DR, (SIR) Willie Obiano, Governor of Anambra State, could be likened to the Biblical wise merchant, who had goods in store, but on trade adventure, discovered precious goods in a land. He returned and sold his store and purchased the land and possessed the treasure. This is a metaphorical expression, when Jesus Christ compared earthly riches to heavenly wealth, and admonished that the heavenly wealth is superior and should attract preference.
The history of airport in Anambra State dates back to 1981, in the old Anambra, when Jim Nwobodo was governor. Jim came to office on the goodwill of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik) at the governorship election of 1979. In his gratitude and anxiety to satisfy Zik with permanent projects, Jim sought to build airport in Zik’s hometown, Onitsha, which was the chief commercial town of the old Anambra as it is today in the new Anambra.
Jim anticipated opening the Airport in his second term of 1983-1987 and immortalise Zik with it, by naming it, ‘Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport’.
Jim got 580 hectares of land for it at Oba, Idemili South LGA, a neighbouring town to Onitsha, Just as Enugu Airport is located at Emene, near Enugu. Zik and Jim belonged to the state’s ruling party, the Nigerians Peoples Party (NPP), while Jim’s formidable rival, Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh belonged to the federal ruling party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
At the August 1983 election, Onoh brandished the dreaded ‘Federal Might’ and with his ally, Alhaji Ibrahim Tahir, President Shagari’s Personal Assistant rigged the election and denied Jim his deserved second term. Onoh was sworn into office on October 1, 1983.
But on December 31, 1983, three months after, the Army staged a coup, sacked the democratically elected government and their leader, General Buhari became Head of State. As it is their tradition, the Army abolished the constitution and also development programmes of governments. So, Jim’s airport project became abandoned.
When democratic government was restored in Nigeria in 1999, political godfathers distracted the Anambra State ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the airport project remained abandoned. In 2006, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) came to power through Peter Obi. In his second term, 2010-2014, Obi resuscitated the airport project.
He visited the Oba Airport of 580 hectares of land, but the site was threatened by erosion. Obi reasoned that the cost of fighting erosion was enormous and would double the cost of building the airport. He looked for another suitable location and found it at Umueri, Anambra East LGA. He acquired 1000 hectares of land for it in 2012.
He even formed an Airport Project Committee with the then Minister of Aviation, Princess Adaeze Stella Oduah as a ranking member. But the fever of frugality suddenly gripped Obi and he abandoned the project. His opinion was that Anambra’s neighbouring states have airports at Asaba, Delta State, Owerri, Imo State, Emene, Enugu State. He reasoned that competitions from these neighbouring airports would render Anambra Airport unprofitable.
In 2014, another APGA government continued from where Obi stopped. It was headed by Willie Obiano, a retired banker who was living in America. As one who made money in his career and wisely invested as major shareholder in lucrative conglomerates, among them, Taxeco Oil Company, Fidelity Bank, MTN Communication giant and many others, he maintained a quiet but luxury life in America. According to him, he built two houses in America, and was living comfortably in one of them. He has idea of airports from one state to another, among the 50 states in America.
He wisely reasoned that proximity of airports in such a state like Anambra, bustling with business tycoons, captains of industries, ubiquitous politicians, legal luminaries, itinerant traders, erudite visiting professors, etc., could not be hindered profitability from other lesser states. He reasoned that even the airports in Asaba, Owerri, Enugu, were being patronised mostly by Anambra people.
In this perspective, Obiano replicated the decision of British colonialism in Southern Protectorate of Nigeria. In 1886, the British Government delegated the administration of the Southern Protectorate to the Royal Nigeria Company (RNC) for administrative convenience.
The company built their headquarters at Asaba. But in 1900, Britain revoked the charter and took direct administration of the protectorate. They transferred the headquarter from Asaba to Onitsha. Their reason was that the volume of trade at the East side of the River Nigeria where Onitsha is situated was greater than the volume of trade at the West side of the River Niger, where Asaba is situated.
The rapid expansion of trade in Onitsha, with satellite towns of spare parts and tyre markets at Nkpor, Building Materials Market at Ogidi, Electrical Market at Obosi, motor manufacturing company and other industries at Nnewi, educational establishments at Awka, the state’s capital vindicated the British Colonialism in 1900 and Obiano’s sagacity and vision in 2014.
When Obiano took over government in 2014, he conceptualised his development plans as ‘Four Pillars’ of agriculture, industrialisation, trade/commerce, oil/gas, and also 12 enablers and one of them was the airport. He therefore resuscitated the airport project abandoned by Obi.
He visited the site at Umueri and conceptualised ambitious project of International Passenger and Cargo Airport. So, he increased the size of the land from 1000 hectares to 1500 hectares. As Anambra was already blessed with mineral deposits of oil/gas at Aguleri and Igbariam in Anambra East LGA, Ogwu-Ikpele, Ogwu-Aniocha and Akili-Ogidi, in Ogbaru LGA, Obiano anticipated maximum utilisation of this God-given treasure and put aviation kerosene as one the merchandise of the airport.
With this advantage, many aeroplanes would be visiting Anambra to buy aviation kerosene. He intensified the approval of federal government for Anambra State as an oil producing state, and so oil/gas refinery should be sited in Anambra, to produce the aviation kerosene for sale at the airport.
With the commencement of the airport project, some myopic detractors began to castigate and vilify Obiano for abandoning road projects and embarked on elite project, which could be only patronised by a few wealthy people, who could afford air ticket. Obiano remained focused as he knew that like the wise Biblical merchant, his wise investments shall prove to be goldmine for the people.
The airport was actually built to international standard. The beauty of it all is that Obiano did not owe any creditor; neither foreign nor local. On April 30, 2021, professional aviation transporters, among them, an Anambra indigene, Allen Onyema brought his aeroplanes for the required “test run”. Aviation experts certified the airport as meeting the best international standards.
On October 30, 2021, Governor Obiano commissioned the airport with the permission of Nigeria Council of Aviation Authority (NCAA). On December 7, 2021, commercial flights commenced at the Airport. They flew in from Lagos. Among the first prominent passengers of the airport were the Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha Diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Valerian Okeke and the former Minister of Health, Dr. (Chief) Timothy Menakaya. They commended the airport and expressed delight about the leisure journey they had within 40 minutes. Archbishop Okeke imparted his Episcopal blessings on the airport.
On December 30, 2021, many Anambra indigenes that travelled from Lagos and Abuja, used the airport. Chief among them were the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator (Dr) Chris Ngige, who came with presidential jet from Abuja; Senator Andy Uba, who came with private jet from Abuja together with his family.
On February 2, 2022, Senator Andy Okonkwo, flew from Lagos, with private jet into the airport. On February 3, 2022, Hon. Chinedu Obidigwe, Member representing Anambra East and West in Federal House of Representatives used the airport to transport to Egypt, 40 farmers, whom he is sponsoring their special training in agriculture. They thanked Obiano for providing such facility in Anambra.
All these business activities in the airport have vindicated Governor Obiano as the Biblical wise merchant, whose vision, sagacity altruism, humanitarianism and patriotism make him greater than his predecessors and contemporaries in Anambra in particular and Nigeria in general.
Anambra captains of industry in aviation have been having a boom in the airport commercialisation. These include Allen Onyema of Air Peace Airways, Obiora Okonkwo of United Nigeria Airways, etc. These people have expanded the coasts of their business empires, and are harvesting enormous profits. Their philanthropy in their charity foundations have increased.
They have created jobs for Anambra people and one of the pilots in Air Peace is Phina Okpaleke, daughter of the late Hon. UzamaO kpaleke, former House Member in Ihiala Constituency, a native of Azia. If she marries in Anambra, her earnings shall be domiciled in Anambra, for socio-economic development of Anambra.
On January 24, 2022, National Airways Authority, granted license for the biggest planes in the world to ply the airport. The airport received Boeing planes of 737-700. The airport received First Class License from the World Aviation Authority.
The Commissioner for Works, who supervised the building of the airport, Engr. Marcel Ifejiofor said that the airport is built with best quality materials as recommended by the International World Aviation Authority. He said that planes can land there at any time and season as the tarmac had sophisticated drainages to channel rain water immediately it rained. It is furnished with other sophisticated equipment as recommended by international authority.
With Obiano acting as the Biblical wise merchant, who it could be said, kept aside temporarily, road maintenance, the in-coming governor, Cee Cee Soludo will have enough funds to embark upon road rehabilitations as the gold mine as represented by the airport shall yield internally generated revenue (IGR) for other sundry projects.