By James Eze
Standing on the 10th floor of the control tower of the Anambra International Airport, Umueri, I felt a tremor ripple through me. Six months earlier, the spot where the tower stands was a wrinkled patch of earth. Now upon it stands a towering monument to the resilience of a proud and enterprising people. It suddenly dawned on me that, sometimes, the thin line between dream and reality is fear…fear of failure, fear of uncertainty, fear of being caught on the wrong side of history. And beyond this overcast of fear, success waits in silvery brightness.
It is heartwarming to think that Governor Willie Obiano did not give in to fear, that he kept his eyes on the prize and, on account of that, a monument is sprouting out of the soil of Umueri today in his name. In fact, if Obiano had given in to fear, the airport project would have assumed all the attributes of a malaria dream: indistinct, unrealistic and, finally, vaporous. But, today, Anambra International Airport has moved from rumour to reality.
In clearer terms, Willie Obiano has completed one of the most modern airports in Africa. At 3.7 kilometres long and 60 metres wide, the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport, Umueri, has the second-longest runway in Nigeria, next to only Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos. But since it was designed and built to enable landing from either side, the runway has a slight edge over Lagos. It is a CAT 2 type of runway with a ground lighting of 270mm.
The airport terminal is designed to accommodate 400 persons. It has three floors fitted with escalators and lifts for smooth and easy movement. It was designed with the possibilities of a future expansion in mind. The apron measures 300 x 200m x 560mm of reinforced concrete that can take six sizeable aircraft at once. The apron is serviced by two standard taxiways that measure 35m wide with shoulders. It also has three ultramodern firefighting trucks and three 6 x 6 crash-tender with 770hp. The car park can comfortably take 400 cars. The outstanding thing about the airport is that it will be equipped with an instrument landing system (ILS), which will guarantee safe landing for airplanes at night. Impressive!
The most interesting thing to note about this airport is that work began on the site in January 2020 but the world soon slid into a dark tunnel when COVID-19 struck. Doubts rose over it like the pungent smell of a cheap Arabian perfume as folks wondered how the dream would survive the global shutdown. But it did. Work went on at the site, day and night, all through the shutdown and the recrudescence of the pandemic early this year.
When the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo paid him an unsolicited visit, Governor Willie Obiano decided to take them to the airport construction site to acquaint them with the progress of work. Led by Prof. George Obiozor, members of the apex Igbo socio-political body were thoroughly impressed with what they saw. Speaking his mind about the airport, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, the owner of the defunct Oriental Airlines, said: “I have been hearing about the airport; but there is a difference between what you hear and what you see. Today, I have seen the airport and I am impressed. As most of you know, I am an engineer. I specialized in highway and hydraulics. I built the Enugu Airport as a very young engineer. I want to say that what Governor Obiano is building here is not for Anambra State but for the entire South-East. This is very important.”
Chief Iwuanyanwu should know. After all, he was also deeply involved in the building of the Owerri Airport.
Director-general and chief executive officer of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Captain Musa Nuhu, described the airport as one of the best in Nigeria. Nuhu, who was the Nigerian representative in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) council before his current appointment, said on his visit that its impressive array of facilities had left him amazed and speechless.
His words: “We have seen the fire service station. Amazing! It’s going to be a CAT 955 firefighting station, which will allow big planes and international flights to be landing and taking off here once flight resumes.”
According to him, “The water treatment plant is amazing. It takes care of the need of not only the airport but also of the firefighting service. We have seen the emergency evacuation centre, trauma centre, in case, God forbid, anything happens. There’s an arrangement to deal with any eventuality. I have seen the operational fence. I have seen the perimetre fence, significantly done or almost completed. And in the vehicle earlier today, I had said that ‘Anambra means business.’ And, I mean it when I say Anambra means business.”
The senator representing Anambra Central senatorial zone in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, Chief Mrs. Uche Ekwunife, has also commended the governor on the wave-making airport.
Ekwunife, a key leader of the opposition in Anambra, was bowled over by the splendour of the airport and could not hold back her feelings. Hear her: “Irrespective of political affiliation, when you see a good work you commend it. I want to commend you, my governor; to say that I am proud of this project is an understatement. I am truly very proud of this project.”
The governor and his wife, Chief Mrs. Ebelechukwu Obiano, were at the airport on Saturday, April 17, 2021, on inspection. They were accompanied by members of Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council, who wanted to confirm what they had been hearing in the media.
The runway has been completely marked, which means it is ready. We are set to receive the world. We are opening our arms wide to have people come into Anambra State and explore the possibilities and promises of this great state. If all things go as planned, His Excellency has assured that the first aircraft that will land on this very runway will happen on the 30th of this month (April).
•Eze is chief press secretary to the Anambra State governor