Of Wachakal Airport, wastage and the bandits in government

When the news hit the airwaves that the federal government had budgeted N6.3 billion to build an airport at Wachakal, in Yobe state, 130 kilometres from Damaturu, the state capital, not a few people were taken by surprise. This is because there is already an international cargo airport, which can serve as a normal airport as well, being built in the state capital.

In 2017, the then governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Geidam, had awarded the contract for its building at the cost of N11.3 billion with the promise that the contractors would complete it by the end of his tenure, which ended on May 29, 2019.

Though government officials touted it to be the cheapest airport contract of the time in the country, in June 2018, the sum of N1.760 billion was added to United Aviation Services for the supply and installation of communication gadgets at the airport under construction. Again, in November that year, Gaidam added to the contractors N4.2 billion for the “completion” of the airport. And with six days to May 29, 2019, the governor gave them the sum of N6,067,305,786.91 for the upgrade of the design of the airport. Hmmm…a contract design upgrade for N6bn!

Therefore, with this history, it is normal for people to ask if the Wachakal airport will get completed for the amount budgeted.

But beyond that is the million naira question: Does Yobe state need another airport? Is it a priority for the state? Assuming it is, does it make sense to site it 130 kilometres from the state capital? How many states in Nigeria have airports this far from their state capitals? While there is a federal university at Gashua and wetlands at Nguru, over ninety-five percent of those going to Yobe for business or to explore investment opportunities using the services of airports will not consider disembarking 130 kilometres away from where they will meet with the relevant people. If not for the security situation, coming from Maiduguri International Airport in Borno state, roughly 100 kilometres away, is a better proposition.

Even the Potiskum airfield, established before the Maiduguri airport, is not an alternative for now, but reviving and upgrading it will be more economically important for the nation. Because of the airfield’s global recognition, Potiskum, which the pilots refer to as Papa Oscar Tango, is a Mandatory Reporting Point (MRP) in navigational charts. Kano, Potiskum and Lagos are mandatory reporting points which even Maiduguri is not. Pilots on that international air route therefore must mention Potiskum when flying over.

While the Maiduguri airport was built in 1950, the Potiskum airfield, which was once a beehive of activities during the colonial days, came into being in 1945 during the scramble for Africa by the colonialists because Potiskum was a sprawling town in the North that was earlier annexed by Germans before the British took over. 

The construction of the airport was to make the movements of the colonialists in and out of Potiskum easy because the town was a gateway to other nearby towns in the North, which had enhanced trading activities and other associated commercial services in the region. When the airfield was constructed, planes carrying goods and colonial masters took off and landed in Potiskum daily.

Sadly, high-ranking government officials do not consider the economic viability and relevance of projects; they would not site projects in the right areas, rather they would take them to their hometowns. So they bypassed the Potiskum airfield for an upgrade, a project that would have been more beneficial to the state and nation.

And this is also how the construction of rail lines was taken off the Kano-Potiskum-Damaturu route.

They prefer to waste public funds in this manner rather than do what is right and makes economic sense. Would they have spent the funds in this manner if it were their hard-earned money?

Potiskum is one of the top three towns around the northeast area in business activities. People from neighbouring Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Bauchi and Gombe and many others from Niger, Chad, Cameroon and the Central African Republic have a stake in its cattle and grains market, adjudged to be among the biggest in sub-Saharan Africa.

The profit to be made by the Nigerian Railway Corporation from Potiskum alone from passengers and goods cargo will surpass what it makes between Abuja and Kaduna. But no, that will not be a consideration because those with the powers to do and undo – today – do not have Nigeria at heart.

Looking at it objectively, it is such placing of personal interests above the collective that has brought Nigeria to this sorry pass. If the current leaders had the patriotism and love for the people known as the attributes of the late Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello, insecurity wouldn’t have bedevilled us this way. Sardauna could have built ABU Zaria in Rabah, his village, or Sokoto, where his grandfather’s throne was. But no, he didn’t. Instead of being vainglorious and causing the wastage of public funds, he based it where it would be meaningful and of more benefit to the people. And for this and many others, his name will remain in the hearts of good people.

There are certain projects a patriot does not commandeer to his area just because he can. Airports are among them. You can take a university there, a military/paramilitary training institution, relevant industries or research institutions. But surely not airports or railway stations meant for areas with large populations and goods to transport, where the majority will have access and what they generate can sustain them thereby relieving the government of much needed funds. Any good national political leader from a state like Yobe must see the state as his constituency and not just his enclave or tribe. And people must see him as being just and fair to all – those he considers his, and those he wants to see as not his.

Anywhere there is an injustice to the collective and wastage of the nation’s resources either for personal gain or to massage bloated egos, insecurity will not be far away. There is a correlation between wastage, corruption, and insecurity.

On February 1, 2021, in my write-up entitled Mandela and the Parable of the Fulani, I wrote on this page: “But there is also something wrong with the North. It lacks a leader. It lacks focus, and it lacks vision. Most of the Fulani terrorising Nigeria now could have long been engineers, medical doctors, professors, etc. The regime of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida started what it christened nomadic education. Under it, there were many things involved that could change the way the Fulani live. But because most of our leaders are short-sighted and prioritise lining their pockets, they never took that programme seriously. Now, with all the money they have sliced for themselves, those who should have been professionals today will not allow them to enjoy it.”

Now one can see how both those who, through corruption, have brought insecurity upon us and the innocent who find travelling between Abuja and Kaduna safer through the trains are now jittery because the products of wastage have turned their evil towards the rails.

Bandits operating in Niger state to the West, Kogi to the South, Kaduna to the North and Nasarawa to the East have sandwiched Abuja and there is a need for the clinical onslaught against them. The Fulani settlements in these areas have to be forensically combed. Quite a few of the rugas around Kuje, Lugbe, and close to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport are alleged to be used by bandits to store weapons.

As long as public officers surviving on public funds have no patriotic feelings but indulge in wastage of the trust invested in them, so long will our problems of insecurity continue. We should never be foolish to assume that wastage of public funds, another form of corruption, has no relationship with escalating violent crimes and insurgency.

Those public officers who regard national influence as a Magna Carta for the wastage of public resources do not differ significantly from the bandits that bomb rail tracks, destroying public property to take people captive for ransom.

The difference is that while the bandits are crude in their operations, these officials are suave, but all enslave the nation for lucre, all indulge in the wastage of public funds and property for their base interests.

Hassan Gimba