By James Eze
In September 2013, the former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, tendered an apology to Igbo for deporting some of their kith and kin to Onitsha on July 24, 2013. It was an unusual apology, as it came loaded with both, “I am sorry” and “please, get your acts together.”
He did this rather brilliantly by asking Ndigbo some crucial questions. Said he: “Why should people feel compelled to migrate from one place to another? Is there one part of this country that is less endowed, whether in human or natural resource? Is that the problem? Is it the case that, perhaps, some parts are so endowed or not adequately managed?
“Those are the honest debates that we must have. The political storm is gathering and allusions have been made to the issues I address, not only by the chairman, but also by the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. How can development be so difficult in the part of Nigeria that gave us Ike Nwachukwu, Chinua Achebe, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Alex Ekwueme and so on? How can development be so difficult in that part of this country? I think those are the real issues.”
The hall erupted in a predictable frenzy after those remarks. Some felt he had spoken well. But others felt his remarks were a gratuitous insult. Yet, there were many others who accepted the remarks as a wake-up call. This tiny group felt reasonably provoked to rethink the Igbo place in Nigeria.
It is not clear whether the Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, was in the audience when Fashola asked those historic questions, but it would seem that since he assumed office six months after Fashola’s memorable posers, Obiano has been driven by the desire to prove him wrong; to prove that the South East can manage its endowments well and that a robust development is not impossible to the heirs to the greatness of the Great Zik, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Chinua Achebe and Alex Ekwueme!
To anyone who has observed the steady rise of Anambra State in the past three years, there is hardly any month that something inspiring has not happened in Anambra. There’s always some good news about a great new beginning, an ancient fear erased, a fresh burst of energy streaking away in the right direction or simply a symbolic gesture that offers the people a new way to see themselves. Indeed, it’s not totally out of place to say that in the past three years, Anambra State has assumed the allegory of the tiny acorn that took virtually no time at all to make the transition into a mighty oak. The sun seems to have risen on Anambra and it has stepped up to its long envisaged role, as the crown jewel of South Eastern Nigeria.
Interestingly, a fortnight ago, Governor Obiano added a new chapter to Anambra’s growing narrative in excellence when he led a team of Chinese investors to the site of the proposed Anambra Airport City project in Umueri to perform an official flag-off of the project. This memorable event was preceded the previous day by a formal agreement signing ceremony between the state government and Elite International Investment Holding (Sinoking Enterprises Investments Ltd.) at the Government House in Awka.
Short video clips and photographs of the agreement signing had ricocheted on social media and drawn euphoric reactions from Ndi Anambra and Ndigbo across the world. However, if Obiano had felt any uncertainty about building a cargo airport in Anambra State, the flag-off of construction work on the airport erased all doubts about the project. The mammoth crowd of highly elated Ndi Anambra that gathered at the construction site in Umueri that day was a strong indication of the popularity of the initiative.
Reading the mood of the people well, Governor Obiano rode the moment boldly with a speech, entitled: Anambra on the Rise, in which he observed that the state had finally hit the bend in the river “and our famous can-do-spirit has now taken over! From now on, we have nothing to fear! Nothing! Not even ourselves!” While his speech was obviously crafted to awaken the people and mine their renowned capacity to rise to the moment and support an attempt at greatness, the implicit ambition that the Anambra Airport City project carries is beyond debate. In concept and planned operation, the Umueri International Cargo Airport is designed to stand out in West Africa in both grandeur and economic value. It is, for instance, the first Airport City project in all of West Africa; modelled to accommodate a terminus with two runways, an aircraft re-fuelling centre, a five-star hotel with a convention centre, industrial business parks, an aircraft maintenance section, an aviation training facility, a shopping mall and other recreational facilities. The two runways are conceived to land the largest aircraft in the world today. The airport will operate on a geographical space, covering 1,500 hectares of land with enough headroom for expansion into the neighbouring towns of Nando, Umunya, Nteje, Nsugbe, Otuocha and Aguleri.
In economic and financial terms, the Anambra Airport City project stands out as a clear statement of intent by a region that is finally finding its own economic feet. This is one airport that comes as an answer to the vital economic questions of a people. This is because, beyond the validity of Fashola’s remarks that queried the ability of the South East to manage its own affairs, the airport project also seems a timely response to the key questions raised by Prof Chukwuma Soludo at the third anniversary lecture of Governor Obiano in March this year. In a brilliant submission at the lecture, Soludo had tasked the Federal Government to meet its minimum obligations to Ndi Anambra by speedily granting all approvals for the Anambra cargo airport. He had also argued that Anambra is the 4th largest economy after Lagos, Abuja and Rivers State and all of the three economies have international airports. So, the basis for the existence of an international airport in Anambra State has been there long before the recent flag-off at Umueri. As Nigeria’s 4th largest economy, Anambra has the fundamentals to support a viable international airport.
Other economic parameters also lend support to Anambra’s growing economic importance. For instance, the aviation data released by the National Bureau of Statistics indicates that over four million passengers travelled through Nigerian airports last year. Offering more insights with this data to validate the need for an international airport in Anambra State, Igwe Cyril Enweze, who is the Chairman of Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA), observed that more than half of these passengers travelled for business purposes and 70 per cent of them were from the South East. According to him, these business travels were mostly to Asia with Guangzhou, China, accounting for over 70 per cent of the trade volume.
Lending weight to Igwe Enweze’s observation, Soludo had also called on the Chinese Embassy to set up a consular office in Awka or Enugu to strengthen the booming business ties between Anambra and China. “I know the intensity of business relationships between Ndigbo, especially Ndi Anambra and the city of Guangzhou and Shanghai in China. Consequently, an Anambra-Guangzhou-Shanghai Chamber of Commerce will not be out of place,” Soludo had remarked in Obiano’s third anniversary lecture.
Whatever the case might be, one thing that cannot be taken away from the Anambra Airport City project is its conceptual uniqueness. Modelled after the finest traditions of all Build-Operate-Manage-Transfer concepts, this project will not cost Anambra State a dime. So, effectively, it totally eliminates the usual charge of embarking on a white elephant project. Offering a clear insight into the agreement on the airport, the Chairman of Elite Investment Holding Company Ltd., Madam Huang Zhi Hui, said Anambra had no financial obligations to the project. Hear her; “Nigeria’s economic partnership with China would be strengthened by the Anambra Airport City project, which would be funded, designed, constructed and managed by China Aviation Planning, Construction and Development Company Limited, working together with Orient Petroleum Resources Plc, Anambra State government and Elite International Investments Company Limited.” There you have it!
All things considered, with the Anambra Airport City Project, it is a New Day in Anambra State!
• Eze wrote in from Awka. Email: [email protected]