Ortom Tackles Critics of Makurdi Cargo Airport

Let me say this, all over the world economies are being driven by the private sector. Government provides the enabling environment, provides policy, provides regulation and monitors to ensure that these are effective, and also provides security for the investors.
Even before my election what I sold to the people of Benue was that I knew that the economy was going to be down and all that we needed to do was to work closely and ensure that we provide the enabling environment for the private sector to come into Benue State, that’s what we’re doing. We’ve been doing it in almost all sectors, in health, in education, in infrastructure, in transport, and all that. All that we’ve been fighting all this while is to ensure that we bring in private sector investment. That is what we’ve done in respect of the cargo airport. The cargo airport in the transport sector is one private sector driven project that is coming to Benue State. A consortium that is handling this cargo airport provided us the opportunity, they’re going to arrange their money. But let me say that the cargo airport is completely a private sector driven project. It has nothing to do with expenditure from the Benue State government, Benue State government is not paying one naira to the consortium. The consortium, because we’re providing the enabling environment, is giving us 15 percent equity share in the project. Yet, they’re making their own arrangement to provide this money and they’ve provided the money already and waiting for the Chinese Exim Bank to provide the balance. They’ve already provided N5.7 billion, the Chinese are going to provide the balance of slightly over N32 billion and that will make N32 billion. But government is not going to pay anything to any bank as at this time. Government will only pay from our equity that we’ll get when the project is completed and its making profit. This is where we are on this project. It is important for us to make this clarification that we’re aware that we cannot pay salaries as at when due, we’re concerned with the plight of the people but we cannot run away from this responsibility that this private sector people are bringing to us. We know that massive job opportunities will be created, there’ll be wealth creation, there’ll be opportunities that’ll be created through this cargo airport. We may call it cargo airport but it’s not just cargo airport that we’re going to have when this project is completed. In the Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, we’ve signed, massive training institutes will be established, there’ll be dualization of roads, there’ll be massive housing projects around the airport, and several other things. And it will be given to commercial airlines that can do conventional air services outside the cargo activities that will be going on. This is a very good initiative and I don’t think that anyone at this time of our recession will resist this kind of project from coming to his own state. I beg to say that its either these people that are criticizing this project are ignorant, they’ve not sought our opinion or tried to ask us to clarify on this matter, that is why they’re taking it the other way or they’re doing it out of mischief. But I think that its out of mischief. They’re jealous because this government out of nothing, because we trust in God and God is opening up opportunities and opportunities are coming and they’re not happy with us. But I want to assure the people of Benue State and Nigerians that we’re not insensitive to the plight of our people, we’re always there on ground with them and we’re working with them and so this is where we are on the cargo airport. Emmanuel Gwaza, Radio Nigeria Harvest FM: I spoke with Abubakar Tsav and he said the Makurdi Cargo Airport is a white elephant project and conduit pipe for your government to siphon funds. Ortom:  Abubakar Tsav is one of the persons that supported the stealing of N107 billion which we are asking them to bring back and he is not happy.  He has never supported this government and has never said anything about the N107 billion that we are asking those people who stole to bring back.  He was part of the past administration.  He worked against us and we defeated him.  He is not known here for positive things.  Abubakar Tsav is not an indigene of Benue State.  He has been denounced by his people in Vandeikya local government, it’s in writing.He was given a chieftaincy in error and the chieftaincy was withdrawn.  Throughout his service, he did not contribute anything to this state.  Before I became Governor, I provided industries, companies that are generating jobs and wealth up to today. Abubakar Tsav wrote petitions against me as I talk to you.  He has written more than 20 petitions against me but all of them are false.  There is no iota of truth in them.  He is out to discredit this government but he has no grounds whatsoever. Let him go to Kano where he belong to and talk about Kano local government, let him leave us in Benue State alone. Aloysius Umalo, Voice of Nigeria: The ground breaking ceremony took place and those who want to keep faith with the project would want to know how soon equipment would be mobilized to site for the commencement of construction… Ortom: Like you said it was ground breaking, it was not foundation laying and so there are technical issues that needed to be completed, survey of the land, compensation to the communities, those who will need to move will have to move, and several other things, these are the things that are going on. But the 15% equity share that the consortium has arranged is already in the bank as soon as these processes are completed we shall go back there and do flag off, that will be foundation laying and it will take off, there’s no cause for alarm. Raphael Akume, Core TV: There are complaints that the CDC Consortium cannot be traced on the internet, that there are no records of jobs that they have done anywhere, how well do you know these companies? Ortom: You have to start from somewhere. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one. There are several known companies in this country but they have not done anything for us. Some we have even tried them and they have failed. This ones they came and so far they have not failed, they have delivered. They told us that they would provide the equity funding of the state government and we will not pay anything and they were able to secure the money is in the bank, so why should I doubt them? I’m not a pessimist, I’m optimistic that by the grace of God, the project will be completed. It doesn’t matter to me whether they’ve just starting once they have the capacity to deliver, that’s all, but we’re monitoring them closely. Benue State has nothing to lose, it’s their own investment and it’s their own money, it’s not our money, we’re investing no one naira into the project. What we stand to benefit are the dividends that will come to us. Again, the concession will be for 25 years, after that we can renegotiate. Tamenor Kwaghzer, News Echo: What do you make of the Sultan of Sokoto’s comments on the airport and before then his opposition to your stand on ranching? Ortom: I’m not sure that it’s true that the Sultan criticized the cargo airport, if he did, he did it out of ignorance because he may not have been fully briefed about the project like I’ve told you now, if he made any comment at all, but I’m not sure he would just speak because I speak with him and he would have spoken to me to make clarification. As to whether Sultan opposes ranching he can oppose that in Sokoto, not in Benue State as far as I’m concerned. These are two different states, we must appreciate that. I sent a delegation to him and he has offered to come here and support our position so I’m not sure that he spoke against ranching as you’re quoting him.