AFTER THE ANAMBRA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, NEXT IS THE ONITSHA RIVER PORT

By Ike Odionu

“It is difficult to create a new economic corridor without a functional international airport that will serve as a direct bridge between us and the world” – Gov Willie Obiano 30th April 2021.

This statement is also true for a river or seaport. The idea of building an airport close to the commercial city of Onitsha was conceived in the 1970s. Subsequently, the town of Oba which is contiguous to Onitsha was chosen after some successful feasibility studies. The Government of Anambra State eventually acquired a total of 530 hectares of land for the project.

However, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) undertaken by the Peter Obi’s administration found the Oba airport site unsuitable for the project principally on account of limited land for expansion, erosion menace and the presence of high tension cables. This entailed the abandonment of the Oba Airport project.

Following the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in the Anambra Basin and the eventual commissioning of oil wells in Anambra State, ie Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL 915 and 916) located at Aguleri-Otu by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012 and also the establishment of Orient Refinery, the Peter Obi’s administration conceived the idea of building an international cargo airport at Umueri that would have facilities for aviation fuel dump among other things. It was also envisaged that the airport would enhance oil exploration activities in the Anambra basin as well the huge commercial activities at Onitsha and environs. Curiously, this proposal was not followed up by the Peter Obi’s administration.

Nevertheless, Governor Obiano’s administration saw immense prospects in this project and consequently in April 2017, Governor Obiano flagged off the Anambra Airport City Project at Umueri. To actualise this, the Obiano’s administration acquired a massive 1500 hectares of land at Ivite village Umueri. This project in 2017 was conceived and designed not just as an airport but an imposing airport city with components that would include an international passenger and cargo airport , airport hotel, international convention center, aviation fuel dump (for refueling of aircraft) as well as aircraft maintenance facility. As huge fund would be involved in constructing this sort of project (estimated to cost $2.2 billion), the Government of Anambra State signed an MOU with a Chinese firm known as Sinoking Enterprises Investment Ltd (Elite International Investment Ltd) under Build-Use-Manage and Transfer basis.

Incidentally this MOU with the Chinese company fell apart as the Chinese company was not forthcoming. Yet determined to deliver on his promise of an airport for Anambra State, Governor Willie Obiano’s administration decided to go it alone, taking on for the time being the international passenger and cargo airport component of the initially conceived airport city project. To actualise this, the sum of N6 billion was budgeted for it in the 2020 fiscal year while another sum of N5.8 billion is also budgeted in the current 2021 fiscal year. Ostensibly, funding for the airport so far have come from the provisions made for it in the 2020 and 2021 budgets totalling N11.8 billion. The other components of the initially conceived airport city project (aviation fuel dump, the aircraft maintenance facility, etc) could not be followed up immediately because of the huge funds involved and it is hoped that the next administration will move to actualise them.

It was therefore a huge dream come true when on the 30th of April 2021, commercial test flights were successfully conducted at the Anambra airport. The jinx was thus broken with such a loud fanfare as the Anambra airport has now become a reality after several decades of false starts.

The airport itself is a masterpiece in its own right. Designed with a runway of 3.7 km with racers of 1km each on both ends (totalling 5.7 km thus making it the longest in Nigeria), a width of 60 meters and a tarmac that is easily the biggest in Nigeria, the airport has the capacity to land any kind of aircraft. Also with a state of the art escalator, coveyor-belt etc at the terminal and the most modern control tower in Nigeria etc, the airport is next to none in this part of the world. A son of Anambra State, Chief Allen Onyema (CEO of Airpeace) whose aircraft carried out the test flights, is virtually the leader in commercial aviation activities in Nigeria. To add to that, this year alone, two other illustrious sons of Anambra State have floated commercial airlines in Nigeria, namely, Dr Obiora Okonkwo (owner of United Nigerian Airlines) and Chief Chidi Anyaegbu (owner of Havila Airlines) who also owns Chisco Transport Company Ltd. Considering this factor and the peripatetic nature of the people of Anambra State, we can therefore confidently project that, starting first with commercial flights, the Anambra airport will be among the busiest in Nigeria with flights hoped to be regularly scheduled for morning, afternoon and evening to various destinations in country.

With an international cargo and passenger airport already within a touching distance, the Anambra basin is also in dire need of a fully functional river port in order to optimally utilize its immense commercial and industrial capacity. At the turn of the 19th Century, the city of Onitsha was established as a major international trade route. Substantial international trade in the Anambra basin was largely spear-headed by the Royal Niger Company (United African Company/UAC) towards the end of the 19th Century. This was enabled by an Onitsha port through which access to the world was facilitated from the River Niger deltas’ exit and entry points in the Gulf of Guinea into the vast Southern Atlantic.

Unfortumately since the beginning of the 20th century, and following the purchase of the chartered territories of Anambra basin and other parts of southern Nigeria by the British government from the Royal Niger Company to form the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria up to Independence and even thereafter, no serious efforts were made to develop and establish the Onitsha port as a major port or a port of final destination in Nigeria.

The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012 tried to energize the port with the rehabilitation of the the Onitsha River Port complex built during the administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1983. The President Buhari administration has made several promises to have the port fully operational but these aspirations are yet to be actualised.

As at today, Anambra State has a total of 63 major international markets including the biggest open market in the whole of West Africa, the Onitsha Main Market. The state also has immense potential to become a big player in the production and exportation of agro-allied products. Incidentally, these capacities and potentials will continue to be substantially under-utilized without a direct connection to the rest of the world by air and sea. We therefore give Governor Willie Obiano a huge thumbs-up for accomplishing the airport feat and hope the next administration will follow up wherever he stops. On the Onitsha River Port, we urge all the stakeholders to urgently step up action on its realisation as it is long overdue

As we await the Onitsha River Port to happen, however, for the time being and for the Anambra airport already accomplished, we say:

Congratulations ndi Anambra
Congratulations ndi Igbo
Congratulations Nigeria

Kudos Governor Willie Obiano

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