During my campaign for election as President in 2011, one of the promises I made to Nigerians was to bring about transformation of the national economy.
This promise is being delivered in the South East Geo-political Zone through, amongst other key interventions; the transformational work going on not only here at Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu, but also at the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri", President Jonathan declared on Saturday, May 18, 2013 during the Foundation Laying/Commissioning Ceremony of the remodeled Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
Indeed, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan's Transformation Agenda is getting full expression in the Aviation sector not only in the renewal of airport infrastructure, especially Terminal rehabilitation and upgrade, but also very poignantly for the people of the South East, as the first international flight operated by Ethiopian Airlines lands at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu today, August 24, 2013.
For the people of the land-locked region and it's environs stretching to the South South and parts of the Middle Belt, it has been a long dream come true; almost like a Long Walk To Freedom. Although the Enugu airport had in fact borne the name 'International' since it was officially so designated on December 17, 2010 by then Acting President Jonathan, all hope of actually playing host to international flights had remained forlorn for the people of the region-until today, that is!
When the President rolled out his Transformation Agenda with promises of a new dawn, a lot of hopes were expectedly raised. Now those hopes have crystalized into reality for people from the South East zone who were assured that the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, would truly answer its name in the lifetime of the Jonathan Presidency. This is concrete proof that this President keeps promises once they are made.
This historic international flight, perhaps the first since after the Civil War, is both symbolic and revolutionary. It symbolizes the end of an era where an entire region was almost shut out from the rest of the world, literally speaking, to one where the same enclave is now open to a new and exciting world of endless possibilities.
According to President Jonathan, "the South East Region of Nigeria, with this international airport, can confidently say to the world 'we are open for business'! The region and it's environs is indeed open for business. This inaugural flight is equally revolutionary as this singular development will certainly change the way of life of the inhabitants of the region, forever.
Before now, anyone residing in the zone and hoping to embark on international trip to other African, Asian, European and American countries had to suffer the agony of traveling to either Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja or Kano not out of choice but compulsion, to catch a flight. President Jonathan lamented this much at the same occasion when he stated thus:
"There was a very good reason for the decision to confer international status on this airport. As I am sure you all know, Enugu is the gateway to the South East Region, the home of entrepreneurship in Nigeria. With such a large number of enterprising people with a huge propensity to travel both within and outside the country pursuing various business interests, people of this region have always had to travel first, either to Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja or Kano in order to be able to travel out of the country on business trips.
" As business people, speed and time are of the essence. Thus the ability to travel directly to your destination abroad or as directly from your base as possible, increases the speed of your transactions by reducing the time you spend traveling to and from there. The same applies to goods procured abroad and air-freighted into the country for business purposes. The more directly imported goods can be air-freighted to the region for its businessmen and women, the faster their goods and products can get to the market".
The President could not have said it more succinctly. Interestingly, all this lamentation and agony is over. Ethiopian airlines, taking full advantage of world-class infrastructure at the airport, has banished all that agony and misery to the trash can of history as a whole new experience unfolds.
For a people known for their industry and enterprise, the opportunities which this international airport offer for the socio-economic development of the region are huge and boundless. With a large population of international businessmen and entrepreneurs, the zone could not have asked for anything better.
Gone are the days when businessmen from the zone would endlessly agonize how; having cargoed or ferried their goods from far-flung parts of the globe to either Lagos or Abuja, would face the fresh Herculean task of clearing and moving them, mostly by road to the South East.
Additional expense had been incurred, goods and lives even lost in this highly perilous journey from Lagos and Abuja to the east. With Ethiopian airlines now offering direct international flights from Enugu to almost any destination in the globe, the world is truly in the pocket of the South East. A new dawn is here. The world has in fact come to the east!
That is not all, neither is it even scratching the surface. The multiplier effect of the value chain that would be created as businesses spring up in and around the airport and the city of Enugu beats every imagination. The commercial offerings would not only boost the economy of the zone but also create thousands of jobs. The hospitality industry in the area is sure to witness a resurgence and boom.
Commerce, which is the major preoccupation of the peoples of this zone would begin to boom as the Onitsha and Ariaria International market, Aba begin to play host not only to the local folks, but also to a wider international business community. This is also not talking about the huge opportunity for easy export of manufactured and agricultural goods.
The local manufacturer in the remotest part of Aba and Nnewi and the rural farmer in Arochukwu would be exposed to the international markets as flights take off and land in Enugu from all corners of the globe. The possibilities are indeed endless, with the airport amongst the 13 also designated as perishable cargo airports in the country.
The vision of Mr President could not have seen the light of day without the drive and boundless energy of the Minister, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah.
Under her watch, the entire aviation sector in Nigeria has been transformed from the once neglected, rustic and decrepit landscape to sprawling, edifying and dignifying architectural show-pieces that compare favourably with airport terminals anywhere in the world. But as Oduah has consistently maintained, what we are witnessing today in Enugu is just the beginning; more and more landmarks are underway. From what we have seen so far, we have no reason to doubt her.
For Ethiopian airlines that placed the bet on Akanu Ibiam International airport, Enugu, we can only wish it to fly higher. Surely, it won't be long before other international airlines followed the Ethiopian example. For now, we cannot but agree with Mr President that the South East region is indeed "Open to the world for Business".