It was in the late seventies that the concept of an airport in the vicinity of Onitsha was first conceived. Feasibility studies were undertaken, and which had the suburban town of Oba carefully chosen for the project. The late Commodore Emeka Omerua, it would be recalled, was the governor at the time.. Work actually began in earnest, but due to the unstable nature of military administrations, the project lost its momentum and consequently was put on hold.
Thirty years along the line, nothing but occasional rhetoric became the hallmark of the project. Hence, an airport that was billed to serve the needs of the commercial and industrial centers of Onitsha and Nnewi gradually became a forlorn of all hope. Vested interests: rumours were then rife that the "luxury bus" owners union of Nnewi and Onitsha were not keen on seeing an airport in their vicinity as such would put them out of business.
While the rumour lingered, the then federal military government of Gen. Babangida announced the creation of Delta state in 1991 with the capital at Asaba. Incidentally, Asaba shares a 1.4 kilometer bridge border with Onitsha. On the other hand, a new Anambra state was as well created with the capital at Awka. Thus, with the new status of Asaba, It was only natural that she would aspire to have her own airport. So, Delta state indigenes and the Asaba community in particular took the lead in pressing their government for an airport.
Back in Anambra, on assuming duty, the erstwhile governor, Chief Andy Uba, again, revamped the hope for the state's airport. He quickly re-awarded the contract, but In the process, the nation's supreme court annuled his tenure. While Peter Obi the present governor has not been non-challant about the project, his latest stand on the Environmental Impact Assessment report of Oba, which he disclosed was not favorable for an airport, further exacerbated the frustrations that has already trailed the project.
Though the governor hinted that the communities of Ogbaru and Aguleri were being considered for the project, but the news did not go down well with the people of Oba, who felt that the governor deliberately used the E.I.A report to deny them a privilege that was long granted to them. While stating that a significant infrastructure has been completed at the Oba site, the Oba community vowed to resist the relocation of the project. It would be recalled that the late Pope John Paul landed at the very airport site on two of his visits to Anambra state.
While the airport controversy heated up Anambra state, the Delta state government on the western bank of the river released the sum of 1.6 Billion Naira out of the 6.5 billion cost of the project, for the immediate take-off of the Asaba airport project. Sited about 5 kilometers to Onitsha, Prof. Amos Utuama, the state's deputy governor disclosed that the Asaba airport, a C-category for that matter, would be ready in 2010. And that work had already commenced.
So the question is, where does all these leave their neighbor Anambra state? Yes, no one of the states can can stop the other from pursuing an airport dream. But It must be borne in mind that building an airport is not the same as building a bus station. It is a huge investment.
The proximity, in my view, is the only worrisome factor, and which cannot be said of the Enugu and the Owerri airports which are at a reasonable distance from the other. If Anambra goes on to pursue the project by siting it in Oba, Ogbaru or Aguleri as mentioned, these towns are not far from Asaba.
From Asaba to Oba is less than 12 kilometers, to Ogbaru, not more than 8 kilometers, and to Aguleri not more than 18 kilometers. Of course, It is hoped that such a project would bring returns on the investment. But I don't know how this would happen with the possibility of two competing local airports at such proximity. It is also noteworthy to take cognizance of the air safety implications of these projects.
The geographical location of Asaba in this context, implies that 80 percent of the passengers arriving at such an airport would be South East bound. That said, it is now obvious that Delta state is competitively poised to take the long neglected advantage of the commercial and industrial cities of Onitsha and Nnewi, as business men would be able to travel, handle multi business matters real-time.
Yes, there is no doubt that this situation has ignited a psycho-entrepreneurial warfare between the two states. Anambra state may likely not back off from the project no matter the proximity factor. It would be too hard for her to swallow a fact that would see her not benefit from her endowed business environment. Another important project is the Orient Petroleum Refinery situated on the banks of Anambra river. It is yet to be completed, and when that does happen, it is expected to buoy the customer traffic of a future Anambra airport.
From all indications, It appears the Asaba complex would be big and multi-tasked. So for Anambra to compete favorably, she has to do the same or even surpass what will be of Asaba airport. In the alternative, another site other than the ones mentioned can be considered, say in the Northern most stretch of the state. Which would put the location of their future airport at say 40 kilometer distance from Asaba. I don't know...., but I think this may help to justify Anambra in view of what is currently taking place in Asaba, investing in an airport project.