I want to transform Sam Mbakwe Int’l Cargo Airport – Efobi
Mr Henry Efobi is the Airport Manager of Sam Mbakwe International Airport, Owerri, Imo State capital. In this interview with CHUKS OKOH, the airport manager speaks on the activities of the international cargo airport and his plans to take the airport to the next level: Excerpts
Pleases can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Henry Efobi. I have worked in Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria FAAN for 27 years. I started as Aviation Security (AVSEC) Officer and I have worked in many airports in the aviation security unit. I have headed quite a number of airports in terms of security. Two years ago, precisely, 2014, the management of FAAN found me worthy to be appointed airport manager and they posted me to Sam Mbakwe International Airport. Coming here, I saw what was happening. Overtime, the airport has improved in terms of structure. We tried as much as possible to improve on it. My priority when I came here was to first motivate the staff in whatever way. Since then, we have been doing in-house training for the staff.
How far about the cargo terminal, Is it ready?
From my observation since I came here, the cargo section here is being done by the State government. It is one of the promises the governor gave to his people. The cargo section is moving fine and the structures are coming up as we now have about six to seven buildings there now. The state government is doing something to make sure it takes off as soon as possible
What is the relationship between the management of the airport and the state government?
The relationship between the management of the airport and the Imo State Government is cordial. The relationship has been very fantastic. We are working together for the common good of the people. We hold meetings and sometimes I visit the governor as well. Whenever, I visit and he knows am there; he always responds positively. In such meetings, I do tell him what we need to do and he listens to me. The relationship has been very fantastic.
Are you getting any assistance from the Imo State government?
The Imo State Government is doing well. The governor has done some things in terms of security. He has renovated the police station. With respect to the police, he is doing very well. On the cargo terminal, he has made some steps in that direction. He came and we discussed. We told him our challenges, especially the issue of communities encroaching into the airport premises. The governor played a very big role in that regard; he even sent his deputy at a point, telling the communities that they should not encroach into the airport premises. He also made them to understand that the existence of the airport is basically is for their own good. On our own part, we are not relenting but trying to see what we can do.
There is this issue of communities holding the airport manager hostage; did you experience it?
I have not experienced that. Since I came, they have not done that because I studied their grievances and I know what they are looking for. I told my Managing Director about the issue and he listened. So, we adopted some strategies; for example, the indigenes constitute about 60 per cent of the 185 staff that are on our pay roll. We have been helping them through employment. We were able to do this through the goodwill of FAAN MD, Engineer Saleh Dunoma who is a very good administrator and most importantly, a listening leader. With Dunoma’s focus and robust leadership qualities, we were able to contain any kind of hostilities. We also have meetings with the communities where we discuss ways forward and I am constantly in contact with them. Whenever, they want to do anything, they tell me and I give them advice too. Such understanding and rapport have helped to reduce that agitation. The federal government, on its own part has also been doing something, especially in the area of security. We now have the Nigerian Air Force which came into the area only few months ago. They are supporting us and we now have full time patrol around the airport premises. We have strong arms support as a result of the presence of the Nigerian Air Force here. In addition, the Commander of the Base 211, Group Captain Lazarus is a very fine and proactive officer. With them, I think the issue of security in the area will be a thing of the past.
Do you have plans to generate revenue from non-aeronautical areas?
Yes, we have such plans. We are working on those areas. There are some of the things I marshalled out and we have formed a committee to look into those areas so that they can fine tune how they can work out effectively to generate revenue. We want to open a General Service Area where shoe makers, vulcanizers, wrist watch repairers, tailors and other artisans can trade and do business in the environment. We are also planning to commence branding of Sam Mbakwe International Airport. Such branding is going to start with water. We want to start branding portable water and we are already talking with some consultants to know how to go about it. When I came, a lot of people were complaining of food poisoning, arising from impure water. When we brand with water, it will not only create awareness for Sam Mbakwe Airport but will assist in improving the health of the people through pure and reliable water source.
What are you doing to see that FAAN has staff buses and staff quarters at Sam Mbakwe International Airport?
That is a very serious issue which I met when I took over. When I came, staff buses were working and I repaired some vehicles which we used to carry our staff. However, we have some plans and if it materializes, those issues would be solved. For staff quarters, our management is aware of that. But I am planning to talk to developers so that we can see how to synergize and come up with something. You know I don’t have the power to approve, so I will lay it before the management for them to look at it. These are the things we have in mind. The state is also listening to us in that regard but such project involves a lot of money.
We have some airlines coming into Sam Mbakwe Airport; are you expecting more coming?
The issue of airlines coming has always been there. Most of them like to come during festive period because of the high traffic and load factor during that period. Airport operation is capital intensive. So everybody wants ways to make out money. However, I have to thank Air Peace. They are making us proud and we are so proud of them. In my own capacity, I have promised that we would do anything humanly possible to make sure they maintain that process.
How are you coping with power supply?
The issue of power is very difficult and I tell you that we don’t have dedicated line. Though efforts have been made in the past because a team was set up to tackle that issue, shortly before the change of government. We don’t have dedicated line; we don’t even have power. The independent power generators have not been helping. We pay as soon as they bring their bills; even though they don’t give us light. This is because we don’t want to give them the room to cut our light. With the magnanimity of the headquarters, we have 1,000 KVA power generating plant and one other 500KVA. So that is what we have been using. We live on diesel and it is a very expensive. You people should pray for us because the pressure is high.
Is there any fire fighting mechanism and what is the level of your fire fighting system?
We have fire fighting system. For now, we have category 8 fire tender
What is the relationship between FAAN and other aviation agencies?
We have very amazing relationships. We have avenue where we meet. We have airport security committee meeting where we meet. It is held once every month where issues are discussed. Once we have any report, we make sure they have it too.
Give us a picture of your dream Sam Mbakwe airport in the future
I want Sam Mbakwe Airport to be like Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) or Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. My dream is to make it to be more flourishing, so that FAAN would make its money while passengers would also have a beautiful place they can relax in a chilly environment. We want to do it in such a manner that when they go they tell others.
What message do you have for stakeholders?
My message is that I want stakeholders to pray for us for God to give us the wisdom and proper direction to make their passage in this airport a very formidable and sweet memory. I want them to sell the airport to other passengers.