…. Project misses original 36-month deadline set in April 2017
…. New 15-month deadline set at recent Anambra Council of Elders meeting
…. Elders Council praise effort on the airport and other government initiatives, much to the chagrin of critical civic groups
By Chudi Okoye with Stella Nzekwe at Umueri, and Ndu Chris Nwannah, ATM Guest Writer
A new 15-month deadline has been set by Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State for the completion of the Anambra International Cargo Airport, Umueri, in Anambra East Local Government Area. This new deadline became necessary given the existing project trajectory which points to a definite slippage.
When Governor Obiano initiated the ambitious airport city development project in April 2017, he had boldly asserted that it would be completed within 36 months, culminating in April 2020. However, project commencement was delayed for a variety of reasons. But after a stalled start, the project appears now to be re-engaged, necessitating a new completion date.
The new deadline was announced by Willie Obiano during the Anambra State Council of Elders meeting held on 4 March 2020 at Governor’s Lodge, Awka.
The Council of Elders meeting was attended by the cream of Anambra State establishment, including the Chairman of the Anambra State Elders Council, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; the Chairman of the Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha Governor; and Governor Willie Obiano himself. The government-recognized Eze Uzu II of Awka, Obi Gibson Nwosu, did not attend due to travel exigency.
A communiqué signed by the Council’s Chairman, Chief Emeka Anyaoku and the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, said that the Council “received a briefing from Governor Obiano through a documentary on the key achievements of his administration since March 2014.” The council commended the administration’s scorecard.
The communiqué brought up specific areas of the state government’s performance for special mention. These included the cargo airport being built at Umueri, rotation of governorship seat, security and the government’s long-term vision for the state.
On the Umueri airport, the communiqué noted that “the Council was comprehensively briefed on the building of Anambra International Cargo/Passenger Airport at Umueri….” It hailed the state government on the 15-month deadline to deliver the project without any loan facility.
According to the statement, “members [of the Council] were satisfied with the pace of work, the choice of internationally reputable contractors in the construction and the 15-month deadline to deliver the airport and the business prospects of the airport. Members also expressed delight that the airport will be completed without a loan.”
▲Anambra State Council of Elders, March 4, 2020
The Umueri Cargo Airport project was launched on 11 April 2017. In an address delivered to flag off the project, Governor Willie Obiano was unequivocal about the scope of the undertaking, which was not just the airport but an entire aerotropolis ecosystem. “What we have come to flag off in Umueri today,” the governor said, “is not your usual airport project. What we are flagging off today is an Airport City Project with a model that will accommodate an airport with two runways, an aviation fuel dump, an airport hotel, an industrial business park, an international convention center as well as a facility for aircraft maintenance.”
The airport project was kicked off three years into the administration of Governor Obiano. Waxing rather lyrical in his project launch address, Obiano declared:
“I stand before you today to answer the call of history. In Christian numerology, the number 3 is the number of perfect manifestation. So, three years into my administration, the Lord God Almighty has given us a new VISION and a new SONG. Our elders say that ugo gbuzuo ochakee. Anambra State has finally hit the bend in the rivers and our famous can-do spirit has now taken over. From now on, we have nothing more to fear. Nothing! Not even ourselves.”
The governor boasted that “The UAC [Umueri Airport City] project is conceived to join some of the most advanced airports in the world with a capacity to land any of the most sophisticated vessels known to man today.”
Obiano announced that the airport would sit on 1,500 hectares of land, “with enough elbowroom for expansion from Ivite Umueri to neighboring communities such as Nando, Umunya, Otuocha, Aguleri, Nteje, Nsugbe and beyond.”
The governor stated that the project was estimated to cost over $2bn. He disclosed that the project was a public private partnership (PPP) investment by the Anambra State government, Orient Petroleum Resources Limited and Sinoking Enterprises Investments Ltd. of China. According to the governor, the project was to be facilitated by Elite International Investment Holdings Ltd. which will package all the funds needed for the project under a Build-Operate-Manage-and-Transfer arrangement.
It seemed from Obiano’s statement that the partners created a joint venture company named Anambra Airport City Infrastructure Limited, with 75% of its equity allocated to Elite International Investment Holdings Ltd., 20% to Orient Petroleum Resources Limited, and 5% to the government of Anambra State.
The governor indicated that the host communities would be entitled to 3% of the profit from this project in perpetuity as a part of the standard corporate social responsibility.
Obiano claimed in his project initiation address that “the economic benefits of the Umueri Airport City Project are enormous.” He said that the project was expected to generate 1,200 direct and 3,600 indirect jobs from inception to completion, with the people of Anambra State expected to “grab 70% of these jobs in continuation of our effort to create wealth and prosperity for our people.”
The governor touted other expected benefits of the airport project. He said that it would “provide an opportunity for training and skills transfer to our people”; greatly improve “the ease of doing business in Anambra State”; and also “wipe out the difficulties our businessmen and women often encounter in exporting and importing goods and services, and help in improving the entire supply chain.”
It will be recalled that Willie Obiano, whilst presenting the state’s 2020 budget to the state’s assembly on 26 September 2019, had announced that the state government had earmarked ₦6bn as part of its contribution for the construction of the airport.
At the time, Obiano said that critics of his administration’s airport project would be shocked at the pace of work after the rainy season. Obiano’s comment came about because media reports had begun to indicate that the project might be in trouble. For instance, it was reported in November 2018 that contractors and financiers might have abandoned the project. Another media report in April 2019 indicated as well that little or no work was going on at the site, which was said to be overgrown, erosion-ravaged and even occupied by herdsmen and grazed by their cattle. A pro-government media report issued in July 2019 claimed that the delay was “occasioned by Federal Government of Nigeria seizure of drone and other equipment imported by the Chinese investors.” The report indicated that work would soon resume at the site. When Awka Times visited the site on 4 January 2020, we found some equipment on the site, with some evidence of ongoing work although still at the ground-levelling stage.
▲Chinese technicians setting up for aerial survey and mapping of the Umueri airport site as at July 2019 (Video and voice narration courtesy of James Eze, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Anambra State)
Governor Willie Obiano, whose tenure expires early in 2022, has vowed that the first cargo flight must land at the airport before his terminal date; hence the new 15-month deadline declared at the recent Council of Elders meeting.
But skepticism remains. Opposition politicians in Anambra State had dismissed the proposed airport as a white-elephant project merely announced to enhance the prospects for Obiano who was fighting a tough re-election at the time. A spokesman for the All Progressives Congress (APC) insisted that the airport city project was a fluke and even claimed that Sinoking Enterprises Investment Ltd., the named foreign partner, was a fake company that ceased to exist many years back. Awka Times online checks here, here, and here appeared to show that Sinoking Enterprises (reg. no. 0753523), a private company incorporated in Hong Kong on 11 April 2001, had been dissolved on 3 December 2010, more than 10 years before it was named as a partner on the Umueri airport project. Awka Times could also not ascertain if the PPP corporate entity, Anambra Airport City Infrastructure Limited, was registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). We found an entity named Anambra Airport Management Co. Ltd (RC no 197977), but this was registered in Lagos in 1992.
There is some media reporting that Anambra state government had begun to seek a new partnership for the project. Awka Times was not able to verify this claim. However, the apparent return of activity at the project site, along with Governor Obiano’s new deadline commitment, would seem to suggest funding viability for the project. Perhaps this is why the Council of Elders, after watching the video update, pronounced itself satisfied with the pace of work on the airport city project.
Still, some groups are not buying the reassurances of the Council of Elders eminences. The president of a civic group that goes by the name Anambra Ekunie, Dr. Ifeanyi Anachusi, has called the Council of Elders mere “praise singers”, and wondered “how much members of the council were induced with to make [such fawning] pronouncements…”
“Is it not shameful,” Dr. Anachusi asked, “that those so-called elders were invited to watch Obiano’s achievements on video? Anambra people cannot see the achievements. They are only on video. Those elders should come publicly to point to achievements on the ground. Obiano works in 3D video.”
Similarly, the civic group also raised doubts about the Anambra State Vision 2070 project, the 50-year development plan chaired by Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, which the Council of Elders appeared to support.
According the Council’s communiqué, “the meeting received a presentation from the Chairman of the Anambra State Vision 2070 Committee, Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo. The Council expressed support for the strategic plan to make the state attain the status of a fully developed entity within 50 years.”
But the civic group Anambra Ekunie laughed off such a long-term planning. “It is amusing that Obiano is thinking of Anambra of 2070 when he has not been able to develop any part of the state, even his own Anambra north, since 2014 when he assumed office,” the spokesperson Dr. Anachusi stated.
On security, despite persistent reports of cult-related outrages and communal encroachments by herdsmen, the Council of Elders said it was appreciative of the robust measures put in place to protect lives and property in the area.
“The Council commended the state government’s effort to ensure that Anambra State remains one of the most secure states in the country, and in this respect applauded the work of the Anambra State Cattle Menace Committee set up by Governor Obiano since February 2015. The Council was briefed by the Anambra State Commissioner of Police and Director of State Security on recent media reports about purported security breaches.”
The Council of Elders also praised the rotational principle adopted by the ruling party in Anambra State, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), to cede the governorship seat to the southern zone of the State in the next election cycle. It threw its weight behind candidates emerging from Anambra South senatorial district.
“The Council reiterated its position on the rotation of the office of the Governor among the three senatorial zones in the state, and hence its expectation that the next Governor of the state will come from the Anambra South senatorial zone.”
The Anambra Ekunie civic group appeared to reserve its strongest rebuke of the Council of Elders over the issue of governorship rotation. According to the group, members of the Elders Council are not in a position to determine which zone produces the next governor of Anambra state. Dr. Anachusi said that members of the group “will… mobilize against the so-called elders” if they attempt to impose any particular aspirant to succeed Obiano. There are indications that Obiano is nurturing Prof. Soludo to succeed him.
“It is very clear to us,” Anambra Ekunie said, “that the [Elders’] meeting was called to endorse a particular aspirant from Anambra South as successor to Obiano who is a resounding failure.
“We are not folding our arms. Anambra State also belongs to members of Anambra Ekunie, not just to the elders who have had a maddening run on the state since its creation,” the group said, warning the Council of Elders to focus more on how best to offer the state qualitative and result-oriented leadership.
It is clear that Governor Willie Obiano is being closely marked by Ndi Anambra, partisan and non-partisan alike, to see if he would complete his many announced projects before his exit in 2022.