Goni Bukar Lawan is a member House of Representatives from Yobe State. He is Chairman, House Committee on Sports. In this interview he bares his thoughts about the N11 billion Yobe State Cargo Airport.
You are said to be close to Yobe State Governor Ibrahim Gaidam, how come you didn’t advise him against approving N11 billion for a cargo airport, with the state a poor one, and considering there’s an airport in nearby Maiduguri?
I used to think, just like you, that Yobe State doesn’t need any kind of airport, first because the state is poor and secondly because of the proximity of Yobe to an international airport in Maiduguri which is just 130 kilometres from Damaturu, the headquarters of Yobe. This kind of thinking was what made Yobe State not to consider an airport project and I should add that it was that thinking that kept Yobe State and it’s huge economic potentials hidden from the rest of Nigeria.
The major misunderstanding about airports is that Nigerians see them as luxury investment. This is not what it is all over the world. An airport is a strategic project that borders not only on the economy but also on security and emergency. In the United States which Nigeria see as one of its role models, you will see small settlements having airports with weekly flight schedules in some cases. Some people will say it is because the US is rich but it is not just all about that. It is actually because the US is being strategic.
In the world, there are four major means of transportation which are road, railways, sea and air. Today, the only means that connects Yobe with the rest of Nigeria and the world is road. Just cast your mind back to 2013 and early parts of 2014, there were times Boko Haram insurgents made it nearly impossible for anyone in Yobe State to connect any part of neighbouring Borno State by road.
From Yobe one could only connect Bauchi through Potiskum and from there to any other place. Just assume that Boko Haram had taken over the routes from Potiskum from where one gets to Bauchi before linking Plateau, Jigawa and Kano by road what would have happened. Today, if the roads into Yobe are blocked, the state will be under siege because there is no alternative link to the state.
If Yobe faces an emergency today that would require speedy evacuation of citizens or speedy deployment of humanitarian aids or even security deployments, there is simply no way to get in/out. If the roads are seized today, we can only wait and pray.
In 2013, Boko Haram took control of four out of the five roads linking Maiduguri with all parts of Nigeria. The only road left was the one between Maiduguri and Damaturu in Yobe State, even that was under occasional attacks. There was serious humanitarian crisis in Borno State, children were dying of malnutrition but the UN World Food Program was able to fly in specially packaged food for children from Geneva straight to Maiduguri after the Governor of Borno State got them presidential waiver but that was possible only because there is an international airport in Maiduguri.
If Yobe had found itself in that situation, there would have been no way to help our people because the UN system is such that they do a lot of risk assessment in line with international protocol before they make deployments. Usually during wars, the rules of engagement allows for deployment of food and medical supplies to casualties in all sides but fighting Boko Haram as we know, is not the conventional war that has rules of engagement.
So we need to take our minds away from that mindset of looking at airport as luxurious investments. We should see airports as strategic and exclusive investments like having police stations, fire services, hospitals, schools etcetera.
The Raw Materials Research and Development Council has since 2007 carried out feasibility studies that puts Yobe as one of the states with very high deposits of raw materials for large-scale cement production but how many wealthy international investors will come to Yobe by road?
There are serious businesses taking place in Potiskum, look at the number of trailers there, all of them can serve in moving goods from our cargo airport to different destinations in the North-east.
You talked about strategic benefits of conventional airports but what Yobe is trying to establish is a cargo airport?
The Yobe Cargo airport is to serve commercial and non-commercial planes like every other airport in Nigeria but the difference is its added advantage of being a cargo one that will make it withstand the landing and takeoff of bigger aircraft mostly used in air cargo services.
In the whole of the North-east, none of the airports is designed for cargo services because a cargo airport is designed from scratch with the right building items that can absorb big aircraft and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria as well as the IITA have to be part of all the construction processes to certify the airport as cargo.
Airport construction involves intensive risk assessment at every point and Governor Ibrahim Gaidam is taking consideration of all these. In fact he was the one who educated us about the need for an airport in Yobe State. You know Governor Gaidam is well grounded in knowledge. He doesn’t talk most of the time but he is highly skilled in governance. This is why he is changing Yobe State with so many projects on health, education, housing etc. He has constructed over 1,000 kilometres of road in Yobe and this is verifiable.
Most airport constructions in Nigeria have taken years and Governor Gaidam has less than two years to leave, in 2019, don’t you think this is another potential uncompleted project?
When the Federal Government announced that it was going to close the Abuja airport and construct a new runway in six weeks, most Nigerians were laughing, they didn’t believe it and you cannot blame Nigerians because they were used to the failures of the PDP for 16 consecutive years. They were used to years when nothing promised was ever delivered by the PDP government, so they thought it was going to be the same with the APC administration under President Muhammadu Buhari.
Nigerians must have been amazed by the way the runway was constructed within six weeks or even less. What that goes to tell you is that with the political will, aviation projects do not require years to complete. The departure halls are simple infrastructures that can be built within weeks. The complex works are the runways and like I said, an international runway took just six weeks to build in Abuja.
For the towers, most of the components are in the international market, what is required is to place guided orders, customize and install them in accordance with air safety procedures. These projects don’t require any magic, they only need sincerity of leadership and in Yobe, like everyone can confirm, we have a highly grounded technocrat as our governor.
Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam has instilled discipline in the civil and public services of Yobe so much that no one takes his instructions for granted. When he sets his mind on any project, he gets it not only done but done on time and with the highest standard.