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Tumultuous crowd as Akwa Ibom lands first aircraft

By Wole Shadare and Ayoyinka Olagoke, Uyo
30 September 2009   |   4:41 am
IT was not a political rally. Far from it. The people of Akwa Ibom State had long waited for it, not because they doubted the promise of their governor, Godswill Obot Akpabio, but because they had seen many projects being abandoned for no just cause.

But on Wednesday, the people, numbering close to a million, trooped to Okobo community, the community housing the Akwa Ibom International Airport, Uyo to be part of history; to witness the first commercial flight into the $300 million facility.

They trekked under the scorching sun both young and old, with so much joy written on their faces, a clear statement of acceptance of their governor for bringing development to their state.

Many including the reporters trekked the over 15 kilometer dusty and bumpy road to the airport, as the number of vehicles and people was unprecedented in the annals of the state to witness the commissioning of a facility.

At a point, vehicles stood at a stand-still for over three hours on the same spot, as the narrow road to the airport could not contain the influx of people to the area.

As the Arik’s B737-800 aircraft landed on the runway of the airport, ecstatic people who came from far and near surged forward to touch the big bird, but were restricted by security operatives, who at a time were almost over-powered by the crowd.

Former Governor Obong Victor Attah, who started the project was on hand to savour the day, as he in company of the governor led other members of his cabinet to received the aircraft with registration 5N-MJO with host of dignitaries, comprising the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwarts, business moguls among others.

Elated about the development, Akpabio in his speech said his government has repeatedly been dogged and committed to ensure and assure that the completion of the phase one of the airport project, one of the government’s most valuable is today (Wednesday) heralded with the inaugural flight.

When fully completed, Akwa Ibom International Airport will offer exciting world-class facilities to travelers, businesses and airline operators.

Phase one of the project includes MRO to serve the critical aircraft, such as B747-400, aircraft rescue and fire fighting facility, air traffic control tower, interim passenger terminal, technical and administrative building, aviation fuel farm, emergency operating centers and clinic.

The airport has capacity for dispatching both wide-body and small- body aircraft.

According to Akpabio, the aircraft maintenance repairs facilities will service the aviation industry in Nigeria, West Africa and the African region.

Speaking to The Guardian, the state’s Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Aniekan Umanah, said: “I must tell you that it is a regular thing in the state since the governor came on stream. It is a demonstration of support, but I must quickly add that what happened today amplified whatever we have been saying. It was a demonstration of total support. Today, the people of Akwa Ibom State came out and signed a signature of finality; unto this administration, saying, we are today convinced that you are one government, one governor who matches words with action.”

“He told the people that the aircraft will touch down on the tarmac of Akwa Ibom International Airport on September 23 and you saw a B737-800 touch down. You saw it take-off. I was so excited. The excitement of our people today knew no bound; people trekked up to ten kilometers, women, children, adult, everywhere, no one can ever fathom this level of support. The governor is loved by his people. This is what I have seen and I am totally convinced that Akwa Ibom people are and will be all the way with Governor Akpabio. But I must quickly add that the event of today also the demonstration of the can- do-spirit of the governor”, he added.

Umanah disclosed that the viability of Akwa Ibom airport is guaranteed 100 per cent, stressing that if three schedule flights are put to Abuja or Lagos from here, there would be full you booking.

He explained that 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the traffic out of Calabar comes from Akwa Ibom, noting, “So for us already, it is a relief because 10-15 minute to the airport within the environment relieves us of a lot of stress, so passengers will be able to move around the country, and we will commence international operations at least to be able to take off from here to London and other places; that is the hope and the governor is not resting on his oars”.

“Airport or air transportation is all about destinations, movement of people. Airport everywhere in the world is a market place and when you are talking of a market place, you are talking of tourism, if you are talking of bringing visitors you are talking of tourism, if you are of tourism, you are talking of tourists and how do the tourists move, tourists travel to destination. So, the event of today marks the beginning of real tourism, marks the signature of the tourism development in the state. We can now receive and evacuate visitors with ease.

“That is the turning point in tourism development, economic development, social and political development of any given state or country. Akwa Ibom before today may have been regarded as a pedestrian state because people pass through the state. The governor promised that he was turning this state from a pedestrian to a destination state.”