By Abdullahi Bego
Last Friday, the very day that Governor Mai Mala Buni clocked one year in office as Yobe’s chief executive, three aircraft – not two as previously reported – landed and took off from the newly built Yobe International Cargo Airport (YICA), Damaturu.
The three aircraft – a Nigeria Air Force jet with the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar on board, an airforce helicopter that ferried soldiers possibly to the front lines of the war against Boko Haram, and a civilian Gulfstream 200 jet belonging to United Aviation Services which brought in medical supplies against COVID-19 from the contractors of the airport JM&A – landed and took off within a space of two hours from 12noon to 2.00pm on that historic day.
For the Yobe State Government and for many around the state, this was an exciting pivotal moment. That aircraft had landed and taken off from the airport for the very first time means that YICA is a dream come true.
It is a testament to the foresight of the immediate past governor of the state, Senator Ibrahim Gaidam who initiated and funded the project to the very end of his administration. But it is also a testament to the determination and commitment of Governor Buni, who has ensured that no ongoing project inherited from the Gaidam administration was left uncompleted in line with his ‘continuity, consolidation, and innovation’ agenda.
Although the Yobe International Cargo Airport is still a work in progress with a number of important components, such as the tarmac, at advanced or final stages of completion, both Gaidam and Buni can take pride in their singular determination to see Yobe has an airport of its own.
That is the true test of leadership – to commit to an idea once you believe in its utility and currency, to work extremely hard for it, and to carry it to a logical denouement.
An airport for Yobe State is significant in several respects. First, it would provide a window for Yobe to the world and vice versa. If Yobe is able to market the airport well, it could become a refuelling hub for aircraft going to and from Europe and other parts of the world. Currently many of such aircraft are said to refuel at Tamanrasset in Algeria. If we have cheaper aviation fuel, as we obviously do, and can attract the attention of those international aviation players overtime, it would be a good deal. I have no doubt that with his tenacity and quite diplomacy, Governor Buni can help turn YICA into a cash cow for Yobe State.
Those who argue that other airports, such as the one in Dutse, Jigawa State have not measured up to expectation may have failed to take cognizance of the marketing factor and what raison d’etre the airport was meant to serve.
Second, YICA could be a springboard to Yobe’s agricultural renaissance. More than 80 percent of Yobe’s population engages in agriculture. That most of this agricultural practice is subsistent and seasonal does not take away from the significance that people in Yobe attach to agriculture. Yobe also reportedly has the largest cattle market in West Africa and the absolute best quality Sesame and Gum Arabic in the country.
All these are exportable. If we did not do it in the years since Yobe was created, nothing says that we could not do it now. It is all about prioritizing, about setting a goal and achieving it.
I will not claim to know – or predict – what will happen over the next four years, or the next ten years, or twenty years down the line. But I do know that Governor Buni is absolutely committed to the totality of the Yobe Project and will do everything within the realm of possibility to turn potentials into actual prospects for the people of the state.
Third, an airport in Yobe is sweet jell for national security. With the airforce base that is planned to be stationed at the cargo airport, the brave officers and men of the Nigerian Airforce and other branches of the military and security services will have additional capacity for timely neutralizing interventions against criminals and insurgents.
As everyone knows, Nigerian Airforce fighter jets currently fly in from Maiduguri and Yola whenever they want to undertake lifesaving security operations in Yobe State. The YICA project will paint that over and provide opportunity for real time aerial operations in the state.
All of these may not make sense to someone fixated on rejecting the idea of YICA. In a democracy, this is absolutely granted. It is what makes democracy ticks that people can hold different opinions on important issues and even differ on the means to reaching them.
As an institution with responsibility for the development of Yobe State, however, the Yobe State Government has YICA as a fait accompli. It is signed, sealed and delivered!
And it will go into the records as one bold, audacious move that seemed impossible and unimaginable at first but that was pursued with vigour and ultimately became a resounding success.
Bego is Governor Buni’s Commissioner for Home Affairs, Information and Culture and wrote in from the Yobe State capital, Damaturu.