Long route to Anambra’s airport
Anambra State’s history with airports is over a half century. It dates back to the Nigerian Civil War, of 1967 to 1970 when the Biafran engineers’ ingenuity spurred the construction of the Uli Airstrip, sometimes referred to as Biafra’s International Airport.
The airstrip served more as an airport. Anyone can argue the airstrip was borne out of necessity. Besides, no geographical entity then took the name Anambra State. Had the airstrip stood and transformed into commercial purposes, Anambra’s long quest for an airport would have been satisfied.
When the civil war ended in January, 1970, the dream of developing Uli Airstrip to an airport thinned with the struggle of the East Central State to recover from the ashes of the war. The split of the East Central State into Anambra and Imo States bequeathed the Uli axis to Anambra State. As the state records significant strides in trade, commerce and technology, Anambra blazed the trail in commercial growth and development.
Transportation being a catalyst for economic growth through the movement of goods and services, became crucial as the people yearned for more transports mode beyond roads with Onitsha water port, strangled by politics of developing it by the federal government, and Onne Seaport in Rivers State. The need for an airport in Anambra State, became even obvious as far back as during the 1979-1980 Second Republic.
When the state government conceived having an airport, it chose Oba, in Idemili South Local Government Area, in the old Anambra State because it sits between two major market cities; Onitsha and Nnewi. The state government conceived the airport as a cargo airport that would mainly serve the transportation and commercial interests high merchandising activity in Onitsha and Nnewi.
Onitsha is home to the popular Onitsha Main Market, the largest market in West Africa. At the same time, Nnewi hosts the Nnewi Motorcycle Spare Parts Market, the largest in West Africa and now, a burgeoning automotive city.
Pope John Paul II used Oba Airport site for his mass when he visited Anambra State in 1982 and 1998. Since then, successive administrations in the state did little or nothing to actualise the dream.
Beyond political motive, Umueri was technically chosen over Oba for, among other factors, for limited land space for expansion in the latter. The Umueri site provides about 5.64km in length by 3km wide on a tableland, with two parallel runways space for other ancillary facilities needed in an airport of international standard and more for further development.
Gov. Chris Ngige made the initial land purchase. The Peter Obi administration did additional land purchase. Gov. Willie Obiano went beyond acquiring more lands to actualising the dream.
While flagging off the Anambra International Airport City Project,’ Gov. Obiano said: “The airport project is an important step in expanding the frontiers of excellence in Anambra State. It will open direct access by air to our vast markets. This project and our subsequent plan for a light rail project, Anambra State will eventually make Anambra assume its rightful place as a major commercial and industrial hub in the West African sub-region.”
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