INVESTIGATION: Osun MKO Abiola Airport in ruins despite multi-billion naira funding, concession (1)

By Kemi Busari

“THIS is the airport. This is where you are going,” the motorcyclist, Folahan Joseph, said as we approached a bushy enclosure.

The dark patch of damp on the fence speaks audibly of neglect. The expanse of land spanning about 839 hectares is the site of an abandoned airport project at Ido-Osun in Egbedore Local Government Area of Osun State.

Eight months ago, Joseph heard what he said was one of the best news of his life. The state government, owing to the dearth of fund, had decided to concession the construction of the airport named after the multi-billionaire business mogul and widely acclaimed winner of the 1993 presidential election, the late Moshood Abiola.

“I was happy the day I saw them (the contractor and state officials) at the site,” the Mass Communication National Diploma holder said. “We thought they would work on it fast and some of us will get jobs there, but see what it is now. Nothing has been done.”

Joseph, like other residents of the state, was still that hopeful work would start on the site; until the Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola, suddenly announced that the concession had failed.

“Simply put, concessionaire of the proposed ‘MKO Abiola International Airport in Ido-Osun’ has failed,” Aregbesola declared during “Ogbeni Till Day Break,” an interactive session with the media and members of the public in May. Surprisingly, the announcement came the same month the airport was expected to take off.

For many years, since the administration of former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the completion of the project has eluded inhabitants of the community and the state at large.

But what could account for the failure of a project which has been awarded multiple times and for which the state government has expended billions?

The genesis

Documents made available to this newspaper revealed that the expanse of land on which the airport was to be located had been acquired in 1936 for aircraft flight operations. Then, Nigeria’s Governor-General, Bernard Bourdillon, through the southern province, paid £103 and three shillings to the then Baale of Ido Osun and 15 farmers who sought compensation for the destruction of their crops for him to justifiably purchase and occupy the land as its new rightful owner.

Preserved for history, the control tower used by the British during World War 2. Photo by Kemi Busari.

After acquisition, an airstrip, which served as take-off and landing platform for the West African Frontier Force who fought alongside British Army during the Second World War, was constructed by the British Empire. It then commenced the designation of Ido-Osun as the first community where aviation activity took place in West Africa.

Several years after, efforts to turn the ground into an airport started with one of the state’s former governors, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, before his exit in 2010.

Abandoned MKO Abiola International Airport infographics.

Oyinlola’s administration, in its attempt to construct a modern airport on the same expanse of land, acquired more land.

However, no meaningful work started until October 2012 under the current administration of Aregbesola.

The Osun State Ministry of Works did not reply to a Freedom of Information request for history and financial expenditure on the project.

    The contract was first awarded to Aeronautics Engineering at the cost of N4.5 billion in October 2012. Sometime later, it was reviewed to N11 billion to accommodate more features.

    Of this amount, the state government noted that it had spent N3.6 billion. Thereafter, the project got abandoned mid-way, prompting the need for a re-award.

    In October 2017, the state government revived its intention to continue the project but having entered a huge financial constraint, the Aregbesola administration opted for concession.

    The concession solution

    In a concession agreement, the contract was awarded at N69 billion to a firm named All Works of Life (AWOL) International Limited. However, the company was to work with two partner companies named Biray Group, for the technical aspect, and Exim Bank of Turkey, where funds for the project was to be obtained.

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