By Our Correspondent
Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River state has written to three villages in Obudu,
Atiekpe, Ikwomikwu and Okambi, all neighbouring his Kakum village, appealing for their cooperation towards the commencement and speedy completion of work at a new airport the governor plans to build in Obudu.
According to a letter to Clan Heads of the affected communities, signed by the immediate past Special Adviser Technical, Arc. Eric Akpo, which was obtained by CrossRiverWatch,
the new airport to be known as the Obudu International Passenger and Cargo Airport (OIA), will slice 9km square land from the three communities and due to the “urgency and speedy completion of the project”, the governor wants to start acquiring that land under the Land Use Act, so work can commence.
“I have the directives of His Excellency, the Governor, to notify you and the entire community that the government of Cross River State under the administration of His Excellency, Senator Professor Benedict Ayade (Esq.) proposes to develop an international standard passenger and cargo airport in Obudu to be known as the Obudu International Passenger and Cargo Airport (OIA).
“The preferred site of about nine (9) square kilometers for the location of the proposed airport is the land lying northwards of Obudu, belonging to Atiekpe, Ikwomikwu and Okambi communities.
“The choice of this location was arrived at considering its topographical and physical features in relationship to the open horizon at the north-eastern and south-western axis, which is convenient for the runway orientation.
“The proposed airport conceived for common good, would impact positively and progressively on the socio-economic, tourism and agriculture sectors of the State and of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in relative terms.
“Kindly note that for the urgency of this project, and its speedy completion, acquisition and compensation process in line with the statutes Nigerian Land Use Act (2004) would commence immediately while also site preparation works such as clearing and development of access road would be kick-started by the project delivery team.” The letter reads; while also soliciting the maximum cooperation of your highnesses, chiefs and elders of the affected communities for “a seamless project development”.
But the affected communities seem not as happy and do not feel the urgency as the governor. Most of the villagers who spoke with CrossRiverWatch say they are afraid of speaking publicly for fear of what may happen to them afterwards.
One of the Chiefs told this reporter that “these targeted villages are some of the smallest villages in Obudu in terms of land size. By the time you slice nine kilometres square from those three villages, places like Ikwomikwu and even Ukambi may disappear. We are not even given the space to discuss or negotiate to raise our concerns. We are just sent letters and orders and asked to obey. They have started harassing and arresting people already for attempting to resist. We don’t know what is coming. That is our greatest fear.” the chief said with a trembling voice.
But the government says compensation will be paid to land owners who will be affected.
CrossRiverWatch asked why the governor was planning to build a new airport in Obudu when there is an airstrip at the foot of the Obudu Ranch Resort that was renovated by Duke and recently fitted with Instrument Landing System and Dupplar Very High Omni Directional Range DVOR machine, by Imoke?
Mr. Akpo defended the governor’s decision arguing that the mountainous terrain sorrouding the airstrip is hampering the effective functioning of the Instrument Landing System and may affect the safety of flights and passengers and that is why the governor wants another airport in Obudu.
“First of all, what we have in Bebi is an airstrip. Not an airport. The cost of expanding the airstrip to a full international airport with the sorrounding mountains is far higher than building an international airport on a level ground. Secondly, the mountainous terrain is not allowing the Instrument Landing System to function efficiently and maximally. If you ask any pilot, they will tell you that the mountains have an adverse effect on the landing system. Even the only Aero propeller aircraft that used to come to the airstrip had only one pilot who was always accepting to risk it. So after considering all these factors, it is safer and more cost effective to site another airport on a level ground.” Mr. Akpo, argued.
But just before handing over to Ayade, former governor Imoke spent huge sums of money to instal the Instrument Landing System and DVOR which was said to be one of only two types, presently in the country.
The former Chief Press Secretary to Imoke, who was also handed over to Ayade till now, Mr. Christian Ita, told CrossRiverWatch four years ago that the Imoke government was not sparing any effort towards making the Obudu Ranch Resort accessible and pleasurable to many people.
“We are spending huge sums of money in maintaining the facilities at the Obudu Ranch Resort and the facilities at the Bebi Airstrip because we are determined to increase the foot falls to the Ranch”. Ita said.
The Airstrip Manager at the time, Mrs. Gloria Asuquo also told CrossRiverWatch that: “All the required operational equipment needed to make the Bebi Airstrip functional have been installed.
Mrs. Asuquo, said the Instrument Landing System, ILS, functional fire service vehicle manned by officials from the National Aviation Management Agency, NAMA and the Dupplar Very High Omni Directional Range machine, DVOR, have all been put in place.
“The DVOR machine we have here is just one of the two in the country and the other one is in Ikeja Airport which shows the commitment of the State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke towards providing the best equipment for the Bebi Airstrip in spite of the high cost”.
She said at the time that the DVOR equipment apart from guiding and providing needed information to aircraft landing at the Bebi Airstrip, others flying over the area within one hundred kilometres radius use the equipment to locate their direction and other details they require.
Mrs. Asuquo said aircrafts with 50 to 60 sitting capacity can safely land at the airport at any time of the day.
Contrary to claims by Mr. Akpo that the mountainous terrain has adverse effects, Mrs. Asuquo said, “We have a terrain that many pilots find interesting to fly to and with the sophisticated equipment we have put in place, any pilot flying a 50 to 60 seater plane can conveniently land here”.
And two years ago, during the climax of the Cross River @50 celebrations at the Calabar International Conference Center CICC, governor Ayade acknowledged and celebrated the progress that had been made at the Bebi airstrip and renamed it “Donald Duke Airstrip, Bebi“, while promising that his administration will improve on facilities at the airstrip.
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