By Ikeddy ISIGUZO, Chairman, Editorial Board
AT the Lion Building, Enugu, the official quarters of the Governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Iheanacho Chime, was attending to hordes of guests – politicians, government officials and others with sundry interests.
Close to midnight on Monday, he granted Vanguard audience on the prospects that the Akanu Ibiam International Airport that would operate international flights from tomorrow hold for the city, State and the entire South East zone.
In tracing the journey that resulted in the airport, he was generous with credits to several parties.
According to him, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, after whom the airport is named, deserved the honour. “He was the Governor of Eastern Region. In terms of the contributions to the development of the Region, I would rate him along with Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr. Michael Okpara. He is one of the least honoured of our past leaders and I know that many share my joy over this honour that has been bestowed on him,” Chime said.
He also spoke about the contributions that the Enugu State Government has made in ensuring that the airport met the expectations of the users of the facility. “Enugu is ready to welcome the world,” he said. Though he was referring to the official opening tomorrow, hours before the interview, businessman Arthur Eze terminated his flight from Dakar, Senegal in Enugu.
His was not the first international flight to the Akanu Ibiam International Airport. A Ghanaian government delegation to Anambra State landed there last June. Formally, an Ethiopian Airlines flight would operate from Enugu tomorrow – landing there about 1pm and taking off to Addis Ababa – and be recognised as the inaugural international flight from the Akanu Ibiam International Airport.
Governor Chime was being modest, about Enugu’s readiness. The 101-year-old city that received His Imperial Majesty Emperor Ras Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia in 1972, has just become readier to welcome the world, with an Ethiopian connection, 41 years after the Lion of Judah, as he was broadly known and called.
How journey began: President Yar’Adua had pronounced the international status of the airport. Not much happened after that, but it was an important recognition. It was under President Goodluck Jonathan that the major works started. It began with the closure of the airport to permit the extension and widening of the runways for bigger planes. A new apron was also approved. The Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, gave the project a tremendous push. She is doing a great job, not only with Enugu, the changes in airports round the country testify to her efforts.
The President flagged off the construction of the international wing last March. We are witnessing the fulfilment of the promise that the President made to the South East to deliver an international airport to it. I am happy that that has been done and I ask our people to join us in thanking the President for keeping his word.
South East Governors’ contributions: All the governors from the South East played an important part in this project. As a group, we made it a point to sustain the pressure by reminding the President about the project. It was one of the important projects that we kept asking the President to ensure that the people of South East got. The others are the Second Niger Bridge and the federal roads in the zone.
Impact of the airport
We spoke as one voice in the South East Governors Forum in this matter and I thank my brother governors for supporting the project. I believe there were others, some unknown, whose kind words could have facilitated the realisation of this project. Our gratitude goes to all of them.
How would airport help Enugu: The impact of the airport would not be limited to Enugu State. It would impact on businesses in the South East and beyond. Travellers and business people that find the airport in Enugu nearer to them would use it. So we are in a situation where people in Delta, other South South States and the North Central would use the airport.
We are confident that the impact would be great. The airport would facilitate businesses and we expect that as it grows and schedules include other parts of the world, Enugu would be the major hub in this part of the country with a spread of services that would benefit others.
The impact of an airport, therefore, cannot be limited, the uses that result from its presence would show and soon the impact would be obvious with the attendant multiplier effects of having such an important facility here.
Enugu is rated the safest State in Nigeria, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar said so. We are still improving our security. People arriving Enugu for business or pleasure should harbour no fears.
We are assisting the police in the construction of facilities for their air wing at the airport. It was one of the issues we settled with the Inspector General of Police during a visit to Enugu. The facility would be in use before the end of the year. It would be used for air surveillance of the South East zone.
Contributions of Enugu Government
We did not make any financial contributions to the project. However, we have constructed new roads to decongest traffic to the airport. The roads are part of the on-going road projects to improve traffic management throughout the State.
His Message:We look forward to welcoming you in Enugu. Come to Enugu and benefit from the improvements we have made throughout our State. Enugu is ready to welcome the world.