Michael Ike Udah
The Anambra State Airport project has a long history. Governor Willie Obiano, FCA, launched the Umueri Cargo Airport project on 11 April, 2017. Anambra Airport City Infrastructure Limited, the company overseeing the project allocated a 75 per cent equity stake to Elite International Investments; 20 per cent to Orient Petroleum Resources Limited and five per cent to the State Government.
The nearest airport to Anambra State which is Asaba (ABB) Airport is 31.7km away. Other nearby airports include Owerri (DOW) (92.1) km; plt 134.7km and Warri (QRW) 143km. On 27 September 2019 under her 2020 Budget, N66m was proposed for the construction of an Anambra Cargo Airport in Umueri.
Initially, a Chinese company, Sinoking International was to build it at no cost to the State through a Build-Operate-Manage and Transfer (BOMT) basis.
The importance of air travel particularly in a business-oriented Anambra State cannot be assailed. Air travel is quicker and safer, among several other benefits. So, it was a wise decision when the Obiano administration thought it expedient to build an Airport for the State which fitting sobriquet is Light of the Nation.
The State of Late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the foremost nationalist and first President of Nigeria; the home of Mathematician of note who solved all calculations at a time the computer had not been manufactured, Prof. Chike Obi; the State which produced the best African story-teller, Prof Chinua Achebe; the state which is home to Philip Emeagbali, Prof Dora Akunyili; the foremost indigenous Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof Kenneth Dike, the pioneer Historian of historians, the business guru Sir Philip Odumegwu-Ojukwu who founded the Nigerian Stock Exchange and loaned his car to Nigeria to convey the Queen of England when she visited our country, should of necessity have an airport, the more so when her people, the Igbos are a most-travelled bunch, found in all nooks and crannies of the globe.
There is a popular belief that anywhere you do not find an Igboman should be rightly characterized as un-inhabitable. This view is as tenable today as it was since Noah was a sailor! The journey towards building the Anambra Airport has been as treacherous, tumultuous as it has been exciting. It started at Oba, Idemili South Local Council Area. It moved to Umueri in 2017, three years into Sir Willie Obiano Administration. Ecological and other technical factors necessitated the relocation to Umueri, a stable, expansive land as opposed to the erosion- devastated Oba area.
Initially, there was a feeling of “let’s wait and see “how” Saul would become one of the prophets” Not a few persons had dismissed the sincerity and commitment of Governor Willie Obiano in siting the Anambra Airport in Umueri of all places! There was a rumour that the Aguleri-born first citizen of Anambra State simply wanted to further deplete Umueri land and deceive the people whose land case with Aguleri is not only notorious and proverbial, but also one of the longest (if not the longest) in the whole of Africa!
The talk in town at that time was two-fold-the Government’s perspective and the perception or misperception of some people.
Anambra State Government said it was a Private Public Partnership (PPP) project which a Chinese company, Sinoking International would execute without a dime from her (government) coffers. This was in the wake of the second term election of Governor Obiano.
The media were agog with stories of a spectacular airport in the making-one which would indeed be an airport city with hitherto unfathomable features, functions and services. Anambra State Government had claimed that the project was designed to host a five-star hotel as well as an Aviation Fuel Dump where aircrafts across Nigeria could come for refueling and maintenance. At that time, the project was expected to be completed in April 2020 at a cost of $2 billion.
However, some indigenes of Umueri advised caution, arguing that “all that glitters” may not be gold! They held that it was a pyrrhic gift to get Umueri to vote Akpokuodike Aguleri into office a second time.
Beyond the media hype, came a lull. The Earth road leading to the humongous airport site was cleared. That was it: the diminutive Chinese lads were nowhere to be seen anymore. There was neither life nor building on the site. There was trepidation, vindication of the doubling Thomases and disillusionment on many fronts, particularly from Umueri citizens.
But suddenly and recently, the Igbo adage- Ebunu na azu, o bia ogu (it takes a retreat or backward movement of the ram for it to launch an attack) seemed to have played out. The Anambra Airport project rebounded, in fact, rebounced. Glory be to God!
As an Umueri man, this writer can proudly say that His Excellency, Chief Dr. Sir Willie Obiano, FCA, has proved doubting Thomases wrong. As one writes, the site of this project has turned into one massive construction arena akin to what one beheld during the early days of the relocation of Nigeria’s Federal capital from Lagos to Abuja.
Seven contractors of note-Craneburg, China railway, IDC, Niger Cat and KANUBEEN (two more have joined them) have been working simultaneously 24/7 since November 15, 2019. The Anambra Airport is becoming a reality.
Speaking at the recent meeting of the Anambra State Council of Elders, Obiano assured that the Airport will be ready for operations in 15 months’ time.
This indeed is cheering news. Time, that fundamental factor in the affairs of men/women, will determine whether the governor will go down in history as one who keeps his words or not. Let us keep our fingers crossed and our legs entwined even as there is this feeling that come rain, hail, sleet or shine, His Excellency seems ready to prove that he is a man of destiny.
Udah is the Director, Media and Communication of South East Governors’ Forum Secretariat, Enugu