Sen. Hadi Sirika, the Minister of Aviation, says the newly inaugurated Ekiti Airport will open up the state to partake actively in global commerce and tourism if fully harnessed and managed.
Sirika, who performed the official inauguration of the airport, was among the personalities on board of the aircraft, which flew all the way from Abuja to make the historic landing on Ekiti soil.
However, the project was a dream come true for the people of Ekiti as the State Agro-Allied International Airport, Ado-Ekiti, was inaugurated for public use, shortly after the first aircraft landed at the facility on Saturday.
With its inauguration and landing of the first flight, Ekiti has joined the elite club of states in Nigeria that could boast of the functional airport, which is expected to boost the export of agricultural produce, service educational and health institutions as well as abundant tourism potential in the state.
The first aircraft, ATR 42 Nigeria Air Force plane piloted by Flight Lieutenant E.A. Balogun, landed at the airport’s runway at exactly 10.20 a.m amidst cheers and excitement by eminent guests, government officials and members of the public who came to witness the historic occasion.
Shortly after the plane landed and taxied to the tarmac, the excited crowd of residents and guests were seen taking pictures of the moving aircraft and enthusiastically welcomed the Aviation Minister and officials of the agencies, who disembarked from the aircraft.
Sirika announced to the excited audience 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.”
The minister recalled that when he was on the site for a groundbreaking in October 2019, there were divergent views as to the viability of the project, saying airports are being used as “one-city nation-states in the world” to drive their economy.
According to him, I use to make an assertion, that a 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 Gov. 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, ” he said.
The minister said that an airport here, would connect people to this facility and reduce foreign medical tourism.
“Airports are by no means the best catalysts for economic growth of any state or nation.
“Thirty-five per cent of global trade by value is moved through airports and 18.6 dollar 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 be exported 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; they should own it,” Sirika said.
An excited outgoing Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, who could not hide his joy, said: “My job is done”.
Fayemi expressed satisfaction that the project eventually saw the light of day 10 years after its conception during his first administration in 2012.
A fulfilled Fayemi said: “My job is done, Ekiti Kete,” and this drew thunderous applause from the crowd that thronged the tarmac to be part of the occasion.
He also used the occasion to give an assurance to the people of the state that the federal roads that are now in dilapidated condition would be given attention to bring relief to their users and complement the newly inaugurated airport project.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalled that Fayemi, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Chief 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 the federal roads in the state now in the state of disrepair.
Fayemi said that the inauguration of the airport was in fulfilment of his promise to continue to work for the people of the state, who elected him to the very last day in office.
He said that the project saw the light of day in spite of the very limited resources available to the state.
The governor said 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, adding that this culminated in the test landing of the first flight on this last day of office.
Going down memory lane, Fayemi 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 (SAN), adding that the committee submitted its report in 2012.
He said that his first administration, through the State Executive Council, considered and approved the report submitted and was accommodated in its plan for the 2013-2015 Medium Term Sector Strategy.
“But, the plan was halted by my exit from office after the 2014 governorship election, which placed the project on suspension, ” Fayemi said.
The governor said his successor in office, Mr Ayo Fayose, embraced the idea to continue with the project, but it could not see the light of day until his tenure ended in 2018.
“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,”
Earlier, in his remarks, Mr Zhang Zichen, the Chairman, of China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), which handled the project, praised Fayemi for the vision which would change the face of the state economy.
Zichen explained that the airport was not just a project, but “the engine of the economy of the state”.
He said that it would open up Ekiti to more development and investment to the benefit of the state and business community.
The CCECC chief, describing the airport as a “landmark project”, said it was among notable projects completed by his corporation.
He commended the Aviation Minister for being part of history and making the airport a reality.
Personalities present included the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Chief Adeniyi Adebayo; the wife of the Governor, Erelu Bisi Fayemi; the Deputy Governor, Chief 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.
They were later conducted on a facility tour around the terminal and other facilities at the airport.