“THE Anambra International Passenger and Cargo Airport is the most audacious legacy of my administration and perhaps the most revolutionary too. Experts tell me that our airport has set a record in the aviation industry as the fastest and most modern airport to be built in recent times.”
That was an excerpt from Governor Willie Obiano’s speech on April 30, during the test-running of the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport, constructed by his administration in Umueri, Anambra East Local Government Area.
As every inquisitive and attentive mind would yawn to know, embarking on a further dissection of the above excerpt from the governor’s speech will necessarily x-ray and unmask the nuts and bolts of what actually happened at the site of Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport before, on, and after April 30 (the date of the speech), served in an eyewitness narration, against armchair speculations. And this is the primary focus of this piece.
Taking a count from the era of Nigeria Civil War in the 60s, during which the defunct Biafran Airport code-named Annabelle Airport was constructed in Umuchima village, UIi, in Anambra State; it has taken over a half century for Anambra State to have another functional designated place for landing and taking off of aircrafts.
As the governor also acknowledged in the speech, the dream of Anambra having her own airport began over three decades ago, when the state government acquired 530 hectares of land in Oba, Idemili South Local Government Area for a domestic airport project. This, however ever did not come to fruition. Another site was later acquired in Umueri (for the airport) by an expired administration, which also could not realise this dream before exiting office.
Be it as it may, the present administration of Governor Willie Obiano, took both the spirits and the humans by surprise when, in barely two years to the expiration of his eight-year two terms, vowed to make the overdue Anambra Airport dream a reality, by promising ndi Anambra a world class international airport —a decision that made many burst out laugh in their imagination of how he could construct an international airport in just two years, while others couldn’t construct a domestic airport in over 30 years.
“Does he think that airport is a motor park?” an opposition element once rhetorically asked during an interview with the press.
As if to further heighten their doubts, the governor, when he embarked on the international airport project in late January, 2020, also promised to have it ready for flights before the fall of April 2021/by April 30, 2021, which was about15 months from the time works officially commenced at the site.
“Could this be possible?” a safe mind would imagine.
As at 9:30 am on April 30, 2021, which was the last day of the month, ndi Anambra had already gathered at the Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport in Umueri, Anambra East Local Government Area, with the great expectation of witnessing the first flights land at the now ready airport.
Located at the heart of Umueri, the airport , which has multiple security-tight entrances hosted its largest visitors ever, who defied their daily engagements and trooped out en masse to go see the Obiano’s ‘Airport Miracle’ for themselves.
These they did, despite the high cost of transportation to the venue, as was orchestrated by some group of unregulated drivers and tricyclists (conveying people to the airport from Nteje Junction and other junctions), who obviously decided to leverage and take juicy advantage of the day and the airport’s presence itself.
Everybody wanted to see things for themselves, no matter what.
Arriving the airport, it was observed that the 11-storey airport tower was already standing, saluting the world from the southern part, although the radiation of the airport light and flags were not sighted at the tower, showing that their fixture hadn’t been completed as at then.
The apron and the runway were ready, waiting to receive their first massage by planes’ tires. Some men were seen doing some finishing touches in the interior part of the airport terminal. The terminal building has three escalators, three lifts, two bridges and 36 shops.
Despite the fact that there were no nearest shops, water hawkers or food vendors sighted within the airport environment that day, the expectant crowd who could not see alternatives to quench their thirst and hunger, endured and worried not much, as their whole interest and purpose of coming was on seeing the first aircraft touch ground at the virgin airport
At 1:30pm, Governor Willie Obiano, his wife, Dr. Mrs. Ebelechukwu, traditional rulers, religious leaders, heads of security agencies, and other top dignitaries and relevant groups were already seated in expectation. The governor and his wife had, earlier on arrival, gone round to ‘Hi’ and cheer up various groups. And Ijele Umueri took over the stage and thrilled the audience with its sagacious performances.
At exactly 2.26 pm, there came an instant atmospheric change and joyous tumult at the airport environment as the crowd trooped out en masse on sighting a white and blue coloured Boeing 737 N5-BUJ successfully lowered and smoothly-cum-softly landed on the brand new Anambra International C.argo and Passenger Airport. Its tyres touched the runway at 2:27 .
The joy was so overwhelming, that it almost made some people on the ground to go hug or even kiss the plane when it landed and was approaching the tarmac. However, they were restricted by security men, who deployed both their karateing horses and professionalism to enforce and maintain decorum among the mammoth crowd, to avoid any tragedy that could spoil the ecstatic mood already established/entrenched.
After enjoying the long and smooth runway, the well celebrated plane turned and majestically taxied up to the tarmac where it made its final stop. At this time, the crowd could no longer control their joy, as they tumultuously ran pass the somewhat barricade formed by the police-riden horses; and furthered towards the plane.
The loudest shout of joy at the event was heard when the door of the plane softly opened, and Chief Allen Onyema , the Anambra-born MD/CEO of Air Peace, elegantly stepped out to the door, smartly dressed in his navy-blue coloured senator material, with his red cap tightly fitted on his head, justifying his “Chief” initial.
Beholding the mammoth crowd of his brothers and sisters, his hands honourably hovered above his head in greetings to the people and in appreciation to God for the reality of the age-long dream.
Before he lowered his hands, the crowd had already surrounded his plane, both those who obviously had intention of touching plane for the first time, both taking selfies with the plane, those who went to welcome the entourage, and those who went because others were going.
As this was happening, Governor Obiano, his wife, Dr. Mrs Ebelechukwu Obiano, and the state’s Commissioner for Works, Engr. Marcel Ifejiofor, had already stood to go welcome Chief Onyema and his entourage, in company of other dignitaries, among whom was an Anambra-born female pilot that landed the plane, Miss Nwando Okpalaeke, who hails from Azia, in Ihiala Local Government Area.
Rev. Fr Obimma holistically climbed to the door of the plane as everyone had alighted; and standing there, he raised his Holy Bible and said a brief prayer of consecration.
Shortly after this warm reception (about 20 minutes after), another Air Peace aircraft, Embraer 145, ‘softly’ arrived, and was welcomed with a sprinkling shower by the by-standing team of firemen, with their brand new water trucks recently purchased by the governor for the airport use.
As the audience made to dress back after the joyful reception, another (white and red coloured) private jet, belonging to another industrious son of Anambra, Chief Ernest Obiejesi, landed. At this time, the presence of these three aircraft made the airport more picture-worthy than ever; while the governor mounted the podium to address the teaming crowd.
Aside the paragraph earlier quoted at the beginning of this piece, other highlights of the governors address include his narration of the journey on the airport’s construction, the general quality of the airport, its facilities, and the construction materials; the immeasurable benefits of the airport to ndi Anambra, the South-east and Nigeria at large; and finally, appreciation.
He revealed that the state government did not borrow a dime to construct the airport, and has fully paid for all the equipments, gadgets and facilities required to complete few remaining works.
A further tour round the airport facilities shows that the airport terminal is designed to accommodate over 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 300x200mx560mm 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 over 500 cars.
As was confirmed by a contractor on duty, one of the outstanding things 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. Another unique quality of the airport is its ability not to retain water in any section of the tarmac after rainfall.
Just like the Uli airlift, which was the largest civilian airlift and, after the Berlin airlift of 1948–49, the largest non-combatant airlift of any kind ever carried out; Anambra airport has the second longest runway in Nigeria, next to only Muritala Muhammad International Airport Lagos.
However, since it was designed and built to enable landing from either side, the runway has a slight edge over Lagos, making it the longest in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a CAT 2 type of runway with a ground lighting of 270mm.
The airport has safety zones, diversion channel, water and fire stations emergency road, energy operation centre, power house and other security features that make it outstanding indeed.
Comments by Anambra State Commissioner Marcel Ifejiofor; Chief Onyema and some traditional rulers; as well as special presentations the governor made to the airport crew, added glamour to the event.
By 5:15, the three planes had successfully taken off, with a nostalgic gaze at each, by the crowd, who watched until each of them turned, took off and zoomed into the firmament.
Indeed, Anambra Airport is real; and the test-running has been successfully done. April 30 has come and gone; and the ‘promise made’ has been a ‘promised kept’.
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