From Obinna Odogwu, Awka
Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano, had in 2017 kicked off construction work at Anambra International Cargo Airport in Umueri community in Anambra East Local Government Area of the state.
He said that this signature project of his administration would not cost the state a dime as a Chinese company, Sinoking International, would fund it on the basis of build-operate-manage-transfer.
But more than two years of inactivity at the project site had set tongues wagging; many residents were already tongue-lashing the state government, saying that it had failed. Some said that it was a sort of scam designed to siphon public funds.
To others, it was a pipe dream; another white elephant that would not see the light of day; in fact, a ploy to divert attention from the perceived underperformance of the governor.
While to some others, especially government officials and leaders of the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the project would not only be executed but done with all the seriousness it deserved.
In what appeared as a move to redeem his image, the governor approached the State House of Assembly with a budget proposal of N6 billion to enable him commence the execution of the project. The money was captured in the 2020 budget. But rather than get grilled, the Assembly, populated by members from the governor’s party, APGA, approved the budgeted sum for their ‘principal.’
That U-turn by the governor sparked public outcry, with many residents of the state demanding that the project be suspended and the N6 billion used to construct new roads and reconstruct dilapidated ones. They argued that it would benefit the greater population of the people.
Clarifying why the government made the U-turn, Commissioner for Works, Marcel Ifejiofor, at a press conference in Awka, told journalists that the state government put the N6 billion in the then proposed 2020 budget because the Chinese company was wasting time.
He said the governor was a man of his word and, therefore, needed to start doing something about the project, since he had already promised the people an airport.
Ifejiofor said: “The governor is a man of his word, and since he had already promised the people a cargo airport, he did not want to go back on his word. So, he budgeted N6 billion for the project in the 2020 budget.
“There is a foreign partner, and they are sorting out their funding. As we wait for them, the government will be doing something, and when they eventually come, they will balance us our money.
“That airport is real. We have done the expression of interest, and it is now in the tending service and, before Christmas, the contractors will mobilize to site.
“What we are doing is not just an airport but international cargo airport because our people are predominantly business people and there was a feasibility study before that license was approved.”
The governor had, while flagging off the project in 2017, said that there would be an airport city around the area, which would also host a five-star hotel, a hangar and aviation fuel dump, where aircraft across Nigeria could come for refuelling.
Obiano equally said the project was expected to be completed in 36 months, which would be in April 2020 and would gulp an estimated $2 billion. On November 26, 2019, the governor told Ndi Anambra that the construction work would be completed in less than 18 months from then. That assurance came about four years after the project was launched.
Obiano spoke during the third edition of the Anambra Business and Investment Roundtable held at the Governor’s Lodge, Amawbia, in Awka South LGA. He assured the audience that he would do everything possible to complete the project.
At last, work begins, stuns visitors
The construction work finally commenced in January 2020, about three years after kick-off. The governor, while conducting members of the National Assembly committees on aviation around the project site recently, confirmed that work started in the first week of January.
At the moment, verifiable facts on the ground have laid all the previous arguments and doubts to rest. The project is not only real but work is seriously ongoing. As at March 26, the completion rate of the project had grown tall. To show the world that he had kept his word, Obiano invited some Federal Government officials and lawmakers to assess the level of work on the new airport.
First to be conducted around the project site were officials of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), led by the director-general and CEO, Captain Nuhu Musa.
Musa, while inspecting the facilities, reportedly described the cargo/passenger airport as one of the best airports in Nigeria. He was quoted as saying that he was impressed with the elaborate, carefully planned and masterfully executed jobs at the new airport.
“I am amazed, almost speechless, at the level of work and the level of compliance with our regulatory requirements and also with international standards and recommended practices,” he said.
The NCAA boss said that his tour of the airport facilities had given him a clear view of what the Obiano’s administration had achieved with the project, even as he commended the governor for his determination.
Musa said: “We have gone round the airport. We have a runway of 3.7 kilometres with a runway safety area on both ends of the airport of about 1,000 metres. There’s no airport in Nigeria that has a racer area of 1,000 metres at both ends of the runway.
“It has two taxiways. We have gone to the tower; the control tower is amazing, certainly, if not one of the best control towers in Nigeria today. It will allow big planes and international flights to be landing and taking off here once flight resumes.”
Continuing, he said: “We have seen the fire service station. It’s amazing. It’s going to be a CAT 955 firefighting station. We have also seen the water treatment plant. It takes care of the needs 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 arrangement to deal with any eventuality. I have seen the operational fence, I have seen the perimeter 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.”
Musa further emphasised that everything about the airport was perfect, pointing out that the consultants to the state government on the project had done a great job.
“It is obvious that, when this airport is completed, it is going to be a significant enabler of the economy and growth of this area, the state and the surrounding states here. So, at this point, I congratulate the governor for this legacy project,” he concluded.
The following day, National Assembly Committee on Aviation as well as some APGA stakeholders and top government officials were conducted around the new airport.
Ifejiofor, while giving details about the project, said the terminal building was designed for 400 passengers at a time, racer, control tower, apron; water area for fire service, trauma centre, taxiways and a car park that could accommodate 750 cars.
“Anywhere you are in any part of the world and you say that you are going to 06024, this is the place, Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport. Where we are standing now is the 06, the other end is the 024.
“The width of this runway is 60 metres: 45 metres of carriageway and 15 metres of shoulders. Because it is 60 metres, the category of this airport is Category 4F.
“The 4F means that it can take any plane. Because of the category of this airport, the category of the fire service given to us is Category 9 because of the big planes that will be coming here.
“The orientation of this airport is such that you can land from either side of the airport. You can land from 06; you can land from 024. This airport will be equipped with CAT 2 light. About 90 per cent of the airports in the whole world use CAT 2 light. It means that you can land at the worst of weather. But, secondly, this airport is equipped with a satellite system that, when the CAT 2 fails, the plane can land with the satellite in this airport.
“We have a racer of one kilometre. Racer is the safe zone. We have it on both sides of the runway; one kilometre this way and one kilometre that way. The beginning of CAT2 light is one kilometre from where we are standing now.
“This runway is ready. Once we do the finishing test we are ready to go and we’ll do the marking. Beneath this asphalt you’re seeing, we have laid our piping for CAT 2 light.
“These piping are done with coordinates. So, once the lighting is here, we use the coordinates to pick them and we fix the lights; and the runway is 100 per cent completed.
“The terminal building has 36 shops. It is equipped with three lifts, three escalators and a ramp for the disabled. The roof you’re looking at is doubly done.
“We put the first roof, put the lagging material, a wool and put the final one because there won’t be a ceiling here. So, that should reduce the heat that will be coming down.
“This building is done with steel. Everything here is steel except a few blocks you can see and the fabrication is done locally because, during the COVID-19, His Excellency directed that we are not going to import anything because of the logistics. So, all the fabrications you see here are all done in Aba, Abia State.
“In this arrival hall, the conveyor belts where you pick your luggage are here. And all the security gadgets that will be here have been paid for. On this ramp, we equally have an elevator; 560mm is the thickness of the apron. It was doubly reinforced with 16mm rods. And we have some manholes so that, in case it rains, we want to make sure that there is no water on top of the way.
“In as much as we sloped it to the drain in front of the terminal building, we put these manholes that will pick the pockets of water that may remain so that, once it rains, there will be no water here,” Ifejiofor explained.
Daily Sun gathered that Obiano hired seven supervisors and consultants to ensure that the state got the best possible. He said the airport has the longest runway in Africa.
“Because of the racer, a racer is this extra 1km here and the extra 1km there. The length of this whole runway is 5.7km. This is the longest runway in Africa certified by the NCAA. Lagos has only one racer.
“This airport has two racers on both sides. Again, you can land from either side of the runway. You can land from the other way; you can land from this way. That’s the advantage of this runway.
“The pipes have been laid. They know the coordinates. So, as soon as the light comes in another eight days or thereabouts, they will start fixing the lights; that is, the CAT 2 light.
“There is no airport in Nigeria that has a satellite landing system. This is the only airport in Nigeria that has it. You can confirm that from the NCAA. They will tell you that. And we did it deliberately.
“This airport will be the busiest in Africa, purely because of the orientation of our people, mostly traders. We travel a lot and what have you.
“In five days’ time maximum, we would have finished everything about this runway. Just five days. A month and half ago, we finished everything about the two taxiways.
“The apron where the plane finally arrives, we finished it over a month ago. So, everything about this runway will be completed in five days. The two taxiways, completed already. Apron completed.
“This airport will be functional in a month’s time. We started it in January 2020. So, we worked all through COVID, day and night. And that’s why we are able to achieve all this.
“This airport will be finished next month and we are working day and night to ensure that that is accomplished.
“Since I started building this airport, anytime I get to any airport in the world, I try to see what they have that I can copy. The lifespan for this control tower is 300 years.”
Chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives’ Committees on Aviation, Smart Adeyemi and Nnolim Nnaji, respectively, commended Obiano saying that they were impressed with the work done so far.
Adeyemi said the governor had taken the right action, as aviation was key to the socioeconomic development of any political entity.
“I can see, by all considerations, that this is one of the best airports that we have. There is no doubt about it. I have had the privilege to some extent, just like you, to have travelled to quite a number of countries.
“And I can tell you that I have seen quite a number of runways and I’m not in doubt that apart from the length of this runway, I can see the purity of the materials. I can see the mixture of the asphalt. I can see the mixture of the cements that were used; I can see the height of the tower, and others.
“To me, what you have just done is beyond helping Anambra State economically. You’re not only helping Anambra and the South-East in general but also helping Nigeria as a whole.
“To me, you’re doing just the right thing for our people and our nation. The people of the South-East are highly endowed people, highly enterprising people. You’re a people with a highly promising future with what I have seen here in Anambra State.
“In Nigeria, most of our airports are not viable but they’re essential. For a commercial airport to be viable, you should be talking about not less than 5,000 passengers every year passing through or coming into that airport.
“There are airports in Nigeria with less than 5,000 passengers per annum. And they are airports. Today, Lagos Airport constitutes about 65 per cent of the revenue of aviation.
“But I can see that next to Lagos is this place we are standing, Anambra Airport. This is because you’re providing the platform for this region to accelerate its God-given potential. The people here are naturally endowed with a lot of gifts that need to be taken outside our shores”, Adeyemi said.
On their part, Senators Uche Ekwunife and Ifeanyi Ubah, who represent Anambra Central and South, respectively, and also the traditional ruler of Alor community, Igwe MacAnthony Okonkwo, commended Obiano highly.
Ekwunife said, irrespective of their political differences, the governor deserved their commendation for his good works on the airport.
“Irrespective of our political affiliations, when you see 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’m truly very proud of this project.
“And I believe that this is a very viable project and a legacy project. So, I commend you and your government,” Ekwunife said.