The scramble by states for airports

In the days of yore, I gathered, Nigeria had only one airport, located in Lagos, the then nation’s capital, and this served as both an international passenger and cargo airport. Today, nearly all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have passenger airports. Those that do not have are already building one, spear headed not by the federal government but governors. There is no compelling economic reason for some of these airports. A driving force is presumably the desire to join the league of states with airports, considered as an esteemed appellation, I suppose.

Another reason for these latter day airports is for the convenience and ‘safety’ of elite there, including government officials; come to think of it, it is only the elite that can afford air travels with their exorbitant fares. Aircraft are the fastest means of transportation and given the generally poor state of our roads, coupled with the risk of kidnappings, attack by bandits, air travel is about the best for the elite, even for seemingly short distances. Governors and their officials face the added danger of being booed, jeered by ‘disgruntled’, ‘frustrated’ youths as they cruise through in their convoys. There is a penchant to add the nomenclature ‘international’ to airports in Nigera even though in the true sense of the word, there is nothing ‘international’ about some of them.

For example, the one commissioned in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa state capital, during the final days of its immediate past governor, is called, ‘Bayelsa International Airport’. I doubt if any international flight has taken off from there. That being built by Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi state is already named ‘Ebonyi International Airport’. With functional airports in all the neighbouring states, it is doubtful if Ebonyi really needs an airport, let alone an international one. Then, there is the Kebbi and Dutse “International Airports”. With neighbouring and more cosmopolitan Sokoto, Kaduna and Kano states having what are already designated international airports, which international traffic would Kebbi and Jigawa still be attracting to their ‘international airports’? Not forgetting the Moshood Abiola International Airport, Ido-Osu started by former governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun state still under construction.

By the way, Zamfara is the only state of all seven states in the North-west zone that has no airport, although it has an airstrip in its capital, Gusau. You guessed right, the state government already has plans for its own airport. Given that movement within the state is threatened by rampaging bandits that surround it, having an airport here appears to be necessary, at least for the governor and other government officials who have to attend functions outside the state. Could the absence of an airport in Zamfara state be the reason why its immediate past governor allegedly spent a good chunk of his tenure outside than within the state? Additionally, the North-west zone has Zaria airport, Tuga airstrip in Kebbi state, Air Force Base and military airport all in Kaduna.
Interestingly, Yobe state, in the North-east zone, has no airport but has two airstrips outside the state capital, Damaturu – in Potiskum and Nguru. All other states in this zone have airports with Maiduguri (Borno) and Gombe airports designated international.

Here in the North-central zone, Ilorin (Kwara) is the only international airport while Kogi state is the only one without an airport but has an airstrip at Ajaokuta. Whether Ilorin is able to attract much international passengers given that all other states in the zone are contiguous to Abuja, that hosts the famous Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport,, you can conjecture yourself. Nasarawa has a Cargo Airport in Kwandere, hometown of the former governor. The airport is still relatively idle by way of commercial use.

In the South-east, there are only two functional airports, both of which are international. They are the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu and Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri. Ebonyi ‘International Airport’ in Abakiliki is still under construction. The ‘Anambra International Airport in Umeri, built wholly from the state’s resources without any loan, according to the government, is completed and expected to start operations by the time Governor Willie Obiano leaves office in a few months time. Apart from the Lagos and Port Harcourt airports, the Anambra International Airport is expected to be about the most viable in the South given that the state harbours numerous big time international businessmen, importers and exporters as well as a populace that are relatively well to do. Abia state has none and it has no need for one given the nearby Uyo and Owerri airports.

The federal government-owned Ibadan Airport is perplexing from point of view of economic returns with Lagos, Ilorin and Akure airports around it. It is also amusing that despite aforementioned airports, Ogun state government is establishing a Cargo Airport. Ditto Ekiti state that is building an “Agro-Cargo Airport” while Osun state is constructing the Moshood Abiola International Airport. However, Ogun state government justifies its move with the argument that it is now an industrial hub with nearby Lagos state congested.

All six states in the South-south zone host airports, Bayelsa state being the latest entrant. The two federal-owned international airports in this zone are in Port Harcourt and Calabar. But the “Akwa Ibom International Airport, Uyo” is not only state-owned, the state also owns commercial aircraft. It is hoped that the Ibom Air would continue to be a sustainable, going concern for years to come.
Ikeano, a journalist, writes via [email protected] 08033077519
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