Udom Emmanuel’s Fresh Ibom Air

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THE FRONTLINES

By Joseph Ushigiale

In this era of political infighting, propaganda and backstabbing, it is heart warming to hear and see that a new development narrative has been introduced by Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom state to douse the tension and change the conversation to something refreshing.

Last week, the governor inaugurated the state-owned Ibom Air, a local airline intended to join others in the highly competitive airline business and give priority to Akwa Ibom people in its service delivery.

Accompanied by Senate President Bukola Saraki, the governor landed the Ibom International airport on the newly acquired CRJ 900 aircraft to the rousing applause of Akwa Ibom people who were on hand to witness the making of history.

Addressing a delighted crowd that thronged the venue, Udom pointed out that, “The launching of Ibom Air is a monumental achievement in Akwa Ibom State and indeed Africa. The journey to achieve Ibom airline started in 2016 and today, it is a reality.”

He also explained that Ibom Air is expected to employ 300 people directly while 3,000 people will be involved in its daily operations, adding that the aircraft, registered as C-FWNK, is only six years old with a sitting capacity of about 90 persons and constitutes the newest and modern fleet of the Canadian airbus. The governor said that one other aircraft would arrive on Friday in addition to the already unveiled ones.

Rationalizing the choice of floating the airline where most people believe government has no business in doing business, Udom assured that “We are running Ibom Air as a business, paying particular attention to Akwa Ibom people.”

The inauguration of Ibom Air is indeed a watershed as well as a defining moment for the people of Akwa Ibom state. In my view, it is an evident example of how a people, with the gift of good leadership have turned adversity into opportunity.

Let me digress into a bit of history for those who do not know. For years, after the creation of Akwa Ibom from Cross River state, the people of Akwa Ibom had always traveled all the way to Calabar for their air travels. In all these years, Akwa Ibom people considered Calabar international airport a better alternative to Enugu, Owerri or Port Harcourt for obvious reasons.

But that obvious bond was broken when the federal government ceded 78 oil wells from Cross River state to Akwa Ibom. In the ensuing protest and drama that characterized the agitations, some disgruntled elements threatened to stop Akwa Ibom people from using Calabar airport for their daily air travels.

Then Governor Obong Victor Attah decided to take action. Shortly after this development, he began the building of Akwa Ibom International Airport. The airport was completed by Governor Godswill Akpabio and Emmanuel has now completed the value chain by inaugurating an airline.

I have written somewhere before that Akwa Ibom state is blessed with visionary leaders. The airport project is a living example and these leaders mentioned above adopted and pursued this project with singular purpose to complete it and save their people from the agony of traveling through another state. They have also saved them from public ridicule and given them a sense of pride and belonging.

Today, Calabar airport is a shadow of its former self and Ibom International airport is the greatest beneficiary. Gone are the days when Calabar airport used to witness a scramble by airlines for scheduled flights.

Ibom International airport is the bride whose hand is well sorted by every airline in Nigeria today. As a result of the competition, the prices of tickets are equally competitive and cheaper, while Calabar tickets are not only exorbitantly higher, traffic has reduced to just an airline daily -Air Peace.

Beyond politics, Emmanuel must be saluted for this achievement not only for its monumental size but also for the timing. This is election period and most governors who are standing for election have virtually rested governance for political campaigns.

Most importantly, he deserves commendation for achieving a feat which even the federal government is still struggling to find a way around floating a national airline. Emmanuel is not the first governor who mooted the idea of floating a state-owned airline but he is the first to float and inaugurate a state-owned with such elaborate precision.

Governor Rochas Okorocha collaborated with Dana Air to float Imo Air, but little is being heard right now about the airline initiative. There was also talk of a CallyAir by Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River state. Again that has also remained on the drawing board and yet to see the light of day.

Since the day Emmanuel mooted the idea of floating a state-owned airline, his critics have condemned him arguing that it would end up as a white elephant project because government has no business doing business.

The idea that government has no business in doing business may ring true for Nigerian businesses because of corporate governance issues and no one has proven this fallacy wrong.

However, there is a subsisting global trend where governments own businesses even in the highly capitalist US, mortgage companies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are among the most notable state owned enterprises. In China, there is the Jin Jiang Hotel, a Shanghai-based entity that is fully owned and operated by the government and Petrobas, our own equivalence of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Even in Africa, South Africa’s Eskom, a utility company, is one of the biggest entities in terms of its power generation capacity, and it is owned and operated by the government of South Africa.

Therefore, it is important Emmanuel should be given the support and allowed to deploy his rich wealth of knowledge garnered from the private sector to deliver cutting edge niche investment in the public sector.

On the developmental front, under his watch, the state government has been able to link all the strategic major towns in the state by constructing over 1,000 kilometres of roads across the state. Work on the Ibom Deep Seaport is ongoing and the governor has assured that it would commence operations before the expiration of his second term in 2023.

In making his industrialization drive a reality, Emmanuel has established the Armoured Vehicle Assembly Plant, LED Lighting Factory, Mexican Cattle Ranch in Uruan, Coconut Oil processing plant, Tomato Green House, Toothpick and pencil factory, reactivated the Peacock Paints factory, established a Fertiliser Blending Plant, Pulp and Paper factories and a Rice Mill.

All these put together and when fully in operation, these investments would establish several revenue streams and wean the state government off the current trend of depending on the Centre for allocation of resources. There is also the spin off these businesses would produce through the creation of employment opportunities, tax revenue etc to the state.

Pix: Emmanuel Udom.jpg