I cannot write this post without first appreciating all of you who took time to wish my wife and I a happy birthday. Your tributes and comments were overwhelming and have reaffirmed my commitment to service and humanity. A lot of relatives, old friends, school mates and associates resurfaced on Facebook to remind me of the timelessness of relationships. Even my critics, God bless them, respected my day, sheathed their swords and reluctantly joined the train of well wishers. I thank you all. It was during this anniversary that news came that the Benin Airport has been temporarily closed for maintenance. The Airport is one of the oldest in the country and was constructed when Nigeria had four regions. While its contemporaries in Lagos, Kano and Port-Harcourt have since expanded in size and operations doing local and international flights, Benin Airport through negligence has shrunk and remains a small local airport. I am concerned about this unprogressive position because a State that wants to be economically buoyant must strive to have at least one, if not all of these three modes of transporting goods; namely an International Airport, a sea port and a Rail line.
The old Benin Kingdom was renowned because it had access to the sea which enabled it to open trade relations with Portugal and other European countries with its attendant economic benefits. Today Edo State is Landlocked arising from the failure to secure a seaport in the process of State creation and boundary adjustments. Several appeals have been made to the Federal Government to dredge the Gelegele River in Ovia North East of Edo State to make it accessible for ships to berth but the political will to follow up the appeal have been lacking and the project remains on the drawing board. The dredging of the River Niger passing through Agenebode in Etsako East also opened another vista of sea access but the project announced with fanfare appears aborted. The Federal Government has in recent years done well in rail way line construction and have opened up rail lines linking the north to the south , west and east but Edo State has not been seriously incorporated. We need to aggressively lobby that the rail lines comes to our state and be interconnected to facilitate easy movement of goods. What is required now to move forward is an International airport that will open our State to goods, opportunities and visitors.
The airport will be viable because our people travel a lot and would find it easier travelling abroad from Benin rather than travelling first to other cities. Our people in the diaspora who are in their thousands would also prefer to land in Benin rather than night stopping in other cities. The operations of NPDC and other oil companies in Edo State would be further enhanced by the presence of an international airport that can speedily bring in personnel and heavy duty equipments. A direct flight for example from Benin City to Houston Texas in America, the oil capital of the world and the city with the largest concentration of Nigeria immigrants will bring immense benefits to the airlines and people of Edo State. The operation of International flights from Benin would dramatically change the economic status of the airport and environs. Hotels, restaurants, shops, banks, Bureau de Change, car hire and even night activities would all receive a new lease of life and government would be the greatest beneficiary of this boom.
We cannot wait indefinitely for the Federal government to upgrade the status of our airport. Delta State built an airport at Asaba their capital without waiting or appealing to the Federal government to do it. Akwa Ibom, Kebbi, Jigawa have all built international airports that will serve their state. Why can we not do it? Shell Oil Company and not Delta State or the Federal government built the Osubi airport at Warri which has become a busy airport. Strategic partnership can give Edo State projects that we might not be able to finance immediately. The Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Limited (NLNG) is facilitating the construction of a major shipyard in Badagry, Lagos State, and yet Edo State has the highest gas reserves in the country. Akwa Ibom even in the face of dwindling allocation is about to embark on the construction of a deep seaport. There are some who keep asking why these suggestions were not made when I was in government but they forget that administration came in 1999 after many years of Military misrule, so the priorities then was more on payment of salary arrears rather than capital development.
In 1999 the Benin airport was dead to traffic and it took government intervention for airlines to return to the airport. It was government again that encouraged an airline to start the Benin-Abuja route to save our people the stress of going to the nations capital. Government must be proactive. Before the closure of the airport, planes could not land in Benin after 6:30pm because the lights at the runway were bad. Can somebody not fix this minor problem? There is no conveyor belt and so luggages are brought manually for passengers to retrieve. Will the maintenance of the runway include fixing the lights and installing a conveyor belt? Can we not go beyond maintenance in future and expand or rebuild the airport to a bigger one that can accommodate international flights? I believe we can. #TheFutureIsNow