HARD TALK: On Okowa’s Unjustifiable ‘Excuse’ And Explanation For Stopping The Osubi Airstrip Upgrade/Expansion Project

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Our attention was drawn to a recent published interview of Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, with Sunday Aborisade and Theophilus Onojeghen on Sunday Punch on February 11th, 2018, in which he discussed his relationship with his predecessors, the task of governing the State and national issues. From the ‘inherited debts’ currently being serviced by the present Delta State Government, his relationship with his perceived benefactors that helped to make him governor, the alleged cold war between him and his predecessors, to his stoppage of work on the Asaba and Osubi airports, etc.

While we would not want to bother ourselves by going into the details of the said interview, which can best be described as a ‘well-sugar-coated-diplomatic-propaganda’ by a Government that wants to paint itself ‘very good’ in the eyes of the public, one issue that we would like to address here is Okowa’s unjustifiable reason-given, for stopping/abandoning the Osubi Airstrip runway/upgrade/expansion Project.

According to Okowa in the said interview when asked, why did his government stop work on the Asaba and Osubi Airports, we will focus on his explanation on the Osubi Airstrip, which he said: “The Government (referring to the Uduaghan Government), awarded a contract of N41bn to a firm for the construction of a runway and other auxiliary facilities and mobilized the contractor with close to N11bn without clearance from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and that was a huge challenge. I think that their projection was that the State Government will buy the airport from the original owners. But somebody else succeeded in buying off the airport and it meant that our State was either doing the runway for the buyer, while we could not do our own runway.

Because there was no way NCAA was going to approve a second airport just adjacent another. The State Government was denied further approval. What it technically meant was that the contract came to an end even when we had spent close to N11bn. That had nothing to do with me because that refusal had come in before I came in as the Governor of the State.”

From the above, the Delta State Governor is telling Deltans and Nigerians that the reason why his administration has abandoned the idea of continuing work on the Osubi Airstrip runway/expansion project, is that “somebody else had succeeded in buying off the airport”, hence doing the project means they will be doing it for someone else. And that the State Government was supposedly denied approval for a second airport adjacent to the existing one in Osubi. This is to us, and we believe many stakeholders, is nothing but a flimsy, unreasonable and unjustifiable excuse being used by the Okowa Government to let itself of the hook regarding this particular airport project. Okowa’s explanation, reeks of a government that is shying away from, and refusing to accept/own its statutory responsibility as a supposed elected government.

The ‘somebody’ being referred to by Governor Okowa, as the new buyers of the said Osubi Airstrip, is actually Shoreline Petroleum Resources, which is one of the oil companies that bought and took over the Shell (SPDC) Divested assets in Delta State. However, the question is, was Shell (SPDC) not a private company (like Shoreline) which owned and operated the Osubi Airstrip before the Delta State Government decided to take it over and expand the said Airstrip? Now that the Airstrip is in the hands of a new private oil company, what has changed to have made the Okowa Government say that if they embark on the said Osubi Airstrip expansion/runway project, it will be like them doing it for a private company? What sort of explanation is that? When former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan started the said Osubi Airstrip runway expansion/upgrade project, was the Airstrip not owned by Shell (SPDC) and its JV partners? So, what is Okowa saying?

Also, the oil and gas operation, from which the Osubi Airstrip came into existence, is a Joint Venture (JV)-owned business involving the Federal Government, the NNPC and other International Oil Companies (IOCs) as well as Indigenous Oil Companies. So, whether the said Osubi Airstrip is being operated/managed by Shell (SPDC), Shoreline Petroleum Resources or any other oil company for that matter, it is irrelevant or a condition that would prevent the State Government from doing what is expected of them in expanding/upgrading the Airstrip to a Standard Airport. All that is required for the Government to come in and do what they had planned to do, is to have a roundtable discussion and come to agreement and a winning formula that would work for all stakeholders with interest on the Osubi Airstrip. As long as the objective is to get the Osubi Airstrip to become a Standard Airport that can accommodate bigger aircrafts, it will benefit all the stakeholders involved because the Osubi Airport will then become more commercialized.

Another very vital point is that, the Land Us Act in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has ascribed/vested ownership of land to the Government. The Act states that: “An Act To Vest all Land compromised in the territory of each State (except Land vested in the Federal Government or its Agencies) solely in the Governor of the State, who would hold such Land in trust for the people and would henceforth be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident…” That is why it is only the Government that issues Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) to land developers. That automatically means the Delta State Government under Governor Okowa, can revoke the ownership of the land where the Osubi Airstrip is located, in the interest of the public with its intended runway/expansion/upgrade project.

The Delta State Government has the authority to revoke and take over the said land for the public use, since the commercialization of the Osubi Airstrip will greatly improve the economy of the State. In other words, the Delta State Government has the power to do this, if they are really serious in continuing with the Osubi Airstrip project contract. We also believe that no Federal Government Airport Authority can prevent, or refuse to give approval to the Delta State Government for either taking over the land situating the Osubi Airstrip, or carrying out its plans to expand the Airstrip with a new runway.

Come to think of it, how sure are we that the Delta State Government of Okowa, actually sorted for the approval of the NCAA and it was denied them? In his interview, it would seem that Okowa practically concluded that “there was no way NCAA was going to approve a second airport just adjacent another”, before he concluded that “the State Government was denied further approval.” Is Governor Okowa trying to tell us that his Government is being prevented from building another runway to expand and commercialize the Osubi Airstrip to a standard Airport? He should be reminded that in other developed climes, their airports usually have more than one runways. The popular and always busy Heathrow Airport in London, has Two runways. And to increase the number of flights, the Heathrow Airport Holdings has proposed using the existing Two runways in ‘mixed mode’, whereby aircraft would be allowed to take off and land on the same runway. That is how a proactive government should think and act when it comes to utilizing its public assets to benefit its economy.

Other than what was done under the Uduaghan Government concerning the Osubi Airstrip project contract, what proof and evidence does the Okowa Government has to show to suggest that he actually made some efforts in seeing that the said Osubi Airstrip project contract is continued and completed? Even if the needed approval from NCAA was not sort by the previous Government when they started the execution of the said runway project, what is wrong with Governor Okowa seeking for such approval now to see that the said project is restarted and completed? What exactly has the Okowa Government done to suggest to Deltans that he tried his best in seeing that the said Osubi Airstrip project was carried out as planned? Other than exonerating itself from any blame as to the abrupt end of the contract for the said Osubi Airstrip project, what exactly has Okowa done to suggest that he really wanted the said project executed? Absolutely nothing!

What is even more troubling and disturbing is the fact that, a whopping N11billion out of the N41billion awarded contract worth, have been expended on the said Osubi Airstrip runway/expansion/upgrade project with practically nothing to show for it. That huge money is completely a waste of scarce public funds that would been used to add value in people’s lives. Is the Okowa Government not bothered or concerned that such huge amount of money has gone down the drain, as his government has decided to abandon continuing with the said project contract? We believe a serious-minded and prudent Government will do whatever it takes to see that such money is not wasted, by simply continuing with the said Osubi Airstrip contract project and see to its completion. So that the State Government, will eventually recoup and recover every Naira and Kobo it has invested/spent in the execution of the said project. But by not doing this, the Okowa Government is simply saying bye-bye to the N11billion without even bothering on how it was expended and by whom. That disposition alone says a lot about the ‘character’ and ‘mindset’ of the Okowa administration when it comes to the management and accountability of the State’s public purse.

Let us reiterate again that the ‘strategic location’ of the Osubi Airstrip, near the oil city of Warri and environs, has made it ‘a favorite’ for Nigerians in Delta State and beyond. Hence, the general increasing desires to have it developed to a standard Airport to accommodate bigger aircrafts for more patronage. The major work that is required of the Government here is to ‘increase the size of the Osubi Airstrip runway’ so that large aircrafts can land at the Airstrip that will be turned into a standard Airport. This will result in economies of scale, reduce air fares and increase the number of flights and passengers. There are sensitive oil and gas assets and operations in Warri and environs like the Shell (SPDC) Forcados Terminal, the Warri Refinery and Petro-Chemical, Naval Base, Army Barracks, Air Force Base, Nigerian Gas Company (NGC), Delta Steel Company (DSC), Ughelli Pump Station (UPS), Delta Power Station, Ogorode Power Station, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Chevron Escravos Tank Farm and Terminal, all branches of Nigerian Commercial banks in Effurun/Warri, Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE), the Utorogu Gas Plant and Utorogu NAG-2 (DomGas Plant) Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), etc, which make these areas very ‘active with business, commercial activities’ and movement of people by air.

As far as we can tell, the Governor Okowa Government is “playing politics” with this Osubi Airstrip issue, just like his predecessor, Uduaghan, did while he was in office. All these are nothing but claptrap and political statements by this State’s administration. But it is time for Governor Okowa to stop this bunkum talks about the fate of the Osubi Airstrip. Shoreline Petroleum Resources and it JV partners cannot prevent or thwart the development of Delta State. We emphasize the fact that the Delta State should take over this project by revoking whatever was done pertaining to the land ownership, or pay back whatever Shoreline Petroleum Resources has invested in the Osubi Airstrip. No reasonable and serious-minded Government will sit down and allow a private company to dictate the economic future of the State and its people. We believe all the Airports in this country are owned by the Government. If Shoreline Petroleum Resources has refused or not willing to expand the runway and upgrade the facilities of the Osubi Airstrip to make it a Standard Airport, then the Delta State Government should take over, period!

Zik Gbemre, is the National Coordinator of Niger Delta Peace Coalition ( NDPC).

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