The city of Enugu is agog over the commencement of commercial flight operations by Ethiopian Airlines today. Governor Sullivan Iheanacho Chime will lead other dignitaries and passengers that will be part of the historic inaugural flight out of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport en route Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.
In commemoration of this unique breakthrough, different sizes of billboards and other signages erected by the Enugu State Government and other corporate bodies dot some strategic places in the Coal City, from the airport to the imposing Polo Park Shopping Mall.
No less than three dance groups have been selected by the government to add colour to the event. It has been all tributes both for President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and the airline, just as the ecstasy of the people of the South-East has been overwhelming.
The airline is also upbeat about the prospects of this venture. "For us, we're happy to make this inaugural flight," says Mr. Solomon Yadeta, the Ethiopian Airlines' general manager in Nigeria. "We're also pleased with the interest already shown by the people and with the support we are getting from the Enugu State government.
"As an airline, we have a long tradition of quality service delivery and we hope to sustain our reputation as the most competitive and leading aviation group not just in Africa but in other climes."
Also, Governor Chime could not conceal his elation when he spoke with some journalists on the significance of today's flight. "Without doubt, I'll be in that flight as it makes that historic departure from the Akanu Ibiam International Airport," the governor said. "I won't mince words in confirming to you that we are, as a people, grateful to the airline that blazed this trail. I hope that other airlines will follow suit.
"On behalf of the government and good people of this State and indeed, the entire South-East geo-political zone, I want to express our profound gratitude to Mr. President, His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for his wonderful efforts that culminated in this inaugural flight. Our people will remain indebted to him for this show of love.
"As you may be aware of, Mr. President did not just ensure the completion of the remodeling of the airport but also laid the foundation stone for the construction of the international wing at the airport. We do not lose sight of the fact that he has given approval for a Free Trade Zone in Enugu, the first in the entire South-East zone.
"I also want to thank our sister and daughter, Princess Stella Oduah, the Honourable Minister of Aviation for her steadfastness in making sure that this day became a reality. We are also grateful to our dear wife, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke and Mrs. Fidelia Njeze for their roles at the beginning of our quest to have the airport upgraded and to see commercial international flights commence operations," Chime concluded.
Indeed, it seemed as if Chime had long foreseen this development when his government single-handedly rehabilitated the access and internal roads in the airport. But he disagrees, saying that "we did the roads as part of our urban road rehabilitation projects."
For the people reputed for their entrepreneurial spirit, there could not have been a more appropriate time for the commencement of such international flights out of Igboland. From Onitsha to Aba and Nnewi, the business hubs in the region, it has been jubilations over the development. Today, businessmen and other travellers cannot yet come to terms with the reality that they now have the opportunity to fly to other shores without first going to Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt.
"You don't know how we feel," Uchenna Eze, an Enugu-based importer told this paper. "It is unbelievable that one can now leave his house and in ten minutes, you're airborne to Asia, Europe or other parts of Africa. We thank the President, the South-East Governors Forum and other people who made this possible."
How it all began
The journey to what is being celebrated today began during the reign of late President Umaru Yar'Adua. Governor Chime had mooted the idea of upgrading of the airport in a meeting of the South-East Governors Forum. The governors tabled this request when they paid a solidarity visit to the Villa.
When President Jonathan assumed duties following the death of Yar'Adua, the governors and other Igbo leaders visited him and tabled the same demand among other ones like the second Niger Bridge. The President gave them a firm promise which he followed up with the award of contract for the upgrading of the runway and the remodeling of the existing airport.
Only in May, this year, Jonathan was in Enugu not just to commission the remodeled airport with a wing for international flight operations, he also laid the foundation stone for the building of the international wing.
As the aircraft takes off from Enugu today, the entire South-East is in a state of frenzy. But what cannot be denied is that those who will travel through the Coal City will benefit from the transformation which Chime has brought upon the city and the state.