Magnus Eze, Enugu
There is palpable fear over the future of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu as the Federal Government, Friday, said it would not hesitate to close down the international wing of the airport because of certain observed impediments to the operation of the facility.
Minister of State Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika who dropped the bombshell at an aviation function in Lagos said that the location of the Orie Emene Market, an abattoir, broadcast mast of the State Broadcasting Service and the ENPOWER Free Trade Zone posed security and safety threat to international flight operations.
However, following the safety concerns raised by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) on potential air hazards in and around the airport, the Enugu State Executive Council responded by ordering the immediate closure of Orie Emene Market near the airport, closure of the abbatoir and removal of all illegal structures close to the runway, as well as the mast of the state broadcasting service.
Regardless of this prompt state government action, it was not clear on what would happen to the free trade zone, which is an agreement between the Federal Ministries of Aviation, as well as Trade and Investments on one hand and Enpower.
For the operators of the free trade zone, they have complied with all the regulatory conditions regarding safety as stipulated by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Agency (NCAA) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
General Manager, Business Development and Logistics of Enpower Free Trade Management Company, Uche Maduemesi said that the Enugu Free Zone is compliant to NCAA/ICAO Annex 14 regulations for Aerodrome Safety and Height restrictions.
Sunday Sun gathered that the Enugu Free Trade Zone was approved by the Federal Government in 2015 and the registration and operating license issued by Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA) to operate as a free trade zone following a rigorous evaluation process spanning over seven years.
The zone is situated on two sites at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport and at the Ninth Mile Area.
Maduemesi explained that while recognising the importance of aviation safety and international compliance and the proximity of the Free zone, Enpower FTZ engaged the regulatory authorities under the Ministry of Aviation to ensure compliance to international aviation regulations.
Sunday Sun investigation revealed that the people of the Southeast are reading ethnic meaning to the insistence of the Minister of Aviation that the free trade zone was an impediment to the expansion of the runway in the face of commendations that had trailed the free trade zone initiative.
An aviation personnel at the airport who would not want his name mentioned said that Enugu was not the only place there is market as the airport is approached by air.
According to him, the Agege market and building around Ajao Estate in Lagos had not led to the closure of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos.
It was reported that the Commercial Attaché to the US Embassy in Lagos, Brent Omdahl and his team who visited the site of the Free zone in 2017 lauded the efforts of the State and Federal Governments in approving it and gave support to attract US companies to invest in the zone.
It was also gathered that the Managing Director of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), Ms Yewande Sadiku during her visit had also praised the efforts of the investors to develop industrial activity and assured EFTZ of the support of her agency to attract investors to the zone.
There were also reports yesterday that the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Sirika expressed satisfaction on the prompt action taken by the Enugu State government after her warning in a bid to improve safety at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport.
“We are happy to see that the Enugu State government has seen reason with the ministry to address safety concerns raised.
“We are appreciative that in the name of safety, Enugu State Executive Council approved the immediate closure of Orie Emene Market (abattoir inclusive) to forestall any tragedy at the airport.
“We are also happy that the Council also ordered immediate removal of all illegal structures encroaching on the land of the airport, radio mast of the state broadcasting service, and Free Trade Zone.”