By Ejike Anyaduba
The Anambra Airport City Project has been slammed with so much vigour. Deliberately misconstrued by politicians and publicly lampooned by detractors. Both have seized upon the project to score off the Obiano government. They have queried its cost. They have also dismissed its economic importance.
Is the state not too ambitious in building a $2 billion airport city? Why spend that much when O.R.Tambo International Airport, South Africa, reputed to be one of the most expensive airports on the African continent is not anywhere close? What will the airport do differently? Will it land a phantom aircraft? The questions and snide comments were endless. Most of them designed to impugn the fidelity of the project.
Notwithstanding, the Anambra Airport City is not in anyway fundamentally different from others elsewhere. It is not going to land an unusual aircraft. But it will surely have some facilities that will set it apart as different. It is also going to have an airport city (aerotropolis). It is for reasons of modern facilities and, perhaps, because of its perch on an artificial island that an airport like Kansai, International Airport, Osaka, Japan, stands tall at $20 billion, one of the two most expensive airports in the world. At $20 billion it is ten times the price of the Anambra City Airport.
Airports are designed for a lot of reasons. If designed for skeletal services, as evident in some African countries, it actually spares on cost. Otherwise it is expensive when designed to cater for both passenger and cargo traffic volumes. Quite recently, a lot of African airports, not as elaborately designed, had to undergo expansion in order to accommodate the booming tourism and renewed interest in investment on the continent. An airport is not expected to be cheap if designed to have modern facilities that allow it to play in the big league. The Anambra Airport City project is designed to have such facilities like terminal buildings or cargo sheds, more than a runway (each of which is not less than a mile long) aviation fuel dump, international hotel, maintennance workshop, industrial cum business parks, malls, etc., in addition to an airport city.
It is not very proper for objectors to the project to cavil about the cost when the state does not bear any financial responsibility in it. The project is at zero cost to the state. Her 5% equity contribution is in the area of land provision, building of access roads and creating enabling environment. Of the consortium of three companise, namely Chinese Aviation Company (Sinoking Group), Orient Petroleum Resources and the Anambra State government, only the latter has no major financial commitment to the project. Sinoking is contributing 75%, Orient, 20% while Anambra State government puts in 5%.
It is fairly odd to think that Anambra State government will be so inconsiderate, as to lay some burden of debt on the future of the state. At least, its record of achievements has not supported that. What the government has done was to exploit the advantage of private partnership initiative to build up the state and make it a place the citizens should be proud to call their home. Those who quibble over a non-existent repayment schedule are just fretting over nothing. The airport will operate on the basis of Build, Operate, Manage and Transfer (BOMT). It is, therefore, unnecessary to split hairs on repayment when such was never on the card. The airport city will be sufficient unto itself.
On the part of those who dismiss the airport as being of little economic importance to the state, it is a well-founded opinion that besides generating revenue, it will aggregate jobs for the people. It is estimated that about 1, 200 direct jobs and close to 4, 000 indirect ones will be created. It is a triffle more disdainful to advocate that Asaba, Enugu and or Makurdi Cargo Airport should serve the needs of the state. If ndi Igbo, nay Anambra, contribute a sizeable proportion to the estimated five to six million passenger flow in Nigerian airports anually, it is pertinent for the state to have an airport. Except in a detractor’s mind, the idea to continue patronising the adjoining airports is not fertile. They cannot adequately satisfy the flight needs of ndi Anambra.
As a matter of fact, those who call the airport city project unrealistic are not altogether foresighted. They are not better than Americans of the 1860s, who dismissed the effort of the Secretary of State, William Henry Seward, in the purchase of the State of Alaska from Russia. They promptly nicknamed the purchase Seward Folly or Seward Ice Box. The Seward Folly would later turn out to be the greatest diplomatic achievements of the age. It took the effort of the media for Americans to appreciate what Seward did. Detractors abused and harangued him for purchasing the 49th state of the Union at $7.2 million. They did not see what foresaw and didn’t care a hoot what benefit that was to America. They were all concerned about the cost. Today, as the largest state in the US – though parsely populated – Alaska offers the US a diverse terrain of open spaces, mountains, forests with abundant wildlife, and it is a destination for outdoor activities like skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, etc. Like Americans, who only appreciated Seward with the benefit of hindsight, Obiano’s day of glory is nigh.
• Anyaduba wrote in from Abatete.