Recently, the populist and hardworking governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, shocked his admirers and critics alike when he announced that the Ekiti State government will embark on an airport project.
The project, according to him, will cost N17 billion to complete. Ordinarily, an airport is a good facility to have in any state, but in the case of Ekiti State, and especially at this time; with all due respects to the governor, a man whom this newspaper admires for other reasons; it is our considered view that the airport project is ill-advised, unprofitable, almost irrelevant and a distraction. Ekiti is clearly one of the poorest states in the country. Its population is largely agrarian, with the educated elite living mostly outside the state. It lacks an industrial base, and its economy is essentially agriculture and government-driven.
We do not believe that what the state needs at this time is an airport. There are other essential economic needs begging for attention. There is an airport in Akure, and for those who may have forgotten, Ekiti State used to be an integral part of the old Ondo State, and as such part of Akure as a capital. The airport in Akure is about 30 minutes away from Ado Ekiti, the state capital. That airport can serve Ekiti State as well as it is serving Ondo State.
The question which Business Hallmark would like to ask is: of what use is the airport given the one in Akure? The conclusion any reasonable person will deduce is that the airport is merely a prestige project, a show of pride, or vanity. But is that what the government of Ekiti State should be pursuing at this time of grave economic challenges?
Ekiti has a population of fewer than three million people; its internally generated revenue is about a billion naira monthly or even less. The bulk of its income derives from federal allocation which ranges from two to four billion naira monthly.
Seventy-five percent of Ekiti indigenes are farmers. So, of what use is the airport to such people? The cost of the airport at N17 billion represents about twenty-five percent of the state’s annual budget. That’s a huge sum of money, and an airport is as good as its use.
There are some airports in the country which hardly attract patronage because they are not located in the destinations of choice. Even the airport in Akure has also suffered from underutilization because very few airlines fly there because demand is low. The business opportunities in Akure and Ekiti are few and do not attract a lot of interest or demand.
Governor Fayose is no doubt a hard-working governor, he has won elections and acclaim serially by his devotion to the needs of his people. He has been deservedly hailed as a man of his people and a grassroots man with a common touch, one who understands the feelings of his people and feels their pulse.
Unfortunately, it would appear to us that in this instance, the governor may have lost his bearings. Our findings in Ekiti reveal that many indigenes of the state are not convinced of the necessity of the airport. And they are right.
An airport costs a lot of money to build and maintain. Its contribution to the economic activity in a state without industrial base is of doubtful provenance. The governor can make better use of those resources to develop the other sectors of the state’s economy that will add value to the people and meaning to their lives. Such areas as agro-based industries, construction of rural feeder roads, and investment in small scale enterprises will certainly benefit the state and its citizenry better than the airport.
Farmers often have problems of getting to their farms and to market. An investment in rural roads will add more value to the farmers in the state, and improve their standards of living.
It is also a pity that for decades, farming in Nigeria has been in the same primitive fashion of our fathers.
There is the need for mechanized agriculture. Ekiti can blaze the trail by investing in mechanized agriculture and establishing agriculture extension farm programmes. That will add more value than the airport.
Indeed, we worry about the quality of decision making at the state governments’ level in various states of the federation. The Nigerian landscape is littered with all manner of white elephant projects embarked on by previous governors, many of which were not completed or even when completed had fallen into disuse because of lack of relevance to the immediate environment.
We recall the Tinapa project in Cross River State, which costs billions of naira, and which today has fallen into disrepair. Reports emerging from Calabar indicate that the project was at best ahead of its time and at worst poorly thought through
There is also the mono-rail project which the immediate past government in Rivers State embarked on at a whopping cost of N50 billion and which from all indications appear doomed.
Some would argue that in a state like Rivers, what was required was an effective intra-state road network and an efficient drainage system rather than a multi-billion naira mono-rail system that is today ill-fated.
Public officials should be more circumspect and be thorough in initiating projects and implementing them. There appears to be project misalignment, as many state governments embark on projects that do not bear relevance to the direct needs of the people at a very huge cost. It is wrong, and it would be sad if Ekiti State goes the way of these other states.
Business Hallmark, therefore, calls on all well-meaning Nigerians, especially indigenes of Ekiti State, the state House of Assembly, traditional rulers, eminent citizens, civic organizations etc, to impress on Governor Fayose to rescind the airport project. It is not cowardice to correct one’s mistake; the true coward is the one who never admits to mistakes.
This newspaper does not believe that Governor Fayose is a coward, so we are persuaded that he will see reason and retrace his step from the airport misadventure.