38 BILLION BENUE CARGO AIRPORT: Now That An Airport Is Planted On A Farmland

I am reading that Ortom performed a ground breaking ceremony for the construction of a cargo airport in Daudu.

The construction site of the airport is the hectares of NYSC farm along Daudu-Lafia Road. It covers many hectares of farms and village settlements. The sight of an elitist project may make you feel that you have enough to gain from the project whereas its comparative importance at the material time may be a mere conduit to siphon money. The Daudu project is more or less a pipe to steal state money.
In the beginning, when the idea had just birthed, I read that the project would be constructed with no financial involvement from the state government. Yesterday, I read that the project would be constructed with minimal financial cost from the state, hence it is under a public-private partnership expected to be completed in 2020.
The rhetoric behind the project is that it would help Benue farmers sell their farm produce to the outside world. It would open the Benue market to the international community. Farmers would get value for their effort on the farm. Boys would be employed. Girls would marry. Corn and yam rosters would smile. And more money would come into the state treasury. Brilliant, you may be tempted to think the governor has found the magic solution to Benue’s problem. But, in the euphoria of thinking that the project is the answer, don’t forget to ask some pertinent questions.
What are the statistics which gave Ortom the assurance that he was embarking on a worthy project? Who are the targets of the project? Is it Benue farmers, middlemen or Benue elite? With the Makurdi airport, how many aeroplanes leave Makurdi daily? Have we any experience to learn from the Jos Cargo airport which was constructed by the government yet no cargo has ever left the airport since its construction in 2003? What are the prospects of a sustained harvest in Benue? How can Benue meet export demand when local demand for crops is high for most crops? Has the government put in place a plan to boost farming and crop production? How many trucks of yam tuber leave Benue daily in the past decade? How many trucks of soya beans leave Benue annually? How trucks of tomatoes leave Benue daily or yearly? How many trucks of grains and cereals generally leave Benue in recent times?
There is a drop in farming and crop production across the state. Farmers hardly get farm inputs. The exploits of cattle Fulani and the incessant clashes between crop farmers and herders have grossly affected food crop production. Many now produce only for subsistence. Recently, we went with a friend to buy cooking oil from a factory close to Airforce Headquarters in Makurdi known to produce fine oil now patronised well outside the state, but they said they had none because the company had run out of stock of soya beans.
In the past, hundreds of trucks and lorries and small buses leave Benue with cereals, tubers, fruits and others to Port Harcourt, Kano, Onitsha, among others. But, all that appear to be changing due to drop in harvest. Besides, the Benue market may not be able to sustain annual production of crops to warrant the kind of investment in gigantic project like an airport to ferry goods within or outside Nigeria. For example, the amount of time that would be wasted to transport perishable goods from Zaki Biam to Daudu, offload them at the airport from lorries or trucks and upload them again into the cargo planes will lead to loss of time and waste of perishable goods. Tomatoes, peppers, yam tubers and fruits, such as mangoes, oranges, are transported easily via the trucks and small buses. I do not think that Mallam Bahaushe will be willing to pay and wait for his oranges to be transported from Ushongo to Daudu and from there uploaded to the cargo plane before transported to Sokoto or Kano. I do not think that the crafty Igbo businessman will be willing to pay and wait for his yam to be transported from Zaki Biam and then onto the cargo plane before being ferried to Onitsha or Port Harcourt. I do not think neighbouring countries like Ghana or Cameroun eat yam that much. And let Ortom tell us where yam is so expensive! At a time when we are told that the Taruku Mills will come on stream through concession and quadrupled the local demand for soya beans, I see no assurance that local harvest will be able to provide the company’s daily need. At a time when food is so expensive and beyond the reach of most families and homes, I see the planting of an airport on an NYSC farm originally meant to encourage the youths to go into farming as a setback to the quest to promote agriculture among the youths and have them gainfully employed. 

--Shachia Oryila

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