From Priscilla Ediare, Ado Ekiti
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has inaugurated the first airport in Ekiti State.
The newly constructed Ekiti Cargo International Airport, along Ado Ijan road in Ado Ekiti, the state capital, was commissioned on Saturday, shortly after the first airplane with registration number
ATR 42 (Nigeria Air Force plane 930) piloted by Flight Lieutenant EA Balogun landed at the facility’s runway.
The Minister of Aviation was among the personalities on board of the airplane which flew all the way from Abuja to make the historic landing on Ekiti soil.
The outgoing Governor of the state, Dr Kayode Fayemi, expressed satisfaction that the project eventually saw the light of the day ten years after its conception during his first administration in 2012 saying “My job is done, Ekiti Kete.’
Fayemi whose tenure ends today as the governor of the state said the facility will boost the export of agricultural produce, service educational and health institutions and abundant tourism potential in the state.
Fayemi said the airport’s inauguration was in fulfilment of his promise to continue to work for the people of the state who elected him to his very last day in office saying the project saw the light of the day despite the very limited resources available to the state.
The Governor noted that his administration defied the challenges of COVID-19 which affected global, national and state economies to ensure that the dream of the airport became a reality which culminated in the test landing of the first airplane on his last day in office.
Going down memory lane, the Governor recalled that the move to start the project began during his first tenure in 2012 with a Committee on the Viability of the Airport led by a legal luminary, Aare Afe Babalola, raised by his then administration noting that the Committee submitted its report in 2012.
According to him, his first administration through the State Executive Council considered and approved the report submitted which was accommodated in its plan for the 2013-2015 Medium Term Sector Strategy but the plan was halted by his exit from office after the 2014 governorship election which placed the project on suspension.
The Governor said his successor in office, Mr Ayo Fayose, embraced the idea of continuing with the project but it couldn’t see the light of the day until his tenure ended in 2018.
He said further: “Upon my assumption of office in 2018, I appointed aviation experts and industry-related officials to kickstart the implementation of the project. They made several Advocate visits to communities in order to meet the requirements for the establishment of the airport.
“The administration took the following steps: we secured the approval, the revalidation of approval from the Federal Ministry of Aviation. We also secured the Department of State Services (DSS) clearance, we paid all the necessary fees for the construction, planning and certification to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and conducted an Environmental and Sustainability Impact Assessment.
“As a government that adheres strictly to the rule of law with unwavering respect for the rights of our people, we made several appeals to communities affected for enumeration of their farmlands to ensure commensurate monetary compensation is paid on their crops.
“To this end, a total of 669 claimants were duly compensated out of those that presented themselves for the exercise. We acquired 4,017 hectares of land from nine communities: Ago Aduloju, Aso Ayegunle, Bolorunduro, Igbogun, Araromi, Obbo, Afao, Orun, Igbemo and Ijan covering three local government areas in the state.”
Fayemi also used the occasion to give an assurance to the people of the state that the federal roads that are in dilapidated condition would be given attention to, bring relief to their users and complement the newly inaugurated airport project.
The Governor said he, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo and the Ewi of Ado Ekiti, Oba Adeyemo Adejugbe have been making strong representations to the Federal Government to facilitate urgent intervention on federal roads in the state that are in the present state of disrepair
The Aviation Minister also announced that the Federal Government would site a cargo facility at the airport. He described the Ekiti Airport as “an extremely very important project” which would in turn facilitate the import and export of goods and commodities.
Sirika recalled that when he was on the site for the groundbreaking in October 2019, there were divergent views as to the viability of the project noting that airports are being used by what he called “one-city nation-states in the world” to drive their economy.
He added: “I use to make an assertion, that a one-mile-long road leads to nowhere but a one-mile runway leads to everywhere. You see, I came here today through the runway of this airport provided by Governor Fayemi. There is a future with this project, market and trade can drive everybody here.
“I was at ABUAD, I saw the university, the farm, the industrial park and the hospital. If there is an airport here, it will connect people to this facility and reduce foreign medical tourism. Airports are by no means the best catalysts for the economic growth of any state or nation.
“35 per cent of global trade by value is moved through airports and $18.6 billion of cargo is moved daily through air transportation. The wealthy among you should take to agriculture for example and begin to produce things that you will export to other parts of the world.
“You can be land-locked but you cannot be sky-locked. We can all see the importance of having a facility like this. Thank you Mr Governor, you have provided this facility for the people of Ekiti State; they should own it, they should own it.”
In his welcome address, Mr Zhang Zichen, the Chairman of China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), which handled the project, praised Governor Fayemi for the vision which he said would change the face of the state economy.
Zichen who explained that the airport is not just a project but “the engine of the economy of the state” said it would open up Ekiti to more development and investment to the benefit of the state and business community.
The CCECC boss who also described the airport as a “landmark project” said it was among notable projects completed by its corporation. He also hailed the Aviation Minister for being part of history and making the airport a reality.
Dignitaries present included the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo; the wife of the Governor, Erelu Bisi Fayemi; the Deputy Governor, Otunba Bisi Egbeyemi; Speaker, Ekiti State House of Assembly, Mr Funminiyi Afuye; Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, Dr Eniola Ajayi; Representatives of Ekiti in Diaspora, traditional rulers, state lawmakers and officials from the Federal Ministry of Aviation.