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SAM MBAKWE AIRPORT UPGRADE AND ITS SOCIO-ECONOMIC BENEFITS

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Uche Onwuchekwa

It was barely two weeks after His Excellency, Governor of Imo State Owelle Rochas Okorocha in his passion to see the upgrade of Sam MbaKwe airport in his pragmatic tradition constituted and inaugurated his Deputy; Prince Eze Madumere led Committee on realization of Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport when the news filtered in that President Mohammadu Buhari has given his express approval for the upgrade of Sam Mbakwe Airport. This was received with excitement and feeling of fulfillment of dream even as the Permanent Secretary, Hajia Binta Bello who visited on a fact-finding mission in company of the Heads of various related Aviation parastatals and agencies promised that work will begin in less than two months’ time.

Governor Okorocha in his visionary leadership had during the build up to 2015 presidential election among other things appealed to the would-be President, Mohammadu Buhari to upgrade Sam Mbakwe Airport to bring to reality its supposed status as an International Cargo Airport. To the glory of God, that dream is becoming a reality.
Truly, Sam Mbakwe “International Cargo” Airport is a piece and place of history. At its conception, it became an object of controversy since it was perceived as one of those white elephant projects that would never see the light of the day, hence huge expectation of its miscarriage.

That singular challenge created room for appreciation of quality and visionary leadership, which Dee Sam Mbakwe readily gave and since he was the conceiver the idea in 1982. All efforts to get the job off ground proved unattainable. Interestingly, communal tradition and united spirit of Ndi Igbo was tested.
Why I said the spirit of Ndi Igbo is the fact that it was at a time when the territory of old Imo State covered what we have as present Imo State, Abia State and part of Ebonyi State and even more. Aba as it were was a home for all Igbos even beyond the boundary of the South East zone.

It will be recalled that due to the then Federal Government silence and nonchalant attitude towards this specific demand of Ndi Igbo to having an Imo airport, in unison with Chief Mbakwe’s trustworthy leadership, that Ndi Igbo chose to adopt their traditional communal self- help approach towards achieving their collective dream. Making real their determination to realize this dream, “Imo Airport Appeal Fund” was launched. Parents, market women, technocrats and even peasants saw it as a worthy cause, which must be pursued to a logical conclusion. People bought their raffle tickets and contributed towards the realization of what is today called Sam Mbakwe Airport. Like Peter Claver rightly said, “The idea of the airport stems from the same Ibu Anyi Ndanda philosophy employed by Zik to entrench and deepen education in the South East when the realization that the South East was badly trailing the South West in education and that something needed be done to redress this imbalance. At the time this idea was conceived, airports were springing up in every part of the country, hence Ndi Igbo had to take their destiny in their own hand.

In the same spirit, during the military interregnum, Navy Commodore Anthony Oguguo realizing the passion with which the erstwhile Governor of Imo State and the people held the project, he nobly commissioned and kick-started its construction. It is true that the Federal Government of Nigeria at a later stage took over the airport; history will record the unity and sincerity of purpose exhibited by Ndi Igbo then as a rare move by a people who charted a worthy course and fought for its realization.
Today, Sam Mbakwe airport has become one of the golden geese that have continued to lay the golden eggs, contributing immensely to the revenue of the Federal government of Nigeria.

Interestingly, it has in a great measure helped to alleviate the sufferings of most travelers and business men who now meet up with their various social and business appointments with precision and fewer disappointments.

According to Prince Madumere the impact of the airport cannot be over emphasized as many lives have been saved because patients in critical conditions who are referred to specialist hospitals abroad or hospitals located in faraway States are usually flown to a nearby international airport than plying a-long-distant motor rail that may take between 6 to 8 hours. Road is not also without its attendant hick-ups, gallops and with all the suffocation experience either due to bad condition of the road, traffic or any other unforeseen circumstances.

It will be recalled that in 2007, when Port-Harcourt international Airport was shut down following dangerous condition of its runway, Sam Mbakwe was readily available to cushion the extreme effects on the people of the South-South and other south Eastern States.

Looking at the socio-economic benefits of Sam Mbakwe airport as mentioned with its status as a local airport, it follows that when it is upgraded to an international airport, it is only logical that the benefits will be monumental.

The benefits as an International Cargo airport will only make our international businessmen to go to sleep. This is not unconnected to the attendant bottlenecks in clearing goods only to face with another challenge of transporting them to the East, which does not only add an excruciating painful cost but the harrowing experience of fear of losing goods on transit either by accidents or people of the underworld; again if such goods are perishable, then it becomes a matter of prayers and luck.

Interestingly, the promise of employment, employment, employment will not only be realized in a bigger chunk as there will be direct and indirect employment. It is also expected that related airline and airport servicing companies will crop up.

For our youths who have foresights and are creatively diligent, it creates ample opportunity for them to join the league of entrepreneurs by going into small or medium scale agro-allied enterprises. This will even become easier for them since the Paper-packaging industry in Mbaise would give the needed support in terms of quality packaging. It is also an opportunity for our universities to contribute their quota in boosting the economy by researching into those areas where we have comparative advantage. It is no news that Israel as it stands today is the greatest supplier of fruits and vegetables in the Middle East and beyond. With good marketing value added to our farm produce, it will no longer go through the harshness of the weather but will be transported fresh to the consumers within and outside the shores of our Nation.

Drawing from the few that have been said, it is obvious that our visionary leader, Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha has remained consistent with his Rescue Mission policies with its set goal of making Imo a productive State where its citizens and residents will find fulfillment.

Therefore, Governor Okorocha ought to be commended for his foresight. His Deputy, Prince Eze Madumere must also be commended for his hard work, goal-getting attitude, team-playing spirit even as the members of his committee are the world best in aviation industry.

While reserving the best at the completion of the upgrade, Prince Madumere and his team have promised to go for the best as charged by the number one first citizen of the State, Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha. We as Ndi Imo and the South East should support this worthy development by holding up the hands of Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha for his vision and encourage his deputy, Prince Madumere with his team to ensure that the implementation of the projects must come out a world class. There is no doubt that by the time the operation would have kick-started in the nearest future and with its concomitant benefits will bring the world to our feet.

President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Alhaji Mohammadu Buhari will go down in history of Imo State as one President who showed love in great magnitude and will be dearly remembered by posterity.