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Bayelsa State Cargo Airport: The Curious Questions

By Julius Bokoru trust

The Bayelsa state government announced, in the last quarter of 2012, that it had seen the need for an international airport in the state. Subsequent press briefings, especially by future commissioner for Information Daniel Iworiso-Markson explains that the airport will create jobs and open up the state to multinational investments. And so, earnestly the government secured facilities and mobilized to site. The new airport which is located in Amassoma town in Southern Ijaw Local government area is set, according to Gov Dickson, to be inaugurated on Monday 27 August.

The Bayelsa state social media sphere is virtually submerged by hirelings explaining why the airport is the best thing to happen to the state since its very own creation in 1996. There have also been a seemingly ceaseless media campaign, from the social media up to the broadcast media, to try and plant the existence of the airport in everybody’s consciousness.

But beyond the glitz of a plane touching down on Nigeria’s most deltaic state, beyond the genuine (and nearly naïve) hopes in some quarters that Jobs will soon start screeching in, beyond the stark superficiality of the airport and beyond the state government’s narcissism lies a bitter reality: the airport is fated to flounder and the state government is aware. The airport is foiled in insincerity, and to put frankly, a somewhat legitimate means of accessing finance. Nothing more

FINANCIAL INFIDELITY

The airport at inception was billed to be a 25BN naira project as of 2012, but several months later there was an upward review, pegging total cost at 90BN, way more than 50% of initial budget. While we were getting over that, the state government began shopping for a 50BN loan facility from Nigerian Banks. The loan had to come with a total interest of 32BN, to be serviced in eight years and with a total repayment of 72BN. This was less than a year after a 66million Euros (13BN) package was secured from Poland for what is now a white elephant Maritime University in 2013. In a recent broadcast the state government, in a feeble attempt to explain 90BN in a never ending airport, announced that the 3.5KM runway of the airport alone was about 9.3BN, making it one of the costliest runways in the world. It is important to know that the Federal Government through NDDC had committed (and redeemed) a pledge to sand-fill the site and build the terminal building. So there is a rather scant number of things left to do with 90BN. When completed the Bayelsa state International cargo airport will go down in history as one of the most expensive in the world.

LACK OF VIABILITY

No economic think-tanking was done in initiating that airport and the evidence is the very fact the airport was done in the first place, and at the location it was done. There are barely over a million people in Bayelsa state, and common sense should suggest, by the ubiquitous poverty, that less than 4% fly planes or would see a need to fly planes in the state. It leaves one with the question of how the economic management of the airport would be. Will it be powered by Government subsidies or do the initiators hope it to be self-sufficient and revenue generating to the state? If the latter is the case, then God help us. If, somehow they had seen a need to place the airport somewhere within the Delta-Bayelsa strip of the East-West road, then there might have been a fighting chance of economic viability. That area is the center of three states. Patronage could come from Delta South because travelling from, let’s say, Ughelli or Patani in Delta state to Asaba (where the almost grounded Delta state airport is located) is actually farther than Odi or Sagbama in Bayelsa state. Similarly, the Port Harcourt International Airport in Omagwa is farther away from the Rivers towns of Mbiama, Ahoada and several others. So if the airport had been situated around the East-west road there would have been patronage from parts of Rivers, Delta and of course, the whole of Bayelsa state. The airport is bound to be a commercial failure. Since there are almost no factories and industries in the state anymore, there’s some curiosity as to what cargo would be flown in or out.

This massive economic disaster of an airport could have been avoided had the initiators done some forecast. There were ready examples. According to reports from FAAN, over the last 10 years, newly built airports in Akwa Ibom, Delta, Bauchi, Jigawa, Kebbi, and Enugu states had only managed to cater for less than one million passengers out of hundreds of millions of passengers. For a state with salary payment concerns, embarking on a project with zero viability is something that defies logic

AN UNLIKELY CASUALTY: THE NDTV

Months ago the state government shut down the state-owned Niger Delta Television (NDTV) indefinitely to reduce the communication mast of the broadcast house located near the airport’s 3.5km runway, this was to comply with aviation standards. The mast was reduced to 300 feet to pave way for the commencement of a ‘test flight' according to the commissioner for information and orientation. Since then the station's broadcasts have been sporadic, poor in frequency and halfhearted. There are genuine concerns over the future of NDTV, especially when the airport finally opens for ‘commerce’

INSINCERITY: THE SEAPLANE PARALLEL

In February 2018 the state government announced, once again with much media frenzy, that it had signed some Mou with Bristow Helicopters to provide seaplanes for transportation services. The terminal was to be the Ox-bow lake located in Yenagoa, and the planes were to ferry passengers from Bayelsa to Lagos, Cross River and other states. On February 22nd the Governor did a test flight with one of Bristow's planes. Well, that was the first and last time Bayelsans saw a seaplane in Bayelsa. With the seaplane project turning out a sham, optimism for the Bayelsa International Cargo Airport appears too expensive at the moment

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Sir Blessed Frank | 8/27/2018 11:04:00 AM
I can't agree any less with this article. The successive government in the state have embarked on countless White elephant projects just to score cheap political point. From tower hotel in Bargger junction to, over head bridge of a flyover and now, a needless cargo airport... What a lack of foresight from our leaders.
John Osom Makbere | 8/27/2018 1:03:00 PM
It astounds me to see people write crap, when they should give plaudits! That we have a finished International airport is a reality too monumental to be rubb**hed by the criticisms of any mercenary serving the irritable ego of a failed principal. It could be recalled that 'a white elephant' effort similar to this was hatched in a certain abysmal forest along the East-West Road that gulped a whopping N5 billion for sand-filling alone! That money was signed out and till this day, half the "sand-filling" was not done! It was an aviation science reality that that area was not well suited for an airport in terms of the location and topography, but the siphoning brains refused to heed any superior counsel. There are some foot soldiers of under-development who shamelessly defend the era when only "feasibility studies" gulped almost the entire project sum and at the end of the day, only glorified hamlets were built out a modern day state capital. There was also an era when drain-pipe projects like "underground tunnel" was conceived and so much funds committed, but no result came. And, you cannot even talk about that! Some persons with Stone Age regression, also think that the backward "Bayelsa" that used to have just one 'Palm-cutter' track shouldnt have a dualised trunk, not to talk of an airport! Every day, they emulate similar projects across neighboring states, but have a 'witchcraft' aversion to seeing Bayelsa have one. No doubt, Bayelsa have physically metamorphosed within the last 7 years, and these shameless media foot soldiers and mercenaries of non-performance are let loose to play down on our growth! This writer should count just two monumental projects of international status that Bayelsa State had the fortune of seeing prior to the Restoration era. It would take real courage for any successor coming after now to attempt some of the high-brow projects we have under the auspices of this government. You may have earned much in this paid-task, but I do not (like many people don't) see any material thing you can pigeon-hole in this government. Your principal, who can not appreciate these efforts is obviously an enemy of progress and might take us centuries backwards. You are an enemy of progress for castigating one of our major projects, a feat lauded by top aviation egg-heads.
EBI. OKOYEN | 8/27/2018 9:28:00 PM
JULIUS. MY. GOOD. FRIEND I. KNOW. ILL. MEET. U. AT.BAYELSA. AIRPORT THE. WAY. I. MET. U. ALONG NEMBE. ROAD. DONT. FAIL. TO. ANSWER MY. QUESTION. THEN. IT'S WELL.