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Cash crunch clips Osun airport’s wings

When Hyacinth Eze, the Managing Director of the Nigeria Air Force-owned company, Aeronautical Engineering and Technical Services Limited, the contractor handling the airport project being constructed by the Osun State Government in conjuction with the Federal Government, visited Governor Rauf Aregbesola in Osogbo, in October last year, he assured that it would be ready for operation by May this year.byBarely three months to the proposed date, however, the project , estimated to cost N11 billion, is in limbo., no thanks to the general economic crunch in the country that has starved its execution of funds.
Governor Rauf Aregbesola had embraced the project, which, Daily Sun learnt, was conceived by his predecessor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, when he came on board in November 2010, to serve as a catalyst for his integrated economic programme of transporting agricultural produce in the state to feed industries in other states. When completed, the airport will serve human and cargo transportation, as well as aircraft maintenance.
But, besides the tremendous development it would bring to the state, the airport, has a unique historic and tourist value, as Ido Osun in Ede North/Egbedore Local Government area of the state where it is sited, Daily Sun learnt , was one of the early air strips in Nigeria and the first place where aviation activities took place in West Africa. In fact, it was gathered that the West African Frontier Force was lifted from Ido-Osun Aerodrome during the World War II.
Despite its dream to actualize the project soonest, the state government has been hamstrung by financial squeeze occasioned by dwindling federal allocation. Consequently, although it had spent N2.7 billion of the project value, work had reached a mere 25 per cent completion level.
The government’s plight over the stalled airport, tentatively named MKO Abiola International Airport, after the late pro-democracy hero and businessman, has been compounded by mounting criticisms and controversy over the project cost, with the opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP,) alleging that the Aregbesola-led administration inflated the cost from N4.5 billion to N15.5 billion. The party also lashed at the ruling All Progressives Congress regime for going ahead with the project when it failed to pay wages.
A recent visit by Daily Sun showed that work had since come to a halt at the project site, with only maintenance being undertaken to salvage the billion Naira worth facilities from deterioration.
Some stakeholders whose opinions were sampled, accused government of misplacement of priority by continuing with the project. They said that the state did not actually need an airport, especially at a time that government was struggling to pay workers’ salary up to date, while many people lived in penury, due to the biting economic crunch.
Others, however, applauded the efforts, describing it as a landmark infrastructural development that would expose the state to the world and also boost its tourism and economic potentials.
Director, Bureau of Communication and Strategy, Office of the Governor, Semiu Okanlawon, however, decried attempt to link the execution of the airport project to the wage crisis in the state, noting that the funds being used by government to build the airport were appropriated for it as a capital project and were not meant for salary.
He disclosed that government was also banking on the Federal Government’s counterpart funding to resume work at the site. “As soon as we get government’s response, work will resume. In any case, government is determined to complete the project. That is why government will try as much as possible to leverage on Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to continue with the project,” he added.
Okanlawon reiterated Aregbesola’s determination to complete the gigantic project before he leaves office
During the recent inspection of the federal projects in the state by the Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, Aregbesola appealed to the Federal Government to fulfill its part of the 50/50 counterpart funding promise made in 2010 during the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration when the project was approved. He reported: “A lot of work has been done and as we go round, you will see the control tower which we have built and it is almost completed. You will see the terminal building built to the foundation. The airport fire station has reached the stage of roofing. The runway is going to take about 60 per cent of the cost of any airport project. A lot of work has been done on it.”
Amaechi, who gave assurances on the completion of the project as soon as the economy improved, said: “I would take back to the president what I have seen and he will make a decision based on the information the Federal Executive Council passes on to him.”
The consultant engineer, Wemimo Adebajo, disclosed that government had spent N2.7 billion out of the revised total cost of N11 billion. He also explained that the runway of the airport waiting to be laid with 500 mm asphalt is 3.5 kilometers in length. Adebajo also assured that when completed, the airport would have the longest runway in the country with a width of 70cm and 3.5km length.
The engineer, who expressed optimism that the project would be completed in record time as soon as funds were available, disclosed that the runway, based on its present state, could be used by any pilot to land an aircraft at the airport. But the question still on peoples’ lips is: When will the first plane land in the proposed airport?”