Standing on the tenth floor of the Control Tower of the Anambra International Airport, Umueri two days ago, I felt a tremor ripple through me. Six months earlier, the spot where the tower stands was a wrinkled patch of earth. Now upon it stands a towering monument to the resilience of a proud and enterprising people. It suddenly dawned on me that sometimes; the thin line between dream and reality is fear…fear of failure, fear of uncertainty, fear of being caught on the wrong side of history. And beyond this overcast of fear, success waits in silvery brightness.
It is heartwarming to think that Governor Willie Obiano did not give in to fear…that he kept his eyes on the prize and that on account of that, a monument is sprouting out of the soil of Umueri today in his name. In fact, if Obiano had given in to fear, the airport project would have assumed all the attributes of a malaria dream; indistinct, unrealistic and finally…vaporous. But today, Anambra International Airport has moved from rumour to reality. And as we mark Obiano’s 7th Anniversary, we pay a modest tribute to the resolve of purposeful leadership to break free of mediocrity.
In clearer terms, Willie Obiano is currently completing one of the most modern airports in Africa. At 3.7 kilometers long and 60 meter wide, the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport, Umueri has the second longest runway in Nigeria, next to only Muritala Muhammad International Airport Lagos. But since it was designed and built to enable landing from either side, the runway has a slight edge over Lagos. It is a CAT 2 type of runway with a ground lighting of 270mm.
The airport terminal is designed to accommodate 400 persons. It has three floors fitted with escalators and lifts for smooth and easy movement. It was designed with the possibilities of a future expansion in mind. The Apron measures 300x200m x560mm of reinforced concrete that can take six sizeable aircraft at once. The Apron is serviced by two standard Taxiways that measure 35m wide with shoulders. It also has three ultramodern firefighting trucks and three 6×6 Crash-tender with 770hp. The car park can comfortably take 400 cars. The outstanding thing about the airport is that it will be equipped with an Instrument Landing System (ILS) which will guarantee a safe landing for airplanes at night. Impressive!
The most interesting thing to note about this airport is that it is almost ready barely one year after construction commenced on the site. Work began on the site in January 2020 but the world soon slid into a dark tunnel when COVID-19 struck. Doubts rose over it like the pungent smell of a cheap Arabian perfume as folks wondered how the dream would survive the global shutdown. But it did. Work went on at the site; day and night, all through the shutdown and the recrudescence of the pandemic early this year. Work is still progressing at a blistering pace. The basic structures are all set. The central access road to the airport which leads to Enugu-Onitsha Expressway has a bridge and a big culvert which have both been constructed. Sooner than later the road will be completed.
Interestingly, against the expectations of some critics, Governor Obiano chose to mark his 7th Anniversary in absolute solemnity even when he has so much to celebrate for. However, when the leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo paid him an unsolicited visit, Obiano decided to take them to the airport construction site to acquaint them with the progress of work. Needless to say, led by Prof George Udozor, the members of Ohanze were thoroughly impressed with what they saw. They said so in unmistakable terms. Speaking his mind about the airport, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, owner of the defunct Oriental Airlines said “I have been hearing about the airport; but there is a difference between what you hear and what you see. Today, I have seen the airport and I am impressed. As most of you know, I am an engineer. I specialized in highway and hydraulics. I built the Enugu Airport as a very young engineer. I want to say that what Governor Obiano is building here is not for Anambra State but for the entire South East. This is very important.” Chief Iwuanyanwu should know. After all, he was also deeply involved in the building of the Owerri Airport.
The most fascinating thing about the Anambra airport is not just that it is set to blaze a new trail in Nigerian aviation but that it is one airport whose viability is guaranteed even before it starts operations. There is hardly another state in Nigeria that has Anambra’s large number of restless, always-on-their-feet population. These people love convenience. They would rather fly to Umueri than any of the nearby airports. Anambra is the leading economic hub in the South East with 63 active markets and the largest retail market in West Africa located just a few kilometers to the airport. The cargo wing of the airport will meet their needs perfectly. Similarly, at the moment, the leading airline in Nigeria; Airpeace is owned by onye Anambra. He already has place reserved for his airline at the airport. Lately, two other entrepreneurs from the state have also floated new airlines. They are Dr Obiora Okonkwo of United Airlines and Chief Chidi Anyaegbu, CEO of Chisco Group who floated Havila Airlines a few days ago. These airlines are sure to open offices at the Anambra airport. The National Bureau of Statistics also announced that Anambra is the state with the least poverty rate in Nigeria at 15%. This means that many people from the state can afford the slightly steep cost of air travels.
Sincerely, it is difficult not to see that once again, Governor Willie Obiano has shown incredible vision with the Anambra Airport initiative. It is impossible not to accept, even if reluctantly, that things are indeed falling together for Anambra State, under Willie Obiano.