History of great proportions, will be made today (Saturday, 24th August, 2013) in Enugu when the first International passenger flight (courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines), touches down in the newly upgraded and outfitted Akanu Ibiam International Airport.
The event will certainly go down as one of the most significant in the history of the entire south east region since after the civil war. The journey to tomorrow's event, has indeed been a long and arduous one. The uprgading of the Enugu Airport to international status had constituted one of the most persistent and strident agitations of south easterners over the past four decades.
Unfortunately, successive federal administrations had paid either deaf ears or lip service to the demand, preferring instead to play politics with and around it despite the glaring fact the airport is generally acknowledged as the fourth busiest airport in Nigeria after Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja and Port Harcourt International Airport.
The fact that the Enugu was the capital of the region which houses the biggest commercial centres in the country such as Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi with businessmen from the area constituting the majority of international travellers annually, seemed not to make any difference to the powers that were.
Light however finally appeared at the end of the tunnell when, following a visit by Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State and his then brother Governors of the other South East states to canvass the matter along with other need of the region, late President Yar'adua approved the upgrading of the airport to international status and promptly included it in the budget for that year before sending it to the National Assembly for approval.
When President Goodluck Jonathan assumed the office following the death of Yar'adua, the Governors again visited him and sought his support for the full implementation of the project.
The President not only offered them his firm promise followed up his words with concrete action that soon culminated in his commissioning of a new runway at the airport designed to accomodate bigger aircraft. It was during this ceremony that the President and caused the name of the airport to be changed to Akanu Ibiam International Airport.
The development expectedly, earned him effusive praises from south easterners around the world who understood that their situation was about to experience a radically positive change.
The then Minister of Aviation Mrs Fidelia Njeze, who had brilliantly superintended the early phases of the project, while highlighting the obvious advantages accruable from the new status of the airport correctly observed that a large proportion of businesses in the region were "of international proportions".
She had pointed out and aquite rightly, that with the new development, international travellers from Enugu and neighbouring states would no longer have to endure the added cost and hardship of going to Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja in order to travel.
Fully aware of the enormous economic and social benefits the completion of the project will bring to the entire region and Enugu in particular, Enugu State Governor Sullivan Chime had quickly moved to mobilize and supply all the support necessary to bring the project to a speedy fruition. The Governor instantly rehabilitated both the access and internal roads of the airport thus giving it the required initial facelift.
Along with his colleagues in the other Governors of the South east states, Chime had also helped to keep up the pressure for the timely completionn of the project.
Mention must also be made of the zeal and unbridled energy deployed by the current Minister of Aviation Princess Stella Odua, in ensuring that the project became a reality.
The activation of the international arm and service of the airport, has indeed become another very important step towards the full modernisation nay, internationalization of the once sleepy city of Enugu.
Governor Chime had set the stage for this with the unbelievable transformation he had brought to the city and other parts of the state.
Apart from creating a safe and secure environment for all residents, the had embarked on a massive infrastructual development of the state resulting in the construction of an impressive network of roads complete with street lights, traffic lights, pedestrian walkways and an effective drainage system.
He also created an efficient public transportation and waste disposal system and an effective fire service among many other things etc-all reminiscent of cities in the advanced countries of the world.
Earlier in May this year, President Jonathan answered yet another prayer of the Chime administration when he announced his approval for the establishment of the Enugu Free Trade Zone. The President incidentally, made the announcement during his visit to Enugu to perform the ground breaking ceremony of the international wing of the Akanu Ibiam airport.
All these, coupled with the location of one of the largest shopping malls in the country in the city, the steady influx of foreign investors and the rapid development of a modern hospitality and tourismindustry, have in no small way, come to confirm Enugu's modernity and international appeal.
It is certianly evident that the city has been set on firm and irreversible course to reclaim its previous status as a leader among contemporaries and the people of the state and indeed of the entire South East, could not be more thankful.
Achife is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Sullivan Chime.