The Anambra International Airport, Umueri, boasts of one of the longest runways in the country and some big ambitions designed to open business and passenger channels. Our correspondent reports on the state of the airport expected to open for business this month.
When Governor Willie Obiano launched the Umueri Cargo Airport project on April 11, 2017, the N66 billion project was greeted with some scepticism.
One notable critic was a former minister of aviation, Mr Osita Chidoka.
“I totally disagree with the airport proposal. Anambra does not need an airport for $2.2 billion when the Federal Government used $500 million to build four terminals,” he said. “How can the Federal Government borrow $400 million from the Chinese and put its own $100 million to build four terminals with repayment of $12.5 million every quarter and the Anambra government alone invited the Chinese to build an airport project for $2.2 billion? How much will it be paying at that amount? How much did Lagos International Airport cost us? What we should do is to build a small airport and grow it organically. An airport is a runway, not the terminal buildings or cargo shed.”
With a rash of airports springing up across the country, most of which end up with one or two flights in a week, Chidoka’s concerns, taken in the context of the scale of the Anambra airport, is valid.
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However, the governor insisted that the airport, being a cargo airport, is much needed in the region considering the businesses that could benefit from it.
He also highlighted the thousands of jobs the airport, situated on 1,500 hectares of land in Umueri, would create.
Considering that the state did not bear the cost of building the airport, the governor is convinced they got a good deal.
The airport was originally designed as a partnership between the Government of Anambra State, Orient Petroleum Resources Limited and Elite International Investments Limited (Sinoking Enterprises Limited).
Under the original contractual agreement, Elite International Investments Limited will provide all the funds needed for the project under the Build-Operate-Manage-and-Transfer arrangement.
However, under the same SPV arrangement, the Anambra Airport City Infrastructure Limited allocated 75 per cent equity stake to Elite International Investments Limited, 20 per cent to Orient Petroleum Resources Limited and five per cent to the Government of the State.
However, the Chinese company, Sinoking International, which was to build it at no cost to the State through a Build-Operate-Manage and Transfer (BOMT) basis, reneged and after five years, the government started making a budgetary allocation to ensure that the airport is built.
The reward, the governor hopes, would be 1,200 direct jobs and 3,600 indirect jobs, 70 per cent of which would go to people from the state. He is also counting on opportunities for training and skills transfer to the people of the state.
“I hope that on completion, the airport will wipe out the difficulties our businessmen and women often encounter in exporting and importing goods and services and help in improving the entire supply chain,” he said.
He is also counting on the project opening an economic and tourism corridor, providing access to the Ogbunike Cave and Ogbaukwu Caves and Waterfalls as well as the timeless archaeological treasures of Igboukwu.
Already, the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Captain Musa Nuhu, who inspected the facilities at the airport, said, “I am amazed, almost speechless, at the level of work, and the level of compliance with our regulatory requirements and also with international standards and recommended practices.”
Mr Nuhu commended the 3.7kilometers runway with a 1000-meter safety area on both ends and described the control tower as one of the best in the country.
He said the airport is fitted with a fire service station, a water treatment plant, an emergency evacuation centre and a trauma centre.
There seems to be a mad rush to finish the airport. The reason is that the governor wants the airport commissioned this April.
During a visit of the joint committees of the Senate and House of Representatives on Aviation led by Smart Adeyemi, Gov Obiano disclosed that the airport would be operational by April 2021.
Obiano who conducted the lawmakers and journalists through the project said, “This airport has the longest runway in Nigeria, except for Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. It is 3.7 kilometres, and if you add the two racers, that makes 5.2 kilometres. You can land or take off from either side of the runway, and as you can see, it is a dual carriageway,” he said.
Speaking, Sen. Adeyemi said, “I have been privileged to travel to a lot of countries, and each time I am in any airport around the world, I take out time to see what they have. I can say that this is a massive project, and what you have just done is opening Anambra up economically.
“By doing so, you are also helping to open Nigeria up economically too. Aviation is key to the development of any place. If you talk about economic development, you must talk about aviation.
“The job will be to make this airport viable and not just for passengers but also cargo.”
The Chairman House Committee on Aviation, Hon. Nnolim Nnaji and Senator Uche Ekwunife, a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant in the Anambra 2021 election and a member of the Senate Committee on Aviation also commended the project.
Ekwunife said: “I want to say that for any viable business to thrive in any state, aviation is very critical. And I believe that this is a very, very viable project and it’s a legacy project.”
What is of concern is the feasibility of the airport opening this April, as the governor declared.
Our correspondent who visited the airport reports that while there is a lot of work ongoing, some, like the terminal building, are not likely to be completed before the end of this month.
It raises the question about the feasibility of the airport opening in April.
When this question was put to the State Commissioner for Works, Mr Marcel Ifejiofor said they have not fixed a date yet for the inauguration of the airport but they are ready and only awaiting confirmation from the Federal Airport Authority.
He pointed out that the most important part of the airport, the runaway, which is fitted with a satellite landing system in case of power failure, is all ready for operations.
The commissioner for information, Mr C. Don Adinuba echoed the sentiment.
“We cannot fix a date [for commissioning] without clearance from the airport authority. Remember on the day of commissioning, a plane would have to land in the airport.
“We are working to get a date from the Federal Airport Authority. For us we are ready but we need to work with the authority. Any date will be OK with us,” he said.
Already, the business community in Anambra is anticipating the opening of the cargo airport, with some business representatives who also undertook the tour commending the project.
Speaking to Daily Trust, businessman Michael Obiora said that apart from the economic benefits the airport would have on businesses, a lot of Anambra people will gain employment once the airport begins to function.
“As a cargo airport, our farmers who are already exporting vegetables to other countries will find a lot of ease of doing business, because before now, you have to process and take to Murtala Muhammed International Airport, and most times there are flight delays.
“But with this airport, they can schedule their flight ahead of time, and also supply to international consumers early enough, and you can be sure that the vegetable would still be very fresh, and more people from outside can now place orders,” he said.