The formerly sleepy town of Akobo in the local government with same name in Akwa Ibom State is now alive with activity and guests who pass through the newest international airport now being constructed by the state government. Akobo is an agrarian enclave and from the air the approach to land at the airport will present the first time visitor with idyllic marine fauna, mangrove swamps and curvy rivers snaking their way to the Atlantic, and, after the Arik jet banks to the right and left, positioning for the runway, the outlines of a very big airport-in-the-making came into view.
As at December 2009 when this reporter passed through this way, work was going on at a furious pace at this airport. The runway had newly been completed as well as the terminal building which boasted of mainly essential structures and services: arrival and departure lounges, car parks, fire service, a massive hangar in skeleton being put in place, etc. But there was no doubt that the project has gone a long way off the ground, and compared to a jet in flight, is in the air, well on her way.
The advantages of this project are very many. First of all, it takes the state and its economy into the jet set of states that have, as the military would say, an air head. Trips to Uyo and Oron or Eket need no longer be convoluted and time-wasting as many important locations in this state can be reached within half an hour or thereabout. During the time we passed through, passenger patronage of the Arik flights to Lagos and Abuja was always fully booked, possibly due to the yuletide seasonal movements of township dwellers to connect with their kit and kin in the villages. But even thereafter, the strategic locations of the state in the oil and gas industry would ensure a steady patronage of high net-worth customers made up of oil workers and sundry business people. A source who responded to our enquiries confided that Aero Contractors and Virgin Nigeria airlines have visited the new airport, apparently surveying operational opportunities. But as at March 2010, Dana Air had taken over from Arik on the route.
In Uyo and Oron where this reporter called during the short visit, every mention of the airport project brought eulogies to Governor Godswill Akpabio for taking up and completing the huge project which he inherited from the previous Obong Victor Attah administration. Many commended the gesture especially because of the habit of many new administrations in Nigeria to abandon projects initiated by their predecessors in favour of new ones conceived by them, even if the olden projects may be of benefit to the state. Indeed the praises being showered on the Akpabio administration seem to be justified because of the many road projects being undertaken and witnessed by DDH. These are high quality road projects in various stages of completion but they made commuting around the state very easy and pleasurable. In fact, the new airport is located off a dual carriageway being newly constructed to link Uyo with Oron and the completed section is of highly superior grade. As someone commented at the airport during our return trip, as we queued up at the Arik counter for check-in, Akwa Ibom is fast shooting to the front of the line among states in Nigeria, and her indigenes are now eagerly boasting of her whereas in the past some of them were even shy to identify with their motherland.
DDH gathered that aside from the framework of the hangar under construction, the airport, which is being handled by a consortium in liaison with the state government, will also have a hotel complex in the vicinity apart from other structures. From the facts on the ground, this move by the state government is bound to result in multiplier developments that will blow a good economic and social wind on the people of the state.