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Asaba International Airport: Building the real 2nd Niger Bridge

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Asaba International Airport: Building the real 2nd Niger Bridge

Post  Admin on Sun Feb 08, 2009 2:39 pm

As you descend the Isele Azagba leeway into the Asaba Capital Territory , the great River Niger is visible in the distance. A couple of minutes later you are within Okpanam, the site of a huge construction effort which will metamorphose into the Asaba International Airport within the next nine months, going by the words of ULO Consultants, the contractors in charge of the project.The project is sited on a virgin land sandwiched between Okpanam and Igbuzor. When the airport is completed aeroplanes and the major buildings will be very visible from the Asaba-Benin Highway . It will be the second airport in Delta State , the fourth international airport in the South-South (the others being in Port Harcourt, Calabar and an ongoing project springing up in Akwa Ibom State ).

It will be roughly one and half hours drive from three other airports at Benin , Owerri and Enugu (excluding the airport the Anambra State Government under Mr. Peter Obi seems to be considering for Onitsha ). Given the cluster of already existing airports, what then is the rationale of the Delta State Government in promoting this eight billion naira project?


Rationale

It all starts with the agenda that the government of Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan has set for the state. A document of the state government defines the goal of Delta State thus: “we want to be the benchmark for economic development in Nigeria and ultimately Africa within the next ten years,” that is by the year 2017. The new administration is benchmarking itself after emergent Middle Eastern and Asian economic city-states, such as Dubai, Bahrain, Shanghai and Singapore. In order to reach this goal, gone are the days when the people of Delta State were encouraged to relate to one another in terms of “true Delta” and Anioma. Development efforts are now being integrated and unlike in the past, Asaba is now receiving its share of development efforts, just like other parts of the state.

In fact, Governor Uduaghan told this reporter in an interview last year that his government plans to open up the state capital and absorb the excess commercial capacity of neighbouring Onitsha, one of Nigeria ’s leading centres of commerce now being choked up due to lack of land space. Unlike in the past when the indigenes of Asaba were permitted to stunt the growth of their own city by refusing to make land available to commercial developers, especially those from the Eastern parts, the state government has thrown the city open for development as a modern state capital befitting the 21st century’s standards.

In this light, the state government wants to leverage on the commercial potentials of Asaba and the petroleum and aquatic resources of the Warri. There is a plan to develop the ports at Warri and Koko and integrate the two economic zones with the Warri-Ughelli-Asaba dual highway, which is also being constructed by the state government. The project, which will cost a hefty 48 billion naira will be done on the build, operate and transfer (BOT) model with a private developer who will be given a concession of 15-20 years.The international airport, which the contractors say will encompass cargo, passenger and shopping malls, will complete a strategic effort to encourage Onitsha and Nnewi traders and businessmen to bring their businesses nearer home.

They would no longer have to depend on the ports in far away Lagos , where goods could spends days on poorly maintained roads to arrive rather than the couple of hours it will take to haul them in from Warri/Koko into Onitsha.


Progress report

A recent visit to the site by our reporter met Mr. Anwar Rezik, the Site Engineer of ULO Consultants, on duty. Rezik conducted us round the main four storey high terminal building and the eight storeys high control tower, both at advanced stages of construction. He explained the works to us. The apron of the airport, he said, covered a land space of 45,000 square metres, which means it will accommodate at least ten active Boeing 747’s (the second largest aircraft ever built) at a time. The runway was initially 3 kilometres long, but is being extended to 3.4 kilometres, the standard size for runways of international airports.

Rezik said the terminal building, which will be given grey-black granite flooring, will be ready in eight months, along with most of the buildings on the site.

He assured that the airport would be ready by April 2010, but Engineer Uche Okpunor, the Chairman of ULO Consultants gave a more optimistic deadline: September 2009. “I will land an aircraft on this airport in the next nine months”, he affirmed in an interview. He challenged our reporter to come back in exactly nine months and see if his boast was an empty one.

There is really no need for Okpunor not to deliver on his promise. For one thing, he is not suffering the usual scourge of indigenous and sometimes even foreign contractors: poor funding. The state government releases funds as and when due.

According to one of the operatives, when the project is completed up to 20,000 people will be gainfully employed. Right now, ULO’s engineering works have guaranteed employment to between 250 to 500 employees.

Going by the model of the airport on display in the office of the contractor (as displayed in this write-up) the airport will be second to none in terms of its beauty, aesthetics, facilities and comfort. Okpunor calls it the only “befitting” airport in the South-South.

It is actually being constructed to cater to the whims of the tourism trade, that being an important target of the state government’s plans to build an economy that will no longer be crude oil and gas dependent.


Communal issues

The construction of the Asaba Airport has not witnessed any of the glitches that now characterise developmental efforts in the South-South zone: disruption of work by people masquerading as “youths” and “militants”.

“I am an indigene of this place,” Okpunor explained, “I am also a youth. If you look at the employment opportunities this project has created, it has employed well over 500 youths.

We put them to all kinds of work around the airport. It becomes part of their livelihood. What kind of disturbance are you going to have?”

Secondly, there is ample space for future expansion of the airport.

This is unlike Lagos and Port Harcourt airports which are limited by space. Asaba Airport can actually be developed as a major hub of aviation because the space for the development of many more terminals is there.

The Asaba Airport lies at a location that offers itself as an ideal point of convergence between the South East and South-South. It exits into the gateway to both zones.

As majority of air travellers in Nigeria are mainly from the South East (especially Anambra State ) the airport is a great opportunity to bring air travel closer home to those who need it most, while airline operators will have nothing to fear from inadequate custom.

The Asaba Airport and other programmes of the Delta State Government will go a long way in integrating the economies of the South East and South-South, and thus provide an additional bridge over the River Niger.



http://odili.net/news/source/2009/feb/7/301.html

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