Benue State: Ortom And The Cargo Airport
My attention was drawn by a very good friend last week to a very disturbing news, which I dismissed as a mere rumor, until my advocacy instinct prompted me to find out the authenticity of this news, which I did. And to my chagrin, the news was confirmed shortly afterward by the progenitor himself, the Executive Governor of Benue state. Which he referred to as “good news” for the state. Although it sounds good a news to hear, in my subconscious, the news keeps giving me bad vibes! The Benue State Government has concluded plans to partner with a private consortium to construct a cargo airport.
They call it a public private partnership driven project; I call it the proverbial white elephant project. This is just another conduit to siphon money in a country like Nigeria. The deal with the Cargo Polis Development Consortium will see the company fund 85percent of the project, amounting to about #32.3 billion through the chinese nexim bank, while the state government will fund the remaining 15percent, which will amount to about #5.7 billion. Great deal right? Let’s shake hands and sing praise to God. But we can’t and we shouldn’t, and I’ll tell you what the hullabaloo is about. The project is completely ill-timed, and the government ill-advised by people whose only intention is to advance their self-serving interest. For one thing, the state is bereft of funds. And if the following indicators do not buttress this point, then I sincerely don’t know what will:
1. The state’s capacity to generate revenue internally is placed at #250 million monthly, but burdened with a monthly recurrent expenditure of about #7.8 billion.
2. Schools, roads and primary health care centres are poorly funded, and in dilapidated state.
3. Suspension of the conduct of local government elections for lack of funds.
4. Backlog of workers salaries. e.g February salary paid in august.
5. Reduction of workers salary in a period of economic hardship.
The real crux of the matter is not about our economic state, but the ripple effect or backlash that is going to come out of undertaking such a project. For me, it is akin to a father who wants to acquire a big flat screen television and expecting his children to enjoy watching it without food in their bellies. The government has decided to build a cargo airport to export agricultural produce in large quantities from the state. This begs the following questions;
1. Has the consumption rate of the local population for these farm produce been satisfied?
2. How affordable are these produce to the common man?
3. Has the government created an enabling environment for the farmers to produce without fear of being attacked by Fulani herdsmen?
4. Can farmers in the state readily assess the state's subsidized fertilizers?
Truth of the matter is, a farmer who engages in subsistence agriculture and then decides to sell what he has produced for monetary gain has only one thing in mind; to starve his family and dependants to death. If the government still insists on embarking on this project, it can only spell doom for the state. And I’ll tell you where the road will eventually lead to. “Hunger Street”, that’s where.
The analysis is quite simple. If the state has been able to produce what is to the capitalist, the “surplus”, how will it be able to generate its “surplus value”? It is only tantamount to shortening the rations meant for local consumption. This can only lead to hike in prices. Sooner or later, indigenes will no longer be able to afford that which they have produced, or worst still become alienated from that which they have labored for. Government should start thinking in terms of the implications of their programmes and policies on the masses. What the state needs now, are policies that are people-oriented. Benue state has the capacity to feed the whole nation if its resources are being tapped to its fullest potentials.
A responsible government at this time of recession should be focusing on how to alleviate the sufferings of the masses through policies that offer palliatives and alternative sources of generating income. Instead of undertaking projects that will further exacerbate the sufferings of the already suffering masses.
Omaga Elachi Daniel, is the Public Relations Officer, Benue Elite Development Network