The Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Douye Diri has urged host communities of the state-owned international airport to take proactive measures that would enable them benefit adequately from the emerging opportunities.
Senator Diri gave the advice on Thursday, June 10, during a meeting with representatives of the host communities of the airport and other stakeholders at Government House, Yenagoa.
Represented by his Deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, the Governor also advised the host communities to always embrace dialogue in resolving any misunderstanding for the overall interest and well-being of the state.
Senator Diri, who described the airport project as one of the strategic investments that could jumpstart the economy of the state, called on the people, particularly host communities to take ownership of the project.
He said the state government would soon sign an agreement with an airline company with a view to operating commercial flights.
His words:”The airport has a multiplier effect and so host communities need to take onwership of the project. In the shortest possible time, the Bayelsa Government is going to sign an agreement with one of the companies to commence commercial flights”
Senator Diri observed that when commercial flights operate fully at the facility, businesses and other profitable activities would spring up in the area.
The Governor, therefore, enjoined the people to be more concerned about how to take advantage of such opportunities to empower themselves.
He urged the Manager of the Bayelsa Airport, Mrs Elizabeth Akpama, to engage the people on how they could be empowered to start small scale businesses for them to have a sense of belonging.
On the issues of payment of compensation to host communities, the governor noted that he was aware that the previous government agreed to pay compensation to three strata of those affected by the project, which were the crop owners, families and communities.
Senator Diri, who explained that government had already paid compensation for the location of the airport facility, however, noted that the outstanding balance was for individual claims.
He therefore appealed that while compensation was essential, it should not be made an urgent issue even as he directed the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure to do a report on what was paid as compensation and the balance being owed by government.
Also on the issue of employment, Senator Diri faulted claims by the host communities that over 300 persons were employed by the airport management and directed the Airport Manager, to also compile a list of all employees on community and local government basis and forward it to government next week.
He said, “No 300 persons have been employed. You need to substantiate your allegations with facts and figures before putting them out in the public space. We don’t have up to 300 persons at the airport and I’m not aware of any new employment that’s ongoing.”
“We want to avoid certain things. My appeal is that if there are issues of concern just as you are raising now, bring them up to the notice of government and not through MoUs. Let’s dialogue more rather than resort to staging protests”.
In his remarks, the Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Moses Teibowei enjoined the host communities to show some understanding as their problems cannot be solved in one day.
On their part, the Commissioner for Environment, Chief Eselemo Gbaranbiri and his Budget and Planning counterpart, Mr Akpoebide Alamieyeseigha, expressed gratitude to government for siting the airport on its present location and urged the host communities to always cooperate with government.
Earlier, the Chairman of the Bayelsa Airport Host Communities Forum, Mr Alakama Ogbe and the Secretary, Mr Ebimodei Yenigha, appealed to government to carry the communities along as critical stakeholders of the airport.
They specifically asked the state government to complete the payment of outstanding compensations and honour the agreement on the employment of indigenes from the host communities.