Ndi Anambra have, probably, seen on social media the “Onye ije” airline video mocking the Anambra airport venture as a mirage. About mid 2019 too, a newspaper columnist, giving vent to the propaganda of the opposition in the State, gleefully wrote off the scheme as deception; a huge failure. This drama is a terrible gaffe, akin to what an author would describe as a leap in the dark.
The Anambra Cargo Airport project has a history behind it and no valid judgment can be made on its progress from only a glance at the present government’s intervention. Any reasonable assessment on the airport construction must come to terms with the roles played by successive governments since the launch of the plan.
It was Group Captain Emeka Omeruah of blessed memory, who, in 1986, initiated the airport journey in response to popular demand. Petitions for an airport at Onitsha were loudest from the traders’ community who boasted their capacity to make its operation financially viable.
The Omeruah administration recognized the economic merits of the airport scheme and the Oba – Onitsha airport project was born. From the modest proceeds of a first launch, the Oba site was cleared, drawings made and consultancy services engaged. However, before the second phase fund drive could take place, Group Captain Omeruah was reposted out of Anambra State.
Regrettably, successive regimes cared less about the venture, except perhaps Group Captain Rufai Garba, who, nevertheless, found a convenient excuse for inaction. Garba was quoted to have said: “On the airport thing I looked at it and said why should I build an airport when it will take me 45 minutes to get to Enugu and equally take me 45 minutes to get to Oba from Awka?”
But if Garba, a non native, could not be moved about the dream, subsequent Governors who hailed from Anambra State were expected to be passionate over its realization. The founding of the private – sector – driven Orient Petroleum by the Chinwoke Mbadinuju administration in 2000, however, saved the situation.
In no time, the Orient Petroleum team brought up the importance of an airport to the goal of oil and gas undertaking. With the petroleum plant naturally sited close to the source of raw materials, location of the Anambra airport inevitably changed to the area of refining operation.
Except for the payment of compensation at the new Umueri site, the airport was abandoned for eleven years until the advent of the Willie Obiano administration. The neglect was at great economic losses to Anambra State. This wasted opportunity is particularly regrettable as we are routinely treated to claims of billions of naira saved for Anambra in the past. But it would amount to poor judgment to keep funds idle in the face of ventures with reasonable chances of considerable returns.
The argument peddled by regime apologists that past administrations cannot be held accountable for non development of the airport because it was not part of their campaign manifesto is inane. We are by this afterthought being told that it would be right for a government to turn its back on a critical, major road inherited in deplorable condition because the government never promised to construct it!
There is the lesson of incremental development to be learnt from the Owerri airport. The complex was started by second republic Governor Sam Mbakwe. But unlike the Anambra experience, the initiative was followed through by subsequent administrations, leading to the completion in 1999.
Had past governments of Anambra State contributed their quota to the building of the State’s airport, the Obiano administration would not be faced with the daunting task of starting from the scratch. It is mischievous to regard the job as Obiano’s personal problem. He met it the same way that past Governors met it and looked the other way. However, the extent of his delivery on the project can only be determined at the end of his tenure in March 2022.