Magnus Eze, Enugu
The reconstructed Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu was reopened last Sunday, after 370 days of its closure.
A preponderance of Igbo leaders witnessed the ceremony presided over by the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari. The last time such a high calibre of Igbo leaders gathered at a place was at the Ekwueme Square in Awka Anambra State in May 2018, when Ndigbo declared their position on the future of Nigeria, opting for restructuring.
A roll call of dignitaries at the Akanu Ibiam airport reopening ceremony included, the Enugu State governor, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; his Ebonyi counterpart and Chairman of South East Governors’ Forum, Chief David Umahi; former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; Ministers- Senator Chris Ngige (Labour and Employment); Dr Ogbonnaya Onu (Science and Technology); Mr Geoffrey Onyeama (Foreign Affairs); Senators Uche Ekwunife and Chukwuka Utazi, as well as Hon. Linda Ikpeazu and Chairman, House Committee on Aviation, Nnoli Nnaji.
Others were the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe; Dr Obiora Okonkwo; Sen. Victor Umeh; former Minister of Culture, Chief Frank Ogbuewu; Igwe Lawrence Agubuzo; Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo; Archbishop Christopher Ede of Methodist Church; and Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma, who was represented by Ven. Emeka Ezeji.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Smart Adeyemi, heads of security agencies and aviation stakeholders were also attendance.
It was praises galore for President Muhammadu Buhari and the Southeast state governments as the Eastern gateway was finally re-opened to flight operations after closure since August 24, last year.
Speakers after speakers eulogized the commitments of the federal and state governments, especially the president, Minister of Aviation and Governor Ugwuanyi to the realization of the project.
But the event had barely taken off when pictures and videos of the various facilities indicating the actual position of things began to go viral on the social media.
From the exterior look of the airport, beginning from the entrance gate; to the excavations on the parking lot, the scaffolds on the domestic terminal building and other uncompleted sections; it became manifest that the airport was still work in progress.
Even the Aviation Minister alluded to that when he said that those things that were yet to be completed would be done before end of the year. He also disclosed that he had a day earlier, released N1 billion for continuation of work at the international terminal of the airport just as he said that with the completion of the runway that construction work on the cargo terminal would commence without delay.
Also, former Deputy Senate President who spoke on behalf of National Assembly members from the zone thanked the president and the minister for realizing the project at the scheduled time.
He, however, urged the minister to ensure the completion of the international wing’s terminal and other accessories needing attention at the airport.
Sunday Sun followed the outrage that trailed the viral photographs and videos that emanated from the airport to the point that some Igbo groups that had congratulated the president for the project even considered withdrawing their earlier praises.
Civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), was among those who carpeted the president “for deceiving the people of the Southeast by going ahead to commission the Akanu Ibiam International Airport which renovation works have not even reached significant proportion or percentage”.
HURIWA also dismissed as sycophantic rhetoric, the praises heaped on the president by some “political nitwits” of Southeast over the commissioning exercise which was “a ruse to deceive the gullible people to believe that the Federal Government is up and doing with delivering the needed infrastructure that will enable economic growth to take place.”
The rights group said while conceding that the renovations of the only international airport serving Nigeria’s most travelled population is a good thing, it wondered why people had to praise the president as if he personally bankrolled the project.
“Far from it, the services and projects delivered by political office holders are done from the resources of the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“We are disappointed that the airport was shut down for over a year for renovation and was supposed to have been completed since April, but the Federal Government failed to keep to their words and even when the reopening was deferred, it has still emerged that the strategic components that should make it standardized are yet to be installed.
“Yet, over 60 million South Easterners were deceived into believing that the government at the centre has completed the renovations for which a paltry N10 billion was approved whereas the National Assembly said the same government has spent N60 billion to renovate the fence at the University of Maiduguri in Borno State,” the rights group noted.
A statement in Abuja by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, wondered why “it took the same government less than two months to renovate the Abuja International Airport, build a brand new road to Kaduna Airport, and renovated Kaduna Airport to take flights coming to land in Abuja, but the Akanu Ibiam International Airport was shut for over a year, and almost all of the strategic components to enhance safety and standardised services at the airport are yet to be installed, and yet Nigerians of Igbo extraction are made to venerate the president as if the Southeast of Nigeria is not part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Regardless, the South East Governors’ Forum (SEGF) has said that there was no cause for alarm. The Forum had met with the Minister Aviation on August 31, 2019 and reviewed modalities for setting up platforms for making sure that the runway and the associated works were executed, in line with international best standards and that the project was adequately funded.
And in order to ensure international best standards in the execution of the strategic project, SEGF constituted Akanu Ibiam International Airport Rehabilitation/Palliative Works Committee, headed by Chris Okoye, a civil engineer. The committee last Friday, addressed the press in Enugu and presented a detailed situation report on the airport.
The Federal Government provided a special fund of N10 billion for the project and it commenced on November 4, 2019, with mobilization of equipment and personnel to site. Construction work commenced on November 17, 2019 after the installation of necessary equipment on site. The runway is 3km long, 45m wide with 7.5m shoulder on either side, also with orientation of 08/26.
Sunday Sun gathered work on the runway has been 100 per cent completed, including regulatory layer with fiberglass; concrete turn pad, binder course, wearing course, taxiway links with wearing course and runway/taxiway/Apron pre-markings/markings.
However, it was gathered that a very important component, which is the airfield lightening, is not yet completed.
But Okoye said that the airfield lighting was 35 per cent completed while the runway shoulders have reached 85 per cent completion.
Other sections include the crash roads with five per cent job done and no completion date stated; dredging/desilting of drainage on 70 per cent completion.
According to the South East Governors’ Forum committee, the terminal building which work is expected to be completed on September 20, 2020; has reached 35 per cent completion, while the entrance toll gate started on July 20, 2020 was 75 per cent completed.
The group put the drainage work at 72 per cent; the aviation clinic at 52 per cent, perimeter fence (50 per cent), perimeter road (40 per cent), sewage treatment plant (35 per cent); water treatment plant (10 per cent), administration block (10 per cent) while nothing has been done about the fire watch tower as Okeye said they were waiting for inputs from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
According the committee, the actual reason the airport was shut was because of safety and security issues associated with the runway. That being the case, Okoye insisted that the first phase of the project comprising the rehabilitation of the runway; the airfield lighting; the runway markings and minor associated works with the runway were almost completed.
Most of the sections yet to be completed, they said, comprised the second phase, which would not stop the operation of the airport.
Regarding airfield lighting, he said that the following equipment will be installed from September 7: “Runway Centre Line Lights (4 weeks), Touch Down Zone Lights (4 weeks); CAT I Approach on RWY 08 – 4 weeks after area is secured (Fence); CAT II Approach on RWY 26 – 6 weeks after area is secured (Fence), Signage (November 2020) and Stop Bars (4 weeks)”.
He added that once the above was completed, it will allow night operations at a visibility not less than 800 meters on RWY 08 and landings on RWY 26 at a RVR not less than 350 meters; that is assuming the Instrument Landing System is operational.
There are other projects being handled by NAMA in upgrading the navigational facilities, including installation of new satellite communication (VSAT), which facilitates the availability of RCAG (Remote Control Air to Ground), ATS/DS (Air traffic Services Direct Speech – Airport to Airport hotline communication via satellite), AFTN (Data exchanges between Akanu Ibiam and other airports around the world via satellite).
Also, Sunday Sun gathered that the Enugu State government, aside other supports, recently awarded a contract of N210 million for total refurbishment of the toilet facilities at the airport.
While the argument whether or not the airport has been completed before commissioning raged, Sunday Sun learnt that commercial flight operations would commence there tomorrow.
A notice to airmen (NOTAM) released by NAMA on September 4, said that flights could operate from 6:00a.m to 7:00p.m.
According to a communication obtained based on the notice airmen: “Monday operations is approved from 0000 hrs. Also for now, operational hour of this aerodrome is 0600(7:00a.m) to 1800(7:00p.m).
“This will, of course, change when FAAN does the certification of the airfield lighting from Sunday, 6th September, 2020.”
Meanwhile, a new airline; United Nigeria Airline has said that it would soon commence operation as normal flight operations resume at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport.
Chairman of the airline, Dr Obiora Okonkwo who disclosed this at the airport reopening ceremony stated that Enugu would be the base of the airline hence the closure of the airport affected its commencement while expressing joy at the reopening after months of repairs.
Also, the Ibom Air, owned by the Akwa Ibom State government, yesterday, indicated its readiness to fly the Enugu route.
A statement from the airline said: “We are glad to announce that from September 14, 2020, Ibom Air will be flying to Enugu from Lagos and Abuja daily. Akanu Ibiam International Airport, here we come!”