The CEO of El-Mansur Atelier Group, Mr. Tunde Oyekola, is a specialist in Airport designs and his organisation is the brain behind the ongoing Dutse Airport Project, in Jigawa State. In this encounter with Dele Ogbodo, he explained that Governor Sule Lamido’s marching order and financial back-up were the impetus behind the timely completion of the N11.5 billion Dutse airport due for commissioning in February
First, I would like to say that the government of Jigawa State, under the leadership of Governor Sule Lamido, had always wished to bequeath to the people of the state an international airport and so our bid was to help midwife this dream. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has different categories of airports which are designated based on the facilities available. There is usually a long chart of what constitutes an international airport, there are categories A, B, C and D as the case may be. What we are building for Jigawa State which is purely financed by the state without any form of private collaboration at the cost of N11.5 billion is in the category of international airport, which falls into category ‘A’. Over time, the airport will assume the status of Lagos and Abuja airports. However in categorising airport, you also need to factor in some of the facilities and why it may not compare with Lagos has to do with passengers’ traffic for now.
Airport backbone or facilities has to do with the infrastructure available in the airport. Typically, when you start developing an airport, you are supposed to come up with a master plan, which will show how you want this to grow and increase as the case may be, and therefore the authorities who are saddled with approving the facilities, in this case, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in line with international best practices, will ensure that the land is adequate in line with what your projections are. So this airport is not different in terms of concept.
Need for the Airport
There is a huge infrastructure deficit in the country, and when I say this, I mean it in every sense of the word like road, rail, power, water and transportation. For any country to really develop, the infrastructure backbone must be very strong. You need to put the infrastructure in place first and this will stimulate growth and that is exactly what happens everywhere in the world.
So for me, this is a huge opportunity for growth, especially with the very fact that a huge number of people would be employed directly or indirectly in this airport. Now with such an airport in the state, accessibility to that part of the country is no longer a problem especially for investors.
The second step is that Jigawa State government is interested in establishing an international cargo terminal that would cater for effective movement of agro based products both within and outside the country. This would be a source of foreign exchange spinner for the nation. The vision of Governor Lamido, and the Aviation Minister, Ms. Stella Oduah, is to make it a hub in the West African sub region. At the moment, the population of the African continent is put at 1.1 billion, while Nigeria is about 170 million, this is a huge population base that we have and the Nigerian population by the fact of growth is doubling its growth every 30 years and so by the turn of the century we shall be talking about 1 billion people. And if we don’t begin to plan now to expand our infrastructural base then we are going to have a problem. Population in many places is an advantage depending on how you are able to harness the potential of the people. If you are able to put your people to work and they are producing well, then you would experience exponential economic growth. So this airport, like all other airports, will stimulate growth if only we can harness it properly. So there will be direct benefit because people will be out there making money. It will employ people and the cargo facilities will become operative very soon.
The airport is phased. At this initial phase, the apron will take one Boeing 747 parked and two CR J 900 parked. The second phase of the apron will come with the cargo terminal, which will also accommodate the same number of planes. But of course planes come and go. Planes come, lands and taxes get to where it wants to park and do whatever it wants to do like cleaning up and all that, new passengers come on board and then take off. But of course, all those things are directly tied to all the facilities that you have in place and what your potentials are like. Every airport has its peculiarities not every airport will be as busy as Atlanta airport which is the busiest in the world today. Here in Jigawa, and honestly to be realistic, this is what we can take for now. When passenger traffic increases of course we will expand.
Projection and Sustainability
Projections have always been very tricky because there has never been any airport in the state, except in Kano which is near. Our initial projection realistically was to say let us start with one landing per day. Realistically because it is a new airport knowing the kind of city that it is but of course one landing per day meaning that it can accommodate two 737 landing there. So we will start with one and as things go on we can increase the landing per day depending on traffic because you cannot force traffic. Business environment also creates the traffic so it is really now up to the government to stimulate the other sectors like mineral exploitation, farming activities so that growth can be driven.
I believe that Nigerians are a very highly skilled people that I know of. For instance the President of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), is a Nigerian, Mr. Bernard Aliu, that didn’t happened by chance, it comes with hard work. Usually I go for some of the international conferences and when we talk very often, the people come away very surprise that there is this kind of quality coming from Nigeria. I’m just one out of many. In fact there very many Nigerians out there that know what they are doing pretty well. Usually the problem is how to find them and I don’t think they are too hard to find. They are out there; after all, we are all doing our bits. The world is virtually a global village, we go out there and get the technology and retrain ourselves. For instance in this company everybody is undergoing one training or the other round the world, because we need to keep abreast of developments as that is the only way, no matter how smart you are, you need to be exposed.
Nigeria, China’s Pact
I do not know all the signing details of the contract agreement between Nigeria and Chinese governments on the $500 million loan to develop some airports across the country, but I think it is about bilateral agreement between the government of Nigeria and the Chinese government. I’m also aware that the designs are being done by Nigerians and I think that I’m correct. It is the implementation that is going to be done by the Chinese Engineering Construction Company (CECC). However, I could differ in the approach, but look if somebody is giving you money, he also has his condition to give to say look if I’m giving you the money, this is the condition that I want, the money was not forced down your throat and so if you must accept the money, you need to accept these terms. So you can say, for us to do that, we also now want to use our own designs, like the internal capacity. Though I do not know the entire details, but I believe this is the way the whole thing went.
Governor Lamido’s marching order
When we started this project, the government gave us a marching order to complete this airport in one year, the actual work on site started in February 2013. By February the place should be ready for commissioning. At this point I think the governor deserves some commendations. The reason for this is: Sometimes when promises are made and delayed, it brings discontentment in the hearts of people, many times different governments at different times have promised the people that we are going to do this and that and so the people are eager and they will buy into it, and when it takes for forever to deliver it, the people are discouraged and government now becomes very difficult to believe. But here the Governor has a track record in this airport, when he said the project will not extend more than a year. He promised that he will deliver something tangible to the people that they can see and that are how he has been going about building infrastructure in the state and that is how it should be done. He gave us the marching order, and for me as the consultant, I thought it was a joke when he said he wants the airport delivered less than 365 days. But to make sure that he has played his part, he made sure that payments were always done on time. He usually visits the site twice a week. The project is only being financed by the state government. There are no private collaboration whatsoever and you know fortunately we have contractors who now bought into the plan, so everybody believes that if I do my part and everybody does his part the government would do their part and that is what has been driving this project to timely completion before next month. The Aviation Minister was surprised to see the progress of the work done the last time she visited. She didn’t believe what she saw when she visited. What is left now is just for the runway, the navigational aids are there on site already. Yes all things being equal by February we should be cutting the commissioning tape.
Cost of building the airport
The airport has gulped N11.5 billion but that cannot be used as a template because of the different topography in which we are working. The cost of this airport in real cost cannot be compared for instance to what obtains in a place like Bayelsa State whose topography is waterlogged and a difficult terrain.