– (Submission By Eddy Aghanenu)
Masterweb Reports – Friday, June 8, 2012: The N7.4billion spent on demolishing hills at Asaba Airport is still generating controversy. Government officials and government apologists have been defending the controversial expenditure.
Government officials have been singing discordant tunes on the expenditure. Some have reduced it to ethnic sentiments in order to win support from the people while others say it was part of the overall budget for the airport project and not a new one.
Let it be known that nobody has ever questioned the location of the airport in Asaba. It was a well conceived idea but poorly and abysmally executed. The airport is meant to boost the economy of the state. It is also meant as attract investment to that part of the state while also benefitting from the ever busy commercial city of Onitsha. The hospitality sector will thrive the more. In essence, the Asaba airport is meant to enhance the economy of the state and help in creating employment.
No one too has looked at the airport from an ethnic colouration. Delta Central already has an airport in Osubi near Warri, which serves the need of Delta Central and Delta South. So an additional airport in Delta Central is out of the question.
What Deltans are quarrelling with is the cost of the project. Having spent over twenty billion naira (N20billion) in the airport project without an end in sight, Deltans are querying the wisdom behind spending an additional N7.4billion in demolishing hills at the airport. This is the grouse of Deltans. The airport project is now the goose that lays the golden egg for the looters of the state treasury. This is what government and government apologists have refused to talk about. If there is transparency as claimed by Delta State government, how come no one knows the true cost of the project? Why are they hiding the cost of the project which so far is the most expensive in the country?
Eminent Deltans including “Vanguard” Publisher, Chief Sam Amuka have questioned the wisdom N7.4billion in demolishing hills while there are more pressing needs in the state. A report in the “Vanguard” says “ PUBLISHER and Chairman, Vanguard Media Limited, Mr. Sam Amuka, Thursday charged Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State to tackle the security challenges facing the state. He also asked the governor to explain why over N7.4 billion would be spent on clearing mountains of sand at the Asaba airport, saying Deltans need to know to be more informed on the matter”. M.A Mukoro, Esq, of Delta Rescue Mission (DRM) calls the expenditure “financial recklessness and executive irresponsibility”.
It is only a clueless government that will spend such an amount of money in demolishing hills when students’ bursary are not paid. Where are our priorities?
In a well attended Press Conference in Asaba, a few days before the BRACED Commission Summit, the Commissioner of Economic Planning gleefully announced to the whole world that “Delta State government on Tuesday said it has approved the contract for the demolition of hills surrounding the Asaba Airport to allow for bigger aircrafts to land.
Commissioner for Economic Planning, Kenneth Okpara, who briefed journalists on the outcome of the State Executive Council meeting, stated that the contract was initially awarded to one firm at the sum of N7.4 billion. Okpara stated that the demolition of the hills became necessary so that “special and bigger” aircrafts can start landing before the commencement of the South-south Economic Summit scheduled for April ending.
“The President is coming to the summit and we want him to land here in Asaba and not in Benin,” he stated, adding that “we have just ten days to put the airport in proper shape because that is one of the conditions given by the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) for bigger aircrafts to land.”
The opposition to this development reverberated all over the state. The state government was going to spend N7.4biilion in ten days to demolish hills at the airport so that President Jonathan’s aircraft could land at Asaba was something the citizens of the state could not understand. This excludes the billions that would be spent in hosting the delegates. This is happening in spite of the myriads of problems confronting the state. To Deltans, it was unacceptable.
This opposition to this wasteful expenditure led the state government to look for ways of managing the situation and diffusing tension. From the Governor’s explanation it became more difficult to know the truth of this N7.4billion. In a forum in Warri “Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan says the ongoing expansion of the Asaba International Airport was aimed at meeting the requirements of the Aviation regulatory authorities to enable bigger planes land at the airport.
“Speaking in Effurun while responding to the issue raised over the airport by the publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, Mr. Sam Amuka at an on-going retreat tagged ‘Landmarks and Legacies’, Governor Uduaghan said with the success so far recorded in the use of the airport by smaller planes, people are now anxious to see bigger planes land at the airport.
According to him, “We are on target to make the Asaba International Airport meet the required standards set by the aviation authorities and we are doing everything necessary to ensure that larger planes can land there”.
Continuing, he said, “there is so much pressure for bigger planes to start landing at our airport and we needed to speed up the pace so that when the regulatory authorities come, they would see that we have done all we need to do”.
The Governor clarified that the regulatory authorities requested that the hills around the airport must be reduced as one of the requirements to be met before approval can be given to enable bigger planes land at the airport.
The Governor added that the demolition of the hills had nothing to do with the visit of dignitaries to the recently concluded South South Summit at Asaba.
In his words, “the contract to bring down the hills around the airport was not awarded because of the South South Summit, the contract had been awarded from the onset but the contractor was slow, so because of the time frame, we had to engage two other contractors to fast track the completion of the work”.
Explaining further, Dr. Uduaghan said the ongoing work to demolish the hills is at no additional cost to the total project sum as it was conceptualized from the beginning.”
The governor’s explanation raised more questions. Was N7.4billion awarded for the demolition of hills at Asaba Airport? Was this amount not too high for such a project? If actually, the demolition of the airport was not for the presidential jet to land and not for the summit, how come the rush to demolish the hills in ten days before the commencement of the summit?
All Deltans are asking is for the government to honestly tell them the truth about this project and other projects in the state. It is only when this trust have been built that the citizens of this great state will become more responsive to the government.
Threatening Deltans that “the governor has many powers; he can do whichever thing he likes. The governor has powers to demolish any house and he has power to even kill, whatever you can think of…” will not make Delta State a better place. Deltans never elected anybody to kill them but someone that will improve their lives. Any unconstitutional means used by any elected official to suppress the will of the people will be resisted. In any case, history has never favoured any despot.
The only way that Deltans will stop question the actions of government is when there is good governance and provision of dividends of democracy. Let us discuss on ideas that will move the state forward and not threats. Let there be fertilization of ideas in the state.
Meanwhile, what is the truth about this N7.4billion?
Delta Rescue Mission
Photo Above: An Airborne Plane