Marcel Ifejiofor is an engineer, who served as Commissioner for Works in the administration of Governor Willie Obiano, during which he supervised the construction of the Anambra State International Cargo Airport, an uncommon feat achieved within 15 months. The airport project has further entrenched Anambra State in Nigeria’s international trade and cargo logistics management given the fact indigenes of the state are at the leading edge of importation of goods. In this interview, he looks back to the achievement of the Obiano administration.
What was the experience like working under Governor Willie Obiano?
It was good. I was opportune to work with a very serious minded governor, who managed both the financial and human resources effectively. Governor Obiano always wanted the best for Ndi Anambra, and made Anambra the safest state in Nigeria in terms of security of lives and property. The governor gave Anambra the best network of roads in Nigeria. It was a very worthwhile experience working with Governor Willie Maduaburochukwu Obiano.
The airport project easily comes across as the signature infrastructural project of the Obiano administration. Please shed some light on how it moved from mirage to reality.
Anambra people have been longing for an airport for the past 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 construct the airport, until 2020. Nothing happened until Governor Obiano came and in 2019, he started the review of the drawings with AIM Consultants. After that, we mobilised to the site in late January 2020 and in 15 months, we were able to deliver a brand new airport, which has the second longest runway in Nigeria, the tallest terminal building in Nigeria and an apron of 200 by 300 meters in size. It has one of the most modern terminal buildings in Nigeria. With three lifts, three escalators and a staircase, etc. We put in the best airfield lighting in the whole world. We have a DVOR, other people have DVR but what we have is DVOR; it is equipped with instrument landing system, the glide slope, which is the best and latest in the world. The instruments and equipment on top of the tower are the latest. There is a fire house and three fire tenders. Each of them has a volumetric capacity of 20,500 litres. They were acquired from Ziglar in Germany – and they are the latest in terms of fire-fighting tenders in the whole world. That’s what Heathrow, Atlanta, Frankfurt airports use. That will tell you the standard of airport built by the Obiano administration. The airport has started full operations with smaller aircraft but it has been upgraded because the fire tenders and fire houses in place are in Category 9 which is one of the best. Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, which is the regulatory body for airport operations in Nigeria has given approval for Boeing 737 aircraft which can take a minimum of 149/150 passengers at a go and Embraer E-195, to operate flights from the airport.
The Nigeria Air Force is ready to set up a training school in the airport. The airport has an MRO which is the hanger where you repair and park planes. Air Peace and Nestoil have one each with many warehouses springing up. There is no need telling you the importance of this airport to Ndi Anambra. We are the most travelled 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 rigours of going to clear air freight goods in Port Harcourt and elsewhere passing 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 must be commended for the vision. Prior to 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 not better. This is a dream come true for Ndi Anambra. If you watch the interview of the NCAA Director General, Captain Nuhu, he described the Anambra airport as one of the best in sub-Saharan Africa. United Nigeria Air comes here every day while Air Peace comes four times in a week whereas on daily basis we have minimum of three, four or five private jets because Anambra indigenes have the greatest number of private jets in Nigeria. This airport is a hub not only for Ndi Anambra but the entire Southeast and others because it is going to link us all together. Subsequent administrations should be thinking of the rail, a monorail that can link Onitsha, Aba, Abakaliki, Enugu and the rest and we are done.
Some people said the airport was misplaced priority. What’s response to that assertion?
That is political because you are seeing the reality now. This airport has been very busy that we have recorded over 50,000 passengers since inception and more than 100 flights. Any Anambra man that says we don’t need an airport is just being political. Some of the vocal critics have landed here and when they land, they could not face up 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’s why we’ve been longing for it for over 30 years. Government after government used it as a campaign gimmick but Governor Obiano decided to walk the talk in record time of 15 months. No project of this magnitude has been done within such time but we achieved it because we worked day and night. During the 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 visited the airport every week to supervise what was going on, giving us moral and financial support. He knew the operators by name and he paid contractors promptly. No dime was borrowed to build this airport, Anambra State money was used to construct 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 network of roads in Nigeria. If you say Anambra doesn’t have roads, check the nearby states, compare and contrast. Why people said that was because most federal roads in the state collapsed. Roads are designed with axis loads which determine the type of loads it carries. When federal roads collapsed, all the big trucks that come into Anambra from other states meant for certain types of roads all started plying our local roads and this affected the roads. Now that the Amawbia-Umunya lane is okay, you will see what is happening. Another challenge we had in 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 type of gullies we have here, Gov. Obiano said, ‘I won’t stay and see my people being wiped out by erosion.’ So he got into erosion control. We did the 100-foot road gully erosion in Nnewi with a depth of 35 meters which cost N3.5 billion. That of 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 check these two the government expended more than N7 billion. If we had that kind of money on road construction, what do you think would have happened? The good thing about the Obiano administration was that it prioritised whatever it did. We didn’t do roads for political reasons. The administration took roads to people who had never seen a good road before. Think of Nzam, the only local government in Nigeria without a tarred road. The administration constructed an 8.4 km road from Mmiata Anam to Nzam with a bridge. Aguleri-Otu is an oil prospecting community in Anambra State without a road; you go through the oil well through Enugu State through Asagba, Iggah to a well that is in Anambra State. The government built a 42km road from Aguleri Uno to Aguleri Otu with a bridge of 280 metres, the longest bridge in southeast. We took an 8km road to Ogwu Aniocha in Ogbaru, which is an oil prospecting community too, to Ogwuikpele, another oil producing community in Ogbaru and to Onono community in Anambra West, where we produce the Ugu vegetable which Anambra exports. We didn’t measure our roads in the number of kilometers but how much they impacted on the people.
The Obiano administration inherited seven bridges but all have been completed. It awarded contracts for 14 bridges and completed 10 of those bridges. In all, the Obiano administration completed 17 bridges including the three flyovers in Awka. When this administration came, Awka was like a glorified village but when you pass Awka today, it is better.
If the government did this much how come these things were not publicised?
The taste of the pudding is in the eating. We didn’t do unnecessary show-off with commissioning of projects in Anambra. That was why we refused to invite the press during the building of the airport. We kept our eyes on the ball until we delivered. Even today, some people are still saying that this airport doesn’t exist just for political reasons but they land here. Chief Willie Obiano is not your regular politician, he is fully determined, a workaholic.
Do you have confidence that Prof Chukwuma Soludo, will continue the unfinished projects?
From his antecedents, we believe in him. The important thing with our projects is that they are projects that Ndi Anambra feel positively about and Soludo is somebody that equally likes good things. He wants Anambra to be better so we have no fear with him. We hope and believe that he will take Anambra to the cruising level.
What are your most memorable and exciting moments serving in the erstwhile Obiano administration?
I’m an engineer, so I served in a familiar terrain. The highest experience you have is to manage the people in that ministry, to go to Exco and convince the Exco why a particular road should be done, to convince your governor to believe in you. I brought lots of experience from the Oil and Gas sector where everything is done with precision. I would come to the office and lock the gate by 8.30am because I didn’t understand how someone could come to work by 10am and leave by 1pm. 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.