At a cost of N17 billion and boasting of the best navigation and aeronautical equipment and facilities in Nigeria, the Sir Ahmadu Bello International Airport in Kebbi is becoming a beautiful bride among local and foreign carriers. Governor Saidu Dakingari told Suleiman Idris how it will serve as the springboard needed to turnaround the economy of the North West.
This airport is among the lot your administration has done to turn Kebbi state around, why did you decide to build the airport?
In Nigeria today, in the north, only one or two states is without an airport and that is Zamfara state; all the rest have their airports.
So, everybody has understood that airports are part of development and they are catalyst to development. Economic development is facilitated both in short and long term by having a quick gateway in and out of the state. This enhances the movement of human, good and services and give rise to a burst of economic development. Movement of goods is made easy; at least it is the best thing that can happen to any state and airport happens to be one of the best ways to do that.
Given the fact that Kebbi State is an agro-lied state, states are now looking beyond dependence on funds from the federation account, they are looking at farm produce, how will this airport jump-start your capacity to export those produce that are here?
Let me say this, Dangote’s company approached Kebbi state and expressed the desire to put an investment of about $9 billion, in sugar cane, rice and maybe ranching. I have seen it in Kenya and other places in Namibia. They send meat overseas to Europe. If people like Dangote come in and say this is possible; we have fruits, onions; we have one of the best markets for onion in Kebbi State. These days we produce watermelon too, we produce mangoes and all these are things that can go overseas.
And we have the weather to produce also flowers; we can also export.
At present there is a farmer just around the airport that has started warehousing; he will build warehouses for both export and import.
These are things that will not happen in one day but the airport is futuristic. In the last two weeks, we started flying in and out of Kebbi, today the aircraft that we started with was full all the time and at times we had to leave passengers. So, by God’s grace, we are likely to improve and get a better aircraft and we are sure we will take 60 per cent of the passengers in Sokoto.
So the airport will be busy and with the sophisticated equipment we have on ground at the Kebbi airport, during Harmatan, there is the likelihood that airlines will not fly Sokoto route and the Sokoto passengers will likely come to Kebbi where flights can take off at low visibility because of the precision and the sophisticated instrument landing system and other equipment that we have, so there are a lot of viability in that airport and this is why we are looking for a next governor who has the exposure, who is well educated to continue to sustain the tempo of development when we leave and for the next five years.
How did you source funds and how much in terms of cost component did it cost your administration to put together this project?
The cost of the project is within the range of about N17 billion and when we were building the airport I said it is futuristic, we want the best out of the airport and I also want a situation whereby we can lease it out. You just talked about states not having funds; maybe airlines like Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines can lease this kind of airport and make use of it for cargo and passenger operations. If you have regular flights no matter where you drop cargo or passengers they can connect to wherever they want to go to. And with airlines like Emirates, I am sure they can make this place busy and connect even
West Africa from here like Niger, Cotonue, Ivory Coast and other countries like Morocco, Libya, Algeria are shorter from Kebbi State than any other place around here.
Are you favourably disposed to discuss with other airlines with a view to having daily flights in and out of Kebbi?
Yes we are, we started with one airline but we saw that they were dragging their feet and we have to engage Air Peace so that we can start the operation as quickly as we can. So, now we can sit down and plan, Air Peace comes in four days in a week, there are three days available so we can open discussions on the three days. And maybe also Sokoto has been having two flights we can take a bigger aircraft for a daily flight. We have Aero Contractors and Arik coming into Sokoto so we can equally, maybe take one and leave them with one there.
For human capacity development, are you training indigenes that will work in this airport?
We are training a lot of hands and we have recruited young graduates whom we are likely to send to schools around the country or even overseas so that we can run the airport efficiently and we can have hands that can handle any type of task at the airport.
Are you in discussions with neighbouring states on how they can benefit from the airport by moving their produce from here?
We are doing that and this is why I said we are envisaging having inland ports Lolo just at the boarder of Republic of Benin to take traffic from Cotonoe. And the airport is well situated, you can take passenger from Kano to Kebbi, you combine it to Cotonue or to Niger Republic or to Abuja. Somebody who is coming from Niger Republic will spend three hours on road to this place, so you can leave by 7:00 am and 10:00 am you are here. You can board an aircraft in Kebbi and be in Abuja or in Lagos maybe within two hours or four hours.
On succession, what mechanism have you put in place to ensure that the right person continues with your development philosophy succeeds you?
You should expect a better person than me. We would want to build on what we have, we should not destroy and I am sure the person who is coming will be more competent than I am.