By Vincent Ujumadu
After 30 years of the first attempt to build an airport in Anambra State at Oba in the present Idemili South Local Government Area failed, the airport, an international airport, finally came on stream on April 30, 2021, but this time, at Umueri in Anambra East Local Government Area.
In fact, there were unconfirmed stories that wealthy Anambra people, who were enjoying the boom of inter- state land transport business, were sabotaging efforts of successive administrations to build an airport in the state as that, they erroneously believed, would crumble their business.
However, the successful implementation of the project by Governor Willie Obiano 15 months after construction began, has shown that what was lacking in the past was the political will to execute the project.
This is not to say that the airport project came without hiccups. When in March 2015, Governor Willie Obiano approved N5 billion for the development of a new four-lane approach road to the proposed Umueri Cargo Airport, Anambra people were informed that the state was not going to commit any money into the project as international developers would be responsible for financing it.
Two years passed and when there were no signs of the take-off of the construction, stories began to make the rounds that the said international partner was trying to rip the state off and so, Governor Obiano decided to build it with state resources.
His political opponents were already jubilating that Umueri Airport was a failed project.
Determined not to fail, Obiano, in April 2017, launched the Umueri Cargo Airport project and added that the ‘Airport City Project’ would be developed on a 1,500-acre site. Work commenced shortly after. According to him, features of the airport include two runways, aviation fuel facility, aircraft maintenance facility, airport hotel, business park, as well an international convention centre, all expected to generate 1200 direct and 3600 indirect jobs.
Apparently, due to disappointment from the initial partners, the state government in September 2019, allocated N6 billion for the construction of the Cargo Airport as part of the state’s 2020 budget.
To say that the multimillion-dollar project came easy would be an understatement as there were initial hiccups, including distractions from the host community, which tried to muscle the state government into making additional concessions even after adequate compensation for the acquired land for the project was paid.
The airport has a four-story terminal building with shops, a ten-floor control tower, and a car pack that can accommodate 750 vehicles. It has 3.7 kilometers runway and it is bigger than any other runway in the country. The Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace Airlines, Chief Allen Onyema, whose two aircraft were the first to land at the new airport was the first passenger to land.
Signs that the realisation of the new airport project emerged when the Director-General of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Captain Nuhu Musa led aviation officials to inspect the site of the airport and after going round, commended the Anambra State Government for complying with the regulatory standards of airport construction. They were followed by the National Assembly Committee on Aviation who also expressed delight in the project.
As the work went on, other interest groups, including Anambra people in Diaspora, pilots, leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo, media executives and most importantly, businessmen who are looking forward to using the airport which lies about 25 minutes drive from the commercial city of Onitsha and Awka, the state capital.
Already, most of the adjoining land in communities around the airport have been bought by estate developers and trust the people, the value of property in the area has increased tremendously in the past one year.
Friday, 30th of April, 2021 would, therefore, forever remain a memorable day in the history of Anambra State as it was the day aircraft landed at the new Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport. Three aircraft, two belonging to Air Peace Airlines owned by an indigene of Anambra State, Chief Allen Onyema and a private jet, landed at the airport with Governor Obiano and who- is-who in the state on hand to witness the epoch-making event. Expectedly, the airport will be commissioned by the end of 2021 with facilities to handle domestic and international services.
The State Commissioner of Works, Mr. Marcel Ifediofor described it as a dream come true. He said: “We have been working day and night, non-stop, looking forward to a day like this. This is the final test. This has shown that we did very good engineering work. We passed excellently because a very big aircraft landed at the airport. It is a credit to all of us, but the major credit goes to Governor Willie Obiano for his support, both morally and financially to make sure we got to this stage.”
According to him: “Nine contractors and service providers are working at the airport. We worked for 15 months without injuries. More than 500 machines and more than 50 trucks, and not a single accident was recorded. It is wonderful because safety is number one. Any contractor that takes safety seriously is a good contractor.
“We have the best road network and now we are building the best airport in sub-Saharan Africa. In a few months’ time, by God’s grace, we are going to commission this airport. Anambra people are the most travelled people in Nigeria. Basically, we are traders, buying and selling, and involved in importation and exportation.
“This is really a dream come true because instead of going elsewhere to clear goods, we now have the facilities in our backyard.
This airport is planned in such a way that we are going to have a lot of warehouses. It is very dear to the people of Anambra
“When this project started in late December 2019, Governor Willie Obiano promised the whole world that we are going to deliver it in April 2021, and on the 30th of April, the airport is delivered.
“This is a promise made and fulfilled. After several promises by the previous governments, Governor Obiano said enough is enough. I have worked with many people but I have never seen anyone like Chief Willie Obiano.
“This is the second-longest airport in Nigeria with the tallest control tower in Nigeria at forty-four by five meters. Even when the lights of the airport fail, we can still land safely.
“The code 0607 is the international code of Anambra Airport, Umueri. The whole equipment to be used at the Anambra airport has been paid for. There are nine contractors at the Anambra airport and have all been paid. This is the only airport in Nigeria that doesn’t have a committee. We raised a committee at the ministry of works and made Governor Obiano the chairman and I am only the leader of this team. We promised that we are going to deliver and we have done so.”
“When the national committee on aviation came to the site, they were excited and confirmed that this is the best airport in sub-Sahara Africa. In the nearest future, we are going to commission this airport.”
Governor Willie Obiano, who was elated at the legacy project which his administration executed in a record time also described project as a dream come true, adding that the airport would expand the economic frontiers of the state and improve the socio-economic wellbeing of its people.
Obiano said: “The most interesting thing about this airport is that we did not borrow a Kobo to build it. This, in itself, is a record in leadership. Our dream for an airport started almost 30 years ago when the government of Anambra State acquired 530 hectares of land in Oba, Idemili South LGA with the intention of building an airport but that never materialized. That dream is fulfilled today.
“We began the airport to expand the frontiers of excellence in Anambra State seven years ago. We announced that our mission was to make Anambra State the first choice in investment destination and a hub for economic and commercial activities.
And we also said that our mission was to create a socialist table where indigenes and non indigenes alike will have opportunities for wealth creation. This airport is the fulfillment of our vision and mission statement because it is difficult to create a new economic corridor without a functional international airport that will serve as a direct bridge between us and the world.”
The CEO of Air Peace, Chief Onyema said he was delighted to have his planes as the first to land at the airport which has the longest runway in the country, recalling that his first visit to the project was indeed an eye opener that a determined administration could achieve whatever it means to achieve.
Onyema said: “This is one of the fastest airports to be approved by the federal government and it is due to quality of work done. What we have is the widest runway ever in Nigeria and it can land Airforce380, which is the largest aircraft. This is the first time an airline in Nigeria that did test run with Boing 737.
“The president will surely approve it as an international cargo and passenger airport and it will offer job opportunities to millions of people and energize the economy of Anambra in particular and Nigeria in general. The 3.7 kilometers runway is bigger than any other in the country and the wonderful thing was that it was built in a record time. I really shed tears of joy when I landed and may God bless Governor Obiano for this wonderful achievement.”
In the words of the traditional ruler of Umueri, Igwe Benneth Emeka, the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport has put Umueri on the aviation map of the world, noting that his people would greatly benefit economically from the project when it fully comes on stream later in the year.