By Sam Nzeh
The people came from all over the region and swarmed on Enugu, the old capital of South Eastern Nigeria, like locusts.
Mission: To witness the reopening of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport after a year of closure. Date: Sunday, August 30, 2020, Daily Times gathered.
The Federal Government had on August 24, 2019 shut down the airport for massive rehabilitation of the runway, installation of new instrument landing system, upgrade of the local wing of the terminal building, and construction of the new terminal building for international flights among others.
Ten billion naira was released for the project.
The airport on the eve of its reopening at about 4.47pm welcomed its first commercial flight after successful rehabilitation work.
The flight which was via a private jet owned by Anambra State-born business mogul, Prince Arthur Eze, conveyed the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika and Eze, alongside other officials of the Aviation ministry and aides.
While Sirika on August 29, 2020 made history as the first minister to land at the airport after its rehabilitation, Eze recorded double history as the individual whose aircraft made the first flight out of the country when the airport open for international flight in 2013 as well as landed on the facility after reconstruction of its runway among others in 2020.
Speaking to newsmen after he disembarked from the aircraft, Sirika said he was happy that the rehabilitation work at the facility was achieved as planned which made its reopening possible.
“I’m happy that the rehabilitation work was successful. I’m also happy to be the first minister to land on this airport after rehabilitation work was completed. We promised and we have delivered,” he stated.
Prince Arthur Eze, who also spoke with newsmen, praised President Muhammadu Buhari for wiping away the tears of Ndigbo.
He said: “Each time I travelled through this airport before now, I kept asking God to help us so that there would not be any major accident because of the bad nature of the runway.
I had kept wondering what could be done to salvage the situation. Our people were there several years ago but did nothing to change this place”.
Shortly before mid-day on Sunday, the day of the reopening, a jet in white colours conveying officials of some Aviation parastatals landed at the airport.
This was followed by an Air Peace aircraft which landed at about 1.40pm. It conveyed members of the National Assembly, including Aviation committee members of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The reopening of the facility on Sunday, August 30, 2020 could best be described as an assemblage of the crème de la crème from South East as well as other dignitaries from across Nigeria.
Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi led the South East governors that included Gov Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu); Gov Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia); Gov Willie Obiano (Anambra) and Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prof. Placid Njoku, who represented Gov Hope Uzodinma.
Two members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) attended the occasion.
They were Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama (Foreign Affairs minister) and Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige. Director Generals of some Federal Government agencies were also present including Engr. Chidi Izuwah of the Infrastructure Regulatory and Concession Commission (ICRC).
The National Assembly was fully represented by Committees on Aviation in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who hails from Enugu State was also in attendance.
South East traditional rulers were at the occasion in full force. They were led by the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe.
Members of state houses of assembly in the zone were present and were led by the Speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly.
Cultural groups were also not left out. Political support groups were also in attendance.
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika led heads of parastatals in the ministry to the occasion including Director Generals of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) among others.
The roll call also included local government chairmen, prominent politicians, and captains of industry, among others.
All came to witness the historic event. Goodwill messages were delivered by the Chairmen of Aviation committees in the Senate and House of Representatives, Senator Smart Adeyemi and Hon Nnolim Nnaji, the Deputy Chief Whip, House of Representatives, Hon Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Geoffrey Onyeama, and President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, among others.
They expressed happiness at the completion of rehabilitation work at the airport and its reopening and thanked President Buhari for approval and release of funds for the project.
They also thanked South-East Governors, especially Gov Ugwuanyi for his administration’s support towards the completion of work at the airport, and urged the Federal Government to complete the ongoing construction of the Cargo terminal and International wing of the airport.
The President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who was visibly happy with the reopening of the airport, noted that “I never believed that what we are seeing today will happen.”
Nwodo then thanked President Buhari for approving N10 billion for the project. He also thanked Governor Ugwuanyi of Enugu State for his efforts in making sure that the project became a reality.
Speaking, Enugu State Governor, who was the host governor, said that it was because of the importance of the airport to the South East in general and Enugu State in particular that his administration spared no effort in removing all structures that impeded safety at the facility.
He said taking such tough measures were not easy but that was done in the interest of public safety.
He listed the support that the state government gave to ensure the quick completion of rehabilitation works at the airport as following: complete removal of all encroachment on the airport facility; removal and relocation of the 120-meter Enugu State Broadcasting Service TV/Radio Mast and Transmission Station; removal, demolition and relocation of the Orie Emene market; construction of a 1.3km asphalt road to the Very High Directional Radio Range/ Distance Measuring Equipment (V.O.R/D.M.E) navigation facility at Emene; and provision of finance for the upgrade and refurbishment of existing toilet facility in the terminal building among others.
Speaking on behalf of the South-East Governors, Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for approval and release of N10 billion for the rehabilitation of the Akanu Ibiam International airport.
He appreciated Aviation minister, Sen. Sirika for ensuring that the project was completed in good time.
Umahi also thanked Enugu State governor for his outstanding commitment and the courage he displayed in ensuring that all the requests made by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the resolution of the South East Governors Forum with regard to safety measures were implemented to the letter.
He said: “Governor of Enugu State, we can’t thank you enough. You made the job of all the South-East Governors so easy; you undertook to do it alone.
Thank you for the courage in removing all the illegal structures affecting the safety of the air travellers.
Thank you for the road you built and other infrastructure, logistics support and daily supervision you offered in this place. Mr. Governor, we are very grateful to you, thank you very much”.
Speaking, Minister of Aviation, Senator Sirika, who declared open the airport, said domestic flights will begin immediately while international flights will commence on September 5 when the embargo on such flights is lifted.
“We are proud to say that this project being commissioned today (Sunday) is indeed a testimony to Mr. President’s commitment to the provision of infrastructure in the country,” he said.
Sirika expressed gratitude to President Buhari “for giving approval of N10 billion to undertake rehabilitation of the runway and other works, which include taxi way, linkway, emergency operation centre, car park, entrance gate, perimeter fencing, perimeter wall, terminal rehabilitation, instrument landing system to allow landing even in bad weather, among others”.
Furthermore, the Aviation minister said: “We delivered the project on time and on budget and will focus on delivering the Cargo terminal and the international terminal building and many more.
Just before I left my office, I approved and released the sum of N1 billion to continue the international terminal building”.
The minister also applauded Gov Ugwuanyi for his “unwavering support and the assistance he has given to us in the course of this project”.
Thereafter, the Aviation minister accompanied by the South East Governors and other dignitaries drove in a convoy to the descent point of the runway to cut the tape to reopen the airport.
The ceremony was spiced up with performances by several dance groups from Enugu and Ebonyi states.
It was indeed a day the people of the South East people will not forget in a hurry.