Two communities in the Upper East region, said to have come from the same ancestral stock, have crossed swords as sites proposed for the construction of the first ever airport in the region keep changing from one community to another.
Linked together by a river, the communities, Sherigu and Sumbrungu, had lived in harmony until an old search for a suitable location for an airport, which the region thought had been settled in decades past, was renewed only two months ago.
The communities went eyeball to eyeball just after the current Minister for Aviation, Cecilia Abena Dapaah, asked the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) this year to conduct feasibility studies on a new site at Sherigu for the construction of an airport. Already, former President John Dramani Mahama had announced at a durbar held during his working visit to the region in 2013 that construction work would begin on the same project at Anateem, an area within Sumbrungu, in 2014.
Although there are no bloody confrontations yet between the two areas over the airfield matter, concerned observers think the mounting tension between the two suburbs is something peacemakers must watch closely to avoid any bloody boom in the regional capital, Bolgatanga. A mammoth demonstration at Sumbrungu trailed the Aviation Minister’s visit to Sherigu, with angry natives of that area openly pointing condemnatory fingers at the Upper East Regional Minister, Rockson Ayine Bukari, as the one who ‘whispered’ into Mrs. Dapaah’s ears, during her May tour of the region, to shift the site further to Sherigu.
Fighting back through a press conference, some youth in Sherigu, led by three notable figures, Robert Akazire, Johnson Ayine and Francis Amoah, stated in one strong voice that the Regional Minister had done nothing wrong to suffer the attack he got from Sumbrungu.
“What we find very disheartening and indeed hypocritical is the vilification, castigation, lambasting and insults and, of course, gross disrespect to Hon. Rockson Bukari – the Regional Minister. The very man they have disrespectfully taken to the cleaners was one of the key proponents of the siting of the Bolgatanga Polytechnic in Sumbrungu instead of Sherigu.
“He was the then District Chief Executive of Bolgatanga. The people of Sumbrungu saw it as a very mature and excellent decision. The people of Sherigu never complained because we thought we [were] one. In any case, the minister is not an expert in construction of airports; definitely the advice will come from the technical men to settle this issue,” Mr. Akazire read from a 3-page statement.
Sumbrungu soil not fit for airport – Sherigu youth
Taking the pitch of their reaction higher in front of newsmen, the youth further claimed to be armed with some findings showing that the soil at Sumbrungu was not airplane-friendly- a deficiency they said had delayed the anticipated execution of the project.
“We may all be aware that the former proposed site of the airport at Anateem (Sumbrungu) is over two decades now. The past governments tried to develop the place but could not. Our investigation had it that there was a group of aviation experts who advised the then government that the nature of the soil at the place was not conducive for the construction of an airport. That created the delay. And, therefore, to create that erroneous impression that it is the Hon. Regional Minister who unilaterally relocated the site to Sherigu is absurd,” the statement pointed out.
The counter gathering also saw the youth dismiss some claims the natives of Sumbrungu were reported to have made during a demonstration they held following the instructions the Aviation Minister issued at Sherigu to the civil aviation gurus.
“There is [a] deliberate attempt by our brothers to create their own distortions and turn to refute them either for mischief, propaganda or complete ignorance as result of uninformed position of the issue at hand. [We] wish to crave your indulgence to set the records right. The position held by our brothers that siting the airport in Sherigu would consequently lead to interference of that of the airspace of the Northern region is a clear demonstration of their lack of appreciation of the issue. There is nothing like ‘intra-regional’ airspace in Ghana. It can only be Ghana airspace, Burkina airspace, Togo airspace etc,” Mr. Akazire asserted.
He retorted further: “That the people of Sherigu [influenced] the regional minister to relocate the venue from Anateem is not only an insult to the Chief and people of Sherigu but also [to] the Regional Minister, the good people of Upper East region, the President and indeed all Ghanaians. Are they aware that the Minister for Aviation, on her official visit to the region as part of the search for appropriate land for this very cause, visited Tongo in the Talensi District? Would it have been necessary for the ministers to waste their time going there if we had that capacity to [manipulate] the Regional Minister?”
From a ‘garbage harbour’ to an ‘airport city’ – Sherigu basks in big dream
Today, Sherigu is unofficially known as the capital’s ‘garbage harbour’, hosting tons of material waste products generated daily in the regional capital but hardly properly confined at a huge landfill site.
When the youth held their conference, the flames in their eyes could tell how they could not wait to hear sooner or later that government had approved their site for a ground-breaking ceremony for the airport project. Their numbers showed how soon they wanted their low status to at long last swing from ‘the garbage host’ to ‘the airport city’. Their excited breath, as the press statement was being read out, revealed in advance the sort of all-night jubilation that would greet that awaited ‘good news’ at Sherigu!
And concluding that peaceful rally, which was forerun by a heavy downpour in the region, the youth revealed that Sherigu did not become a proposed site for an airport only at the time of the Aviation Minister’s tour of the region in May, this year.
They said the community won the attention long ago to be considered for the siting of the region’s airport and, pointing at the large parcel of landfill site they said had been an unbiased source of needless deaths and avoidable diseases to the people of Sherigu, they indicated strongly that a community that had lost so much for an entire regional capital only deserved much in return.
“We wish to remind our brothers in Sumbrungu that, with [their] so-called vast land, their refuse are dumped in Sherigu. Consequently, our people have all manner of diseases including loss of lives of people and animals because they keep falling into human excreta and consumption of expired products dumped in our locality for so many years now. Yet we don’t complain because we are one.
“We wish to conclude by stating that the people of Sherigu had their land inspected for the construction of an airport and was contacted many years ago. Graciously, as usual, our Chief with his desire for development allocated land for that purpose. In fact, that is not the first time. When they needed land for the referral hospital, he did same. [We] would, therefore, call on our brothers to allow the experts to deal with this matter for the benefit of the region. They should stop the vilification and castigation of the Regional Minister,” the statement stressed.
An old airstrip at Paga, Ghana’s border town near Burkina Faso, had only played a forerunner’s role to a proposed airport at Sumbrungu. The airstrip was closed to commercial flights after the French-speaking neighbour complained about interference by Ghanaian airlifts with her airspace. A senior aviation official, who did not want his name mentioned, had told Starr News in May, this year, that both proposed locations at Sherigu and Sumbrungu were only “candidate sites” pending a final decision on any of the two.
A government official, who wanted his name withheld, also had mentioned to Starr News just after the recent tour by Mrs. Dapaah that even Paga, after being stripped of her airstrip decades ago, could still come back from ‘the dead’ as a final location for the region’s much-dreamt airport. But despite this reassurance, the ‘shifting’ airport site has got many tongues wagging everywhere and has left the region not only more divided but also in the dark amid a general feeling that, with more “lobby proposed sites” likely to bounce onto the growing list of suggested locations, the Upper East may end up not having an airport in this generation but well remembered only as a region of “multiple airport proposed sites”.