Vincent Egechukwu Obetta
In an environment where leadership is famous for delayed response or total lack of response to issues that demand urgent attention, the governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, has shown admirable quickness of thought and speedy reaction to the recent threat to shut down the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
It is impressive that it took Ugwuanyi only a handful of hours to react to the announcement by the Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, that the Akanu Ibiam International Airport would be closed because of what he considered imminent dangers posed to air travellers by the presence of a nearby market, an abattoir, which attracted large birds and exposed airplanes to bird strikes, the location of a free trade zone and the decrepit state of the runway.
Sirika did not mince words when he declared that the only international airport in Igboland would soon be shut down, if the government of Enugu State failed to address the situation with urgency.
Ugwuanyi, who has never been found wanting in moments of distress, did not hesitate to maintain his impressive profile in timely response to emergencies and weighty calls to action. Ugwuanyi swiftly ordered the immediate relocation of the Orie Emene Market, shut down the nearby abattoir and ordered the immediate removal of the broadcasting mast and other illegal structures on the approaches to the airport. His directive was carried out with dispatch, signalling his resolve to ensure that Ndigbo are saved the indignity and inconvenience of the closure of the only international airport in their zone.
Indeed, observers of Ugwuanyi’s four years in office will easily agree that the governor is fully aware of the weight of the responsibility on his shoulders as the governor of Enugu State, which makes him the custodian of the collective sensibilities and pride of Ndigbo. If truth must be told, Enugu is not just another South East state. Enugu is the bastion of Igbo civilisation, the place of refuge of Ndigbo from Igbanke in Edo State to Ikwerre in Rivers State.
The city of Enugu is about the only one where every successful Igbo aspires to live or at worst live out their retirement years. It is naturally sculpted to serve as the aesthetic capital city of a proud people. And, happily, Governor Ugwuanyi has demonstrated enough awareness of what Enugu means to Ndigbo. It is an unspoken belief among Nidgbo that Enugu is one city that must not fail. Therefore, Ugwuanyi’s timely reaction to the threat to shut down the Enugu airport is reassuring in this regard.
Happily too, his response did not fail to elicit immediate response from Sirika, who quickly commended the governor for his swift reaction. In a formal reaction, Sirika said: “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.
“We, however, would be extremely comfortable if compliance with the above directives from the state government are carried out as soon as possible to give us necessary allowance to carry out repairs as well as expansion and extension of the runway. All these will better the lot of the Enugu Airport and improve safety a hundred fold.”
It is crystal clear that Ugwuanyi’s sure-fire approach to issues has once again saved the day for the Enugu Airport and for Ndigbo. It is gratifying to note that, while the bane of the public sector in Nigeria is bureaucracy and lethargic, self-indulgent leadership, Ugwuanyi is pointing the way forward to a hands-on leadership that thinks on its feet.
But even so, the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, carries the weight of history on its own back. Enugu became the capital of the entire Eastern Region in 1938 and swiftly rose to become an important centre for culture, commerce, politics and administrative influence in Igboland. What is today known as the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, began as one of the three aerodromes established by the colonial masters in Enugu, Calabar and Port Harcourt. But it was not until October 22, 1976, that it was commissioned as a full-blown airport. Efforts to upgrade the airport to full international status began in 2009, but it is obvious that the aviation authorities are not in a hurry to conclude this plan, 10 years after. The original plan was to extend its 2,400-metre runway by adding 600 metres to bring it to three kilometres long and to widen it from 45 to 60 meters. It is evident that this is a long time coming.
Be that as it may, it is hoped that the level of seriousness demonstrated by Ugwuanyi in response to the threats of closure or downgrading of the Enugu Airport will serve as the tonic needed by the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to accelerate the pace of work on the airport and bring it to speedy conclusion.
It is a serious source of worry that the authorities could cheekily entertain the thoughts of closing or downgrading the Akunu Ibiam International Airport without first exhausting all channels of dialogue that would have led to a speedy resolution of the issues at stake.
Ugwuanyi’s swift reaction to these threats is, therefore, a mild rebuke and a bold reminder that Ndigbo would not fold their arms and allow every candle in their region flicker out without a fight.
In all honesty, Ugwuanyi deserves commendation for showing sensitivity to this grave issue at the right time.
• Obetta writes from Enugu