, control tower, terminal building, fire service, car park, emergency bay and access road.
According to Lamido, the project which he stressed is key to development of the state, is being executed in collaboration with the Federal Government, adding that the Federal Government would reimburse the state money spent on the project.
Stakeholders want the governor to complete the project before he leaves office, in order to avoid policy somersault.
When Kano state Governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso visited the Dutse International Airport project, he had expressed happiness over the level of progress achieved at the time, describing the airport as a future investment that will boost economic activities of the entire northern region. Kwankwaso had noted that the airport was a gateway to economic development of the state adding that functional airports propelled national development.