Tuesday, 23 March 2021 05:05

[OPINION] Much Ado about Ogun Cargo Airport - Reuben Abati

Ogun State has been in the news for the wrong reasons lately over what I prefer to call for the want of a better term: much ado about a cargo airport. All the parties involved need to be told that the provision of a Cargo Airport in the state should not become a matter of geography, individual ego, arrogance, mischief or ethnicity. The main consideration should be the interest of the people of Ogun State. A Cargo airport in Ogun State will, to state the obvious, create employment, open up the state, and deepen the development process, and also provide an alternative to the congested Lagos port facilities. It will shore up state revenue. The great advantage or disadvantage that Ogun State has is its proximity to Lagos.

With regard to the former, the increasing scarcity of space, and the over-congestion in Lagos, has resulted in the last two decades in an urban sprawl from Lagos towards every part of Ogun State which is its nearest neighbour. The effect is that housing schemes, industrial projects and other investments that could ordinarily have been located in Lagos, are being moved to Ogun State, along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on the Southern front, and towards Epe and Ijebu Ode on the Northern axis. Whoever runs Ogun State as Governor therefore has a responsibility to prepare Ogun State for this advantage, for it is the best option for turning the state into an industrial hub, not just for proximity purposes but also as the gateway to the East and the neighbouring countries of Benin, and Togo. The disadvantage which needs to be addressed is that as Ogun State merges with Lagos, and with many Ogun State residents working in Lagos, commuting daily between the two states, the bulk of the tax that should go to Ogun State ends up in Lagos State coffers. No Governor has been able to find an answer to that yet. Most of the people living in Ifo 2 Constituency and Obafemi Owode Local Government, for example, live in Ogun State and pay tax in Lagos. The proximity between both states is such that in places like Alagbole, for example, some of the residents have their living rooms in Lagos State and their bedrooms on the Ogun State side of the divide!

But that is not the real subject matter. It is this: in 2007, Engr Gbenga Daniel as Governor of Ogun State decided to set up a Cargo airport in the state, to attract business and investment, and TO take full advantage of the proximity of Ogun State to Lagos. Lagos, Nigeria’s main commercial centre and the host of two sea ports and an international airport is congested, creating nightmares for both residents and businesses. The clearing of cargo in Lagos at the time and even now was an abiding source of frustration for business and industry. Why not set up an alternative in Ogun State and draw economic benefits? This was the vision of the Gbenga Daniel administration. And it made sense. The chosen location for the Cargo airport was Ilishan-Remo part of the state, close to Sagamu. Governor Daniel got the necessary approvals from the Federal Ministry of Aviation and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and did the ground work. But the Cargo airport was not completed before the end of his tenure. In 2007, Governor Daniel was succeeded by Senator Ibikunle Amosun as Governor of Ogun State. The new Governor also saw the good sense in what had been initiated by his predecessor but rather than continue with what he met on the ground, Amosun decided to start an entirely new Cargo Airport and chose as new location, a part of the state called Wasimi.

This is where the problem lies. Daniel was a Governor of Remo extraction. When he decided to locate the Cargo airport in Remoland, the Egbas accused Daniel of taking every important project to his part of the state. When Amosun took over, he looked towards his own territory, Egbaland and hence decided that the proposed Cargo airport was best for his own people. Wasimi to Ilishan Remo is less than 30 minutes. The change of location served no special purpose other than the psychological comfort it brings and the ethnic rivalry it projects. Amosun would end up doing a lot for his Egba people. He changed the face of Abeokuta, the capital of the state. He also gave them a flyover in Ijebu Ode. But the cargo airport has now become a source of concern. This whole hustle over location is just across the bridge and less than 30 minutes in terms of distance!

A week ago, the matter came up before the Senate Committee on Aviation, following disagreements between Governor Dapo Abiodun and former Governor of the state, Senator Ibikunle Amosun. The former is interested in building the Ilishan-Remo airport. Governor Abiodun, like Daniel is from Remo. Amosun wants the Agricultural Cargo Airport in Wasimi, in Egbaland. The Senate Committee on Aviation reportedly visited the two sites, and both Governors have been struggling to persuade the Senate to include their preferred project in the federal budget. By the way, the last time I checked, Senator Amosun was no longer the Governor of Ogun State. With due respect, why is he trying to dictate to his successor? He would never have accepted such meddlesomeness as he now allegedly puts up, from his own predecessors: Governor Olusegun Osoba or Governor Gbenga Daniel. As it turned out, the representative of the NCAA told the Senate Committee on Aviation that the agency has no record of any approval for the establishment of a Wasimi Cargo Airport, but it has all the necessary documentation for the Sagamu cargo airport. The Chairman of the Senate panel, Senator Smart Adeyemi subsequently resolved the matter by saying that Ogun State has the capacity to manage two airports. What kind of talk is that? Smart Adeyemi’s statement is supported by politics, double-talk and hypocrisy, and not the facts. Ogun State does not need two Cargo airports. One is enough. The state cannot afford two airports. That is a fact. The Senate panel on Aviation must be truthful and not take any decision just to please Amosun, who is currently in the Senate.

It is most unfortunate that governance in Ogun State as is the case in other states of the Federation has been reduced to the distribution of privileges based on ethnicity. I think Governor Abiodun has done well by continuing with a worthy project introduced by Daniel, which Amosun abandoned. It is completely beside the point that Abiodun and Daniel are from the same geographical zone. The overall target should be continuity in governance. That is how they do it in sane and developed economies Abiodun has completed some of Senator Amosun’s projects even in Egbaland, and the most conspicuous is the road leading to Abeokuta all the way to Kuto. He should also pay attention to Amosun’s projects in Ifo 2 Constituency to show good faith. As for Senator Amosun, can he just concentrate on his new assignment in Abuja and allow his successor to govern, the same way his own predecessors gave him a breathing space? Dapo Abiodun was our opponent in the 2019 Gubernatorial election in Ogun State but having won, he should be allowed to govern and make his own choices and mistakes. The state should not and cannot have two Governors. All that talk about what Amosun wants is mere politics and very cheap politics at that. I have no doubts that Amosun’s kinsmen will praise him for his Egba nationalism but we cannot afford to have an atomistic Ogun state where every Governor that emerges is more interested in his or her own narrow goals. A Cargo airport in Remo will be a Cargo airport for all the people of Ogun State. Can we just focus on that and subtract the politics of it?

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