How does it feel when a dream that has lingered for three decades SUDDENLY comes true? What silent melody plays in your heart when a prayer you once considered impossible SUDDENLY finds fulfillment?
The answers to these questions were fully dramatised on Friday, April 30, 2021, when the first airplane to ever land in Anambra soil since the creation of the state, touched down in the all-new Anambra International Cargo/Passenger Airport, Umueri, at 2.24pm. It was a Boeing 737 with registration number N5-BUJ belonging to Air Peace airlines. The atmosphere was electric. Time stood still. The Master of Ceremonies announced the sighting of the plane in the skies of Umueri. The crowd drew a long breath, waiting to exhale when the plane touched down. All singing and dancing came to an abrupt end. There was no need for songs. People had enough music in their souls. The touchdown was smooth. Like the drop of a feather. Suddenly, the sun had risen on Anambra! A 30 year-old dream had come true! The crowd erupted in frenzy, ecstasy and joy. The feeling was delirious! Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, has built a stage. Air Peace chairman, Allen Onyema, has mounted it in grand style! Two Anambra sons have made Ndigbo proud in one historic day! Well, there is a third. A young female pilot, Nwando Okpalaeke, who landed the second aircraft in the airport.
Oh well, it had always been a cruel irony that a state that pioneered the organised transport business in Nigeria, whose illustrious sons had run profitable airlines like Sosoliso, Air Peace and now United Nigeria Airlines and the upcoming Havila Air, had no airport of its own. Add that to Anambra’s position as the melting pot of commerce in southeast Nigeria, with 62 bustling markets strewn across its length and breadth, the largest retail market in Nigeria at Onitsha, a promising industrial belt with a leading indigenous auto manufacturer in Nnewi and a thriving mechanised-agriculture sector and it would be clear why arguments against the airport are empty, ignorant and annoying.
Indeed, Anambra has been on the rise in recent times. Through darkness and doubts, the state has continued to lift one crucial foot after the other, up the rungs of progress. For instance, between 2010 and 2020, poverty rate in Anambra State dropped from 53 per cent to 14.8 per cent. Similarly, the National Bureau of Statistics reports that Anambra recorded the lowest unemployment rate in Nigeria in 2020 at 13.1 per cent when the national average was 27 per cent. Anambra is rated among the top three literate states in Nigeria with a per capita income of $1,615. Under the Obiano administration, Anambra has leaped over its perennial challenge of crime and insecurity to attract an impressive $10 million in foreign investments in 2020. Similarly, under Obiano, Anambra was one of the few states that rejected the bailout from the Federal Government to cushion the effects of the last recession. In fact, while Nigeria recorded a deficit in its economic growth, Anambra recorded a growth of 1 per cent during the 2015 recession. And while other states piled up arrears of salaries due to the recession, Anambra increased workers’ salaries by 16 per cent. Other fundamentals, like education, are not left out. In fact, under Obiano, Anambra schoolgirls won the gold medal at the World Technovation Fair in San Francisco, USA. To confirm that there was more to come where the Golden Girls emerged from, Anambra schoolboys won the bronze medal at a World Technology Festival in Tunisia the year after. This is the economy that has just birthed what has been largely rated as one of the best international airports in sub-Saharan Africa. This background should impress us all!
Now, aviation experts agree that the viability of the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport is almost certain. Anambra is home to the most mobile sub-group of Nigeria’s three major ethnic nationalities. Governor Obiano emphasised this when he observed in his speech at the demonstration/testing flight that “our people crisscross the globe in search of a better life,” and declared “this airport is, therefore, a timely bridge between Anambra and the world.”
Obiano also expressed hopes that “in the shortest possible time, the Anambra International Passenger and Cargo Airport shall become one of the busiest airports in Nigeria.” Well, let’s wait for that!
Since the successful testing/demonstration flight into the airport on April 30, 2021, public affairs commentators have continued to analyse it from different points of view. Some people have looked at the speedy construction of the airport in a mere 15 months at a time when the world was partially locked down by COVID-19. The director-general of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, Captain Musa Nuhu, and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, Smart Adeyemi, have both evaluated the airport in terms of its facilities and strict compliance with global standards in modern aviation. However, Obiano, who has spent seven years of his tenure searching for the big idea that would open the spaces for greatness for his people, saw the airport from a purely economic point of view. For him, after years of straightening up the security challenges of the state and stimulating productivity in the sub-national economy, the missing link was a figurative bridge that would link Anambra to the world. In the light of this, Governor Obiano remarked at the airport ceremony that “with this facility, we have made the journey easier for any investor who wants to prospect Anambra State for business!”
Now, the specifics: in practical terms, the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport has been variously described as one of the best airports in sub-Saharan Africa. It has a CAT 2 runway that measures 3.7km long and 60m wide. It was designed to land aircraft from either side of the approaches with a ground lighting system of 270mm. The runway is connected to the apron by two taxiways, which measure 35m wide with shoulders. The taxiways lead directly to the apron, which covers 300m x 200m x 560m of reinforced concrete that can comfortably accommodate six aircraft at once. The terminal building was designed to accommodate 400 persons. It has 36 shops, two mezzanine floors, three lifts and three elevators and a ramp to facilitate the movement of physically challenged travellers. The control tower stands 34.5m tall. It was designed to resist fire. It is equipped with both a staircase and a lift. The airport has the most sophisticated firefighting machines known in the aviation industry. The car park can accommodate 700 vehicles. This is the Anambra Airport!
Already, the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport has set so many records. As one of the fastest construction of a major project ever done in Nigeria, the airport is a case study in modern project management. This airport brought to the fore Governor Obiano’s competence as a passionate taskmaster and goal-oriented technocrat. To ensure the timely delivery of the airport, Governor Obiano assembled nine different construction companies at the project site and tied them to a specific delivery date. He ensured their mobilisation and regular payment once certificates were generated, he established and kept a routine of weekly visits to the site and sustained it all through the construction period. This kept the workers on their toes. He also brought his interpersonal skills to bear directly on the workers to the point of knowing the names of the least of the labourers on the site. He would occasionally call them by their names to ask about their health or what was delaying the delivery of a particular item. His humane touch made all the difference. This deserves a close attention!
There can be no gainsaying the enormity of what Governor Obiano has achieved with the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport. For not only has he set a record in project management in Nigeria and much of the developing world, Obiano has also demystified the cloak of abandoned projects in Nigeria. He has demonstrated that any leader who sets out to build a monument can do so within the shortest possible time. For as he observed in his address to receive the first flight into Anambra State, “This airport is proof that no army, no matter how fortified, can stand the force of an idea! A great idea may rest for a while, but it will come to reality when its time is due!”
•Eze, poet laureate, speech writer, PR specialist and journalist, is the chief press secretary to the Governor of Anambra State