WHEN President Goodluck Jonathan pledged to elevate the Dr. Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu and the Dr. Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri international cargo airports, the people of the South East Zone were overjoyed.
The reason for this was obvious. Since the end of the civil war, which was fought on their soil nearly fifty years ago, there has been a systematic neglect of federal facilities and institutions in that area. This resulted in massive movement of people from that zone to other parts of the country in search of economic opportunities.
The Enugu and Owerri airports have benefited immensely from the transformational agenda of the president. They underwent massive facelift, just like twelve other airports around the country under former Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah. A new runway was added to the existing one, which made it possible for international flights to begin operating at the airport.
Unfortunately, progress appears to have been stalled, as little effort is being made to ensure that the airport’s cargo handling operations are fully activated. There are no warehouses for the cargo operations, and there are no cargo handling companies such as the Nigerian Aviation Cargo Handling Company (NAHCO) and the Skypower Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO). Due to lack of progress in putting the cargo facilities in place, the enthusiastic upsurge of commercial activities that heralded the arrival of international flights in August 2013, has gone down.
Unless the right steps are urgently taken, the good intentions of creating a cargo function for the airports at Enugu and Owerri might go the way of the Onitsha Seaport, another federal amenity which was completed and launched with pomp and colour by the Jonathan administration, only to be left as a mere window dressing rather than an economic asset to the people.
The South East Governors’ Forum ended one of its recent meetings with a call on the federal government to complete the cargo facilities of both airports to enhance economic activities in that part of the country. The agitation for the establishment of federal presence in the former theatre of the civil war is to boost economic activities. It is not just for facilities to be set up for mere beautification.
The Nigerian economy will be the better for it if we consciously eschew political bias and spread development evenly among the six geopolitical zones of the country. Even development of Nigeria should be treated as a right for all Nigerians, rather than something for some people to lobby and beg before they are given tokens.
The leaders and people of the South East and all Nigerians should demand for their fair share of the federal commonwealth. Grumbling in silence is no longer an option.