By Olisemeka Obeche & Millicent Onaga
Mixed reactions have greeted the grand ceremony staged by the federal government last Sunday for the reopening of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu which is still undergoing extensive renovation.
Orient Daily gathered that the governors of the South East states and other top leaders from the zone witnessed the reopening of the airport and also showered praises on President Muhammadu Buhari for providing the sum of N10 billion for the project.
Dignitaries that graced the event include Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma who was represented by his deputy, Prof. Placid Njoku and Deputy Governor of Enugu State, Hon. Mrs. Cecilia Ezeilo. Others include Senator Smart Adeyemi, Senator Jim Nwobodo, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, Prince Arthur Eze, Dr. Chris Ngige, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, members of the National Assembly from the zone, the Obi of Onitsha, HRM, Igwe Alfred among others.
Recall that the airport, formerly Enugu International Airport, was formally shutdown on August 24, 2019 by the federal government to enable contractors upgrade the runway and other facilities to international standard. Though, the airport repair was initially billed to last for few months but it dragged into the New Year. The arrival of Air Peace No 5N-BUV on Sunday marked the official commencement of flight operations at the airport and was greeted with fanfare.
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Sirika, who declared on Sunday that the airport had been formally opened for domestic flights equally declared that international flights would resume at the airport on September 5.
“We are proud to say that this project being commissioned today is indeed a testimony to Mr. President’s commitment to the provision of infrastructure in the country”.
Sirika was full of gratitude to President Buhari “for giving approval of N10 billion to undertake rehabilitation of the runway and other works, which include taxi way, link way, 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”.
He maintained that the federal government had “delivered the project on time and on budget and will focus on delivering the Cargo terminal and the international terminal building and many more,” disclosing that “just before I left my office, I have approved and released the sum of N1 billion to continue the international terminal building”.
However, checks by this paper, revealed that the rehabilitation of the airport is still far from completion as many facilities are yet to be fixed. According to an official source at the airport, only the runway of the Akanu Ibiam Airport has been completed and ready for use which indicates that it can only handle local flights.
This paper further gathered that both the cargo terminal and the international terminal building were yet to be completed, with the buildings still littered with scaffolds. Similarly, night landing equipment was yet to be fixed, which means no flight can use the airport at night. The entrance gate, access road and other facilities around the airport were equally at various stages of completion.
The source who did not want her name mentioned because she was not authorized to speak to press, disclosed that the authorities had pledged to complete the entire renovation work on the airport before the end of 2020.
“The renovation of Akanu Ibiam International Airport is still continuing even as they have declared it open for use today. Most of the facilities required for international operations are yet to be fixed,” Charles Ogbu, a journalist also observed.
Speaking on behalf of the South East Governors and other leaders of the zone, at the grand ceremony marking the airport reopening, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State had thanked President Buhari for funding the project to the tune of N10 billion. Umahi also expressed gratitude to the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Sirika for displaying a special character worthy of emulation, in seeing that the project was realized.
The South East Governors Forum (SEGF) chairman equally appreciated Gov. Ugwuanyi 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 SEGF with regard to safety measures, were implemented to the letter.
“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 travelers. Thank you for the road you built and other infrastructure, logistics support and daily supervision you offered in this place. Mr. Governor (Ugwuanyi) we are very grateful to you, thank you very much,” Umahi said.
Other Igbo leaders also showered praises on the federal government for the untiring efforts in ensuring that the airport runway was rehabilitated to international standard as one of the best in the country, against all challenges.
In their various speeches, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, Hon. Nnolim Nnaji, the Deputy Chief Whip, House of Representatives, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Geoffrey Onyeama, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief NniaNwodo, among others, thanked President Buhari and the South East Governors, especially Gov. Ugwuanyi for the reopening of all-important airport, stressing that it will go a long way to enhance commercial activities in the zone, and safety of air travelers.
They urged the federal government to ensure that the ongoing construction of the Cargo terminal and International wing of the airport was also completed as scheduled.
Meanwhile, angry reactions have greeted the lavish ceremony for the reopening of the airport, with many commentators describing it as a slap on the people of the region.
Anyanwu Justice, a public affairs commentator expressed shock over the state of the facility. “I went to see for myself the commissioned Enugu airport as our Eastern brothers are pushing for its completion…Behold, the entrance ceiling fell this morning and the surrounding structures are far from completion. I was taciturn and termed it self-victimization. Seriously, politics has eaten deep into this country.
Charles Anyigbo fumed, lawyer, noted: “We are reduced to the worst of humanity by celebrating mediocrity.
Pascal Ejike Ugwoke said they could have completed the facility before staging such re-opening ceremony. “You can bet me the airport will remain like this until God knows when. Forget this trick, it remains local airport because west will do anything to make sure we don’t fly to abroad from home. This is what seaports in the south south are going through.
Emmanuel Chukwumeh described the opening of the airport as “a Hocus-Pocus meant to divert attentions on the murder of innocent Igbo youths at Emene, same locality the white elephant airport is situated.”
Charles Ogbu also expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of work done at the airport, expressing doubts that the funds voted for it was utilized accordingly. “N10 billion was released for the renovation of this airport by Buhari. Enugu state governor added N200 million on top. I was at the meeting with the southeast governors, aviation minister and Ohan’eze Ndigbo where the airport renovation was fully deliberated and contract awarded to PW. Now do tell, na N10.2 billion work be this, after a whole year?!”