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Imo Airport: Port Harcourt’s loss, Owerri’s gain

Posted by By Joe Nwachukwu Monday on 2007/01/23 | Views: 598 |

Imo Airport: Port Harcourt’s loss, Owerri’s gain

THE Imo Airport can be described as a child that was born out of circumstance following the politics within the period when the request was made by the old Imo state for the building of an air port at Owerri, the capital of the state that was created in 1976 by late General Moritala Mohammed regime.

THE Imo Airport can be described as a child that was born out of circumstance following the politics within the period when the request was made by the old Imo state for the building of an air port at Owerri, the capital of the state that was created in 1976 by late General Moritala Mohammed regime. The Federal Government did not hesitate to let the people of old Imo State that now comprises Abia, some part of Ebonyi and present Imo State know that she was not ready to build the airport but can rather approve one for the people to build for themselves if they consider the project as most necessary .In 1974, the Federal Military Government granted approval for the building of two airstrips in the defunct East Central State.

One was to be sited at Oba very close to Onitsha and the other at Ovom, near Aba. The two airstrips as we learnt were to provide the industrial and commercial. towns of Onitsha and Aba with air transport facilities. But due to the difficulties posed by the owners of land and speculators in Aba, the project was shifted to Owerrinta, 30 kilometres from Aba. The new project site, according to the story was deemed suitable because the airstrip could serve the major towns like Aba, Owerri and Umuahia. However, with the creation of Imo state in 1976, the issue of airstrip gradually died down only to be resuscitated in 1976 by the government of late Chief Sam Mbakwe. In 1979, contracts for the construction of the airstrip was signed with Ozigbo Engineering company . After initial site clearing and partial earth works at Owerrinta, further progress on work was stopped. Following the Federal Government decision to up-grade Owerrinta airstrip to a full fledged airport. Owerrinate not providing the much need land for expansion of the project as required by the federal government.

The problem was compounded by the presence of a high – tension electricity national grid of the NEPA fall within the vicinity. In view of this problem, the site of the airport was immediately re-located to Umuowe few kilometer to Owerri on the recommendation of the Federal ministry of Aviation consultants. Before work could commence at Umuowa, it was equally discovered that NITEL had build a transmitting station there. The exorbitant cost of dismantling and re-locating NITEL equipment at the station made Imo State government to search for an alternative site for the project continue. In 1980, it was decided to move the airport site into about 500 hectare stretch of land at Obiangwu, Logara, Umuohiagu in Ngor-Okpala LGA and Aboh Mbaise LGAs in Imo State.

However , in 1981, the Federal Government took over responsibility for the construction of the Imo airport and commissioned the West African engineering system to design it for the present location. Although formal contract for the construction of the airport was awarded in 1983, work never started due to some peculiar nature of the politics associated with second republic. The clamour for the building of the airport was rekindled in 1985. The state government then secured fresh approval from the Federal Government to commence work on the project. Consequently the then state military governor Navy captain Alison Madueke, at a colourful ceremony laid the foundation stone of the airport on June 5, 1986 , entered into formal agreement with the construction company of IGI Nigeria for the construction of the airport .

Following the outcry for an airport in Imo state, the government decided to establish a machinery to enable the Imo citizens demonstrate their support for the airport project in concrete terms . Some how, the idea of an airport for Imo state had entered popular consciousness. Consequently, the government of the then military governor Navy captain Madueke established the Imo airport appeal fund committee in June, 1986 to mobilize the resources of the people of the state and their well as well wishers towards the realisation of the airport project. In any case, through serious lobby made by the government and then aviation minister who is a daughter of the state, planes began to land and business activities return to the place. The people of the state and neighbouring states were coming to see bobbling in activities that has taken place at the airport.

After more than 2 years of the airport operation, its collapsed due to politics that set in along the line as there were no single plane coming to land to the airport . The joy and happiness disappeared from the people. The airport was completely abandoned for more than one year without single aircraft coming to land there. The control tower workers at the airport were recalled back to base. However, the government in power had no choice than to start lobbying the airline operators. The government was able to convince Sosoliso airways and the company agreed to be coming two times a day . The whole thing continue like that not untill when a team of airport investigation panel led by a top airforce officer who is the son of Imo state was sent by the federal government to come and study problem of Sam Mbakwe cargo international airport. At the end of panel investigation, the report was sent to the Federal Government.

When the report was released, it was sad news to the good people of Imo state and their government which felt bad and blamed their son who is the leader of the panel for recommending that the airport should be closed down due to lack of facilities in the airport . As luck will have it, the Port Harcourt International Airport was closed down by the Federal Government since September , 2006 in order to enable federal government to carry out some maintenance service that will to the December, 2006. In view of the closure of the Port Harcourt airport, all the planes that are coming to Port Harcourt were directed to start making use of Sam Mbakwe airport. The people of Imo State once again heavy sign of relief. In fact, there is big volume of activities to day at Imo airport receiving more than 15 flights on daily base boasting economic activities in the state .

Work which should have commence at Port Harcourt airport since September, 2006 did not take off. What we learnt now is that work will start at Port Harcourt airport this year and is expected to be completed on April this year . Peter Odili, the Rivers State governor doled out the sum of N2 billion to assist federal government in completing the job last year, but that was not a enough. For whatever reason, the work fail to commence since September 2006.

The delay for the commencement of work at Port Harcourt airport was a blessing to Imo state and unhappiness to the people of Rivers State.

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