Anambra residents have the largest number of private jets in Nigeria – Obiano’s former commissioner of works. – 9News Nigeria
Marcel Ifejiofor is an engineer, who served as Commissioner of Works in Governor Willie Obiano’s administration, during which he oversaw the construction of Anambra International Cargo Airport, a rare feat achieved in 15 months. The airport project has further entrenched Anambra State in handling international trade and cargo logistics in Nigeria, as the natives of the state are at the forefront of importing goods. In this interview, he returns to the exploit of the Obiano administration.
What was the experience of working under Governor Willie Obiano like?
It was good. I had the opportunity to work with a very serious governor, who effectively managed financial and human resources. Governor Obiano always wanted the best for Ndi Anambra and made Anambra the safest state in Nigeria in terms of safety of life and property. The Governor has given Anambra the best road network in Nigeria. It was a very rewarding experience working with Governor Willie Maduaburochukwu Obiano.
The airport project easily emerges as the signature infrastructure project of the Obiano administration. Please shed some light on how he went from mirage to reality.
The people of Anambra have dreamed of an airport for 30 years. Right from the Oba, Uli, Igbariam attempts until 2006 when Orient Petroleum signed a memorandum of understanding with the Anambra State government to build the airport, until 2020. Nothing s passed until Governor Obiano arrived and in 2019 he began reviewing the designs. with AIM Consultants. After that, we mobilized to the site at the end of January 2020 and in 15 months we were able to deliver a brand new airport, which has the second longest runway in Nigeria, the highest terminal in Nigeria and an apron 200 meters by 300 meters. in size. It has one of the most modern terminals in Nigeria. With three elevators, three escalators and a staircase, etc. We have installed the best airfield lighting in the world. We have a DVOR, others have a DVR, but what we have is a DVOR; it is equipped with the instrument landing system, the glide slope, which is the best and most recent in the world. The instruments and equipment at the top of the tower are the latest. There is a fire station and three firefighters. Each of them has a volumetric capacity of 20,500 liters. They were acquired from Ziglar in Germany – and they are the latest in firefighting tenders worldwide. This is what Heathrow, Atlanta and Frankfurt airports use. This will tell you the airport switchboard built by the Obiano administration. The airport started full operations with smaller aircraft, but it has been modernized as the firefighters and fire stations in place are category 9, one of the best. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nigeria, NCAA which is the regulator of airport operations in Nigeria has given its approval to Boeing 737s which can carry a minimum of 149/150 passengers at a time and Embraer E- 195, to operate flights from the airport.
The Nigerian Air Force is set to set up a training school at the airport. The airport has an MRO which is the hangar where you repair and park the planes. Air Peace and Nestoil each have one with many warehouses popping up. Needless to say the importance of this airport for Ndi Anambra. We are the most traveled people in Nigeria in terms of business, buying and selling, and importing from all parts of the world like Indonesia, China, etc. With the cargo terminal here, which is close to Onitsha, you don’t need the rigors of going to clear goods by air cargo in Port Harcourt and elsewhere through hundreds of checkpoints on the road. From the airport to Onitsha is less than 10 minutes while to Awka is less than 15 minutes. So when you land at the airport and you are an Anambra person, 20 to 25, 30 minutes maximum and you will be in your village. We experienced it during the last Christmas season. The Obianao administration is to be commended for its vision. Before the construction of the airport, if you land in Asaba, it will take you four to five hours to get to Anambra while Enugu and Owerri are no better. It is a dream come true for Ndi Anambra. If you watch the interview with NCAA General Manager Captain Nuhu, he described Anambra Airport as one of the best in Sub-Saharan Africa. United Nigeria Air comes here daily while Air Peace comes four times a week while daily we have at least three, four or five private jets as the natives of Anambra have the highest number of private jets in Nigeria. This airport is a hub not only for Ndi Anambra but for the entire South East and others as it will connect us all together. The following administrations should think of the rail, a monorail that can connect Onitsha, Aba, Abakaliki, Enugu and the rest and we are done.
Some people said the airport was a misplaced priority. What is the answer to this statement?
It’s political because you see the reality now. This airport has been very busy and we have registered over 50,000 passengers since its inception and over 100 flights. Any Anambra man who says we don’t need an airport is just politics. Some of the vocal critics landed here and when they landed they couldn’t cope to talk to the press. If you try Asaba or Enugu you will know that we needed this airport badly. It is a priority project for Ndi Anambra and that is why we have wanted it for more than 30 years. Government after government used it as a campaign gimmick, but Governor Obiano decided to follow the chops in a record 15 months. No project of this magnitude has been completed in such a time frame, but we achieved it because we worked day and night. During COVID-19 we were working, End SARS we were there. We had nine contractors and service providers working together at the same time and Governor Obiano came to the airport every week to oversee what was going on, giving us moral and financial support. He knew the operators by name and he paid the contractors quickly. No penny was borrowed to build this airport, Anambra State money was used to build the airport.
Let’s talk about road infrastructure in the state…
When people say there is no road in Anambra, it is also highly political. Anambra has the best road network in Nigeria. If you say Anambra has no roads, check neighboring states, compare and contrast. Why people said that because most federal highways in the state have collapsed. Roads are designed with axial loads which determine the type of loads they support. When the federal highways collapsed, all the big trucks coming into Anambra from other states and destined for certain types of roads all started plying our local roads, which affected the roads. Now that the Amawbia-Umunya path is correct, you will see what happens. Another challenge we had in the roads is the fact that Anambra State has over 1000 active gully erosion sites while erosion control is on the exclusive list of the Constitution. But with the kind of ravines we have here, Governor Obiano said, “I won’t stay and see my people wiped out by erosion.” So he got into erosion control. We did 100ft road ravine erosion at Nnewi with a depth of 35 meters which cost N3.5 billion. The one on the Obosi-Minaj road with another depth of 35m, Nkisi Aroli in Onitsha had already swallowed up to five or six buildings and we went there too. If you tick these two, the government has spent over N7 billion. If we had had that much money for road construction, what do you think would have happened? The good thing about the Obiano administration was that it prioritized everything it did. We didn’t do roads for political reasons. The administration took roads for people who had never seen a good road before. Think of Nzam, the only local government in Nigeria without a paved road. The administration constructed an 8.4 km road from Mmiata Anam to Nzam with a bridge. Aguléri-Otu is an oil prospecting community in roadless Anambra State; you cross the oil well through Enugu State through Asagba, Iggah to a well which is in Anambra State. The government constructed a 42 km road from Aguleri Uno to Aguleri Otu with a 280 meter bridge, the longest bridge in the southeast. We took an 8 km route to Ogwu Aniocha in Ogbaru, which is also an oil exploration community, to Ogwuikpele, another oil producing community in Ogbaru and to Onono community in Anambra West, where we produce the vegetable Ugu qu ‘Anambra exports. We didn’t measure our roads by number of kilometers but by how much impact they had on people.
The administration of Obiano inherited seven bridges but all of them have been completed. It awarded contracts for 14 bridges and completed 10 of these bridges. In all, Obiano’s administration completed 17 bridges including the three flyovers at Awka. When this administration came Awka was like a glorified village but when you walk past Awka today it is better.
*If the government did so much, how come these things weren’t made public?
The taste of the pudding is in the eating. We didn’t do unnecessary show-off with the commissioning of projects at Anambra. This is why we refused to invite the press during the construction of the airport. We kept our eyes on the ball until we delivered. Even today, some people still say that this airport does not only exist for political reasons but that they land here. Chef Willie Obiano is not your usual politician, he is a determined, workaholic.
Do you trust that Professor Chukwuma Soludo will continue the unfinished projects?
From his background, we believe in him. The important thing with our projects is that they are projects that Ndi Anambra feels positively about and Soludo is someone who also likes good things. He wants Anambra to be better so we have no fear with him. We hope and believe that he will bring Anambra to cruising level.
What are your most memorable and exciting moments under the former Obiano administration?
I’m an engineer, so I served on familiar ground. The highest experience you have is managing people in this ministry, going to the Exco and convincing the Exco why a particular route should be done, convincing your governor to believe in you. I brought a lot of experience from the oil and gas industry where everything is done with precision. I would come into the office and lock the door at 8:30 a.m. because I couldn’t understand how someone could come to work at 10 a.m. and leave at 1 p.m. My greatest excitement was working with the governor. He didn’t take no for an answer and when he gave me an assignment, I didn’t go back to him unless I had a positive answer to give.