From Magnus Eze, Enugu and Solomon Mokwugwo, Nnewi
The biggest news in the South East today is the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport, Umueri. History was made on Friday, April 30, 2021, when at exactly 2:25pm, Air Peace’s 5N-BUJ aircraft, became the first to land at the new airport with Allen Onyeama, chairman of the airline, as the first passenger.
A female pilot, Nwando Phina Okpaleke, from Azia in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, also became the first pilot to land a plane at the airport. At a time when darkness pervades, a streak of light such as the one from Anambra State is refreshing.
The real power of the Anambra example at this time lies not in the airport itself. It lies in the symbolism, the energy and multiplier effects on motivations and economics. Only recently, another son of Anambra, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, launched United Nigeria Airlines.
Governor Willie Obiano said the facility would restore peace, progress, and bring socioeconomic development to the state and the South East. He said though there were insinuations from opposition elements that the vision of having such airport in Anambra would not be realised in a foreseeable future, yet, the reality on ground proved them wrong:
“My greatest desire is to bequeath lasting legacies that will ensure prosperity of Anambra and its people; so that every Anambra citizen in any part of the world would walk tall and be proud of his home.
“With about the longest runway in Nigeria, at 3.7km, and equipped with state-of-the-art facilities such as CAT-3 lighting, a satellite landing system, and eleven-storey control tower and a world-class terminal, the Anambra State International Cargo and Passenger Airport is already described by aviation experts as one of the best in Sub-Sahara Africa.”
He commended Onyema for volunteering his aircraft for the first landing: The project started 15 months ago, and we did not borrow to fund the project.”
Onyeama said he shed tears when he landed at the airport because many did not believe that such a day would come: “Many people condemned me when I talked about the pace of work here. I thank the Federal Government for the approval of this airport and the test land.
“It is the fastest approval that has ever been made, and I believe this is because of the quality of work. This is the first time any plane can do a test land with a big plane.
“We brought a small one and a big one here. My triple seven aircraft went abroad, else I would have brought it to prove a point. This airport can land an Airbus, which is the biggest airplane.”
Two aircraft from the fleet of the Air Peace and a private jet said to belong to the chairman of Afrinvest, Ike Chioke, landed at the airport as part of the inaugural test landing.
Chairman of Ibeto Group, Chief Cletus Ibeto, described the airport as “great vision, which will enhance the ease of doing business; as Anambra and Igbo people are known for commerce.”
Chairman of Dozzy Group, Chief Daniel Chukwudozie, said the new airport would connect the state and Nigeria to the world while facilitating international businesses.
For traditional ruler of Umueri, the host community, Igwe Ben Emeka, the airport was a unifying factor: “It will bring peace in his community, provide jobs, development and prosperity.”
Okwudili Ezenwankwo, Nonso Okafor, Chukwuma Soludo, Akachukwu Nwankpo, Dame Virgy Etiaba, Rommy Ezeonwuka and Paschal Agbodike, all hailed the airport as a legacy project that would place the state on the path of prosperity.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide particularly acknowledged the exceptional vision, determination, extraordinary energy, zeal and dedication with which Obiano pursued the project to its present stage. Its President General, Prof. George Obiozor, and his team visited the site on March 18, 2021.
He described the airport as a monumental project that would change the economic fortunes of Anambra State and the South East zone in general. He noted that from time immemorial, Onitsha had been reckoned as the biggest market in West Africa and that the bold step of Obiano would remain indelible in the hearts of the Igbo for generations yet unborn.
He described as unprecedented, the continuous development in different sectors of the state economy under the Obiano administration. He remarked that the structures at the airport showed government’s commitment to meet international standards.
Obiozor declared that Ohanaeze Ndigbo was very proud of Obiano for this milestone: “He has demonstrated the quintessential Igbo ingenuity, prudent resource management, innovativeness, indomitable can-do spirit and turn around expertise.”
Daily Sun gathered that the construction of the project only generated 3,000 to 3500 jobs. The facility is expected to generate other jobs in areas of ancillary services- airport taxi, catering, security, retail and hospitality.
An indigene of the state and former Managing Director/ Editor in Chief of The Sun Publishing Limited, Tony Onyima, expressed the optimism that the airport would boost investments in real estate and light industries: “Already a number of housing estates have sprang up in Umueri and adjoining communities and value of land has gone up.
“Trust smart Ndigbo businessmen. I will not be surprised that some light industries may spring up around the airport. Export of flowers and vegetables is assured. I am aware of discussions towards this.”
He added that with the expected completion of the 10,000 capacity international conference centre, Anambra is gearing up as a destination for meetings and conferences: “The airport is scalable. In the long term, it will be a hub/aerotroplis as Air Peace plans to make the airport its hub with the building of hangar.”
A commentator said while Anambra Airport is a noteworthy achievement, it cannot be held up as a model for South-East development: “The airport is essentially a grandiose project and doubted its viability considering that there are functional airports across the borders in Enugu and Asaba
“I also don’t see the airport doing much magic regarding Obiano’s legacy, because, projects touching the lives of the masses were better than one or two elitist projects.
Meanwhile, the Ebonyi State Government also plans to deliver a cargo airport by the last quarter of this year.