The Oasis Reporters
May 18, 2019
The threat by Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika about plans by the Federal government to downgrade the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu from its international status to a local airport following safety concerns from airlines has thrown the entire Igbo land into panic mode.
The Akanu Ibiam International airport in Enugu had come to the South East with obvious relief after a seeming neglect of the region as an after effect of a three year old civil war that ended with the surrender of then Biafran secessionist republic.
While all the other regions had made considerable progress in terms of infrastructure, the then breakaway region felt neglected for as it’s ebullient and commerce oriented Igbo people were major importers and exporters, the absence of an international airport was a sore point.
As the Igbo people patronised airports and seaports in other regions, self help saw Owerri, capital of Imo State having an airport in the region.
It took the appointment of Stella Oduah, a daughter of the region as Aviation minister by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to see the dream of a Federal government funded international airport become a reality in Enugu city.
October 2018 saw the inauguration of a committee by Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to fulfill all the necessary conditionalities for hitch free operations at the Airport, before Hadi Sirika stated the plan to downgrade the airport at a Stakeholders Forum held in Lagos late Friday and also said the government was also considering a temporary shutdown of the Enugu Airport to address safety challenges raised by airline operators flying into the airport.
“We have issues with the Enugu Airport and we may downgrade Enugu Airport in terms of international status and I have discussed it with the Federal Government,” said Sirika.
Sirika listed the major challenges hampering the smooth operation of the airport to include the poor state of the airport runway, the presence of a state radio mast on the flight path of airlines that threatens the safety of incoming aircraft, the siting of a Free Trade Zone at the end of the runway, as well as incessant bird strikes affecting airlines and occasioned by the presence of an abattoir at proximity to the airport. Sirika said he had held discussions with the Enugu state Governor, Mr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi on the need to relocate the market, pull down the radio mast and relocate the Free Trade Zone in the interest of safety of aircraft and passengers.
“I am afraid that Enugu Airport might have to be closed down. I have told the governor that we have to move the market, FTZ, and take the radio mast away so that we can move in and fix things and clear the runway so that we can improve on safety and save lives,” he added.
Few hours after safety concerns were raised by Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) on potential air hazards in and around the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, the Enugu State Executive Council has ordered the immediate closure of Orie Emene Market near the airport.
Briefing newsmen after the council’s meeting on Friday, the State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Ogbuagu Anikwe, disclosed that the council also closed the abattoir near the airport and equally ordered the immediate removal of all illegal structures encroaching on the land of the airport.
Mr. Anikwe added that “the Chairman of Enugu East Local Government Area has been directed to effect the immediate closure of the market”.
He explained that “the State Executive Council had on 12th October, 2018 approved funds for relocation of the State Broadcast Mast on the approach of the runway to Okpatu Hill (Ugwu Rerenkwu) in Udi Local Government Area but the implementation of this project has been hampered by the disruptive activities of some youths in the community”.
According to the information commissioner, “Enugu State Government hereby directs immediate cessation of all hostilities against the project as any further interference will attract the full wrath of the law given that the government has paid all the necessary compensation.
“The Traditional Rulers of Okpatu communities and Town Union Leadership are hereby called upon to ensure full compliance with the above directives”.
It is believed that the Enugu State government will do all it can to ensure that the threat of closure is averted as the functionality of the airport is a major economic boost for the region, as well as an emotional one for the Igbo people.
Additional reporting: Daily Post