Nigeria: Okonjo-Iweala Elated As Ethiopian Airways Makes Maiden Flight From Enugu
The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has said the commencement of international flights at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu would unlock the latent economic potential of the South-eastern part of the country as well as bolster trade and industrialisation.
The minister, who disclosed this during the maiden flight of Ethiopian Airlines to Enugu, which marked the beginning of international air operation to the airport, said the development was the needed tonic to boost trade and industrialisation – two sectors – where the region was a prominent player.
Okonjo-Iweala, who had earlier boarded the aircraft, shortly before it took off to rejoice with the passengers and exchange pleasantries with them, said she came in to witness the experience and to be assured of the passengers’ patronage in the aircraft for the historical flight.
Also elated, Abia State Governor, Chief Theodore Orji, has expressed gratitude to President Goodluck Jonathan for making the historic flight possible, saying Ndigbo had long yearned for it. But Okonjo-Iweala, who could not contain her happiness on Friday, told the passengers that: “I came to witness this myself; I am happy and that is why I had to come inside the aircraft to see the passengers. Now, businesses will be done more easily between the South-east people and the outside world.”
Obviously elated and very emotional, the minister added that: “When you work hard and you see the result, you will always get a sense of fulfilment. This is good for the whole South-east. A lot of hard work had gone into this.”
However, the event that ushered in Ethiopian Airline into Enugu was like a carnival, as the people in the zone, including the passengers on the flight expressed their happiness in varying ways, including singing with the name of President Jonathan, thanking him for making what they dreamt of for many years possible.
“For us in the South-east zone, this is a dream come true. For years, we have suffered the inconvenience, the hardship, and borne additional cost travelling to Lagos and Abuja to board international flights for our businesses outside Nigeria. But, with this flight taking off from Enugu that long journey and added cost has ended. And we have to commend President Jonathan for giving this to us,” said a passenger, Ozioma Udeh.
Udeh was among the 158 passengers on board the inaugural flight, which included the Enugu State Governor, Sullivan Chime and the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ikweremadu.
THISDAY learnt that Ethiopian Airline, at the inaugural flight to Enugu, had announced that it would also resume flight operations to Kano, which it suspended about 10 years ago.
The Chief Executive Officer of the airline, Tewolde Gebremariam, who made this known, remarked that Nigeria was the airline’s largest market in Africa because of its huge population many of whom travel to different parts of the world to do business.
“After the successful take-off of operations to Enugu, our next Nigerian route is Kano. We are planning seriously to resume the route soon,” he said.
Gebremariam confirmed that the Boeing 737-800 scheduled for the inaugural flight to Enugu was fully booked for the two legs of the trip and signals indicate that the flight would continue to record high load factor till the end of December, suggesting that in the next few months the airline may replace the aircraft type with one with a larger body.
However, Okonjo-Iweala, while speaking with THISDAY in Abuja, shortly after arrival from the inaugural flight ceremony in Enugu, said the realisation of the airport’s international status was another signpost of the Jonathan administration’s resolve to transform the country.
“You know our people in the South-east are known for commerce and industrialisation, and the South-east is a landlocked area. The commencement of international flights at the airport would be an economic boost to the zone. Traders and importers, and industrialists like Innoson will no longer need to go to either Lagos, Port Harcourt or Abuja to connect international flights. If I want to travel outside the country with my family from our state capital, Umuahia, it takes less than an hour and half to drive to Enugu and connect an international flight. I am in deed happy that this is happening and we thank everyone that has made it possible, particularly Mr. President,” the minister said.
Also, Hon. Mao Ohuabunwa said: “A typical South-easterner is an entrepreneur – we are a commercial ly-oriented people, and we need to connect to other parts of the world. Today, I can take off from London and land in Enugu in the South-east and have my meetings and go back. But before now, I must go through either Lagos or through Port Harcourt to be able to have an international link.”
Reacting to insinuations that the political leaders from the South-east did not push enough to realise the dream before now, Ohuabunwa disagreed, adding: “I told you that the former vice-president of this country did the first architectural design, he started it off.” He was the vice-president, he pushed. I was in the National Assembly, I know how we pushed to make sure we realise Enugu international airport. At a point, it was an international airport by word of mouth because they said ‘Enugu International Airport’. But by action and activity, it wasn’t.
Meanwhile, Orji in a statement issued by his chief press secretary, Mr. Ugochukwu Emezue, noted that the commencement of international flight in Enugu would contribute immensely to the economic development of the South-east zone.
He noted that the international status of AIIA would also remove the inconveniences that people from this zone used to experience when travelling abroad as they would henceforth catch their flight at Enugu instead of travelling to Abuja and Lagos or Port Harcourt.
Orji made it clear that this singular feat has further proved that President Jonathan had the interest of the South-easterners at heart.