By Ime Akpan
Tuesday, January 24, was a hot, hot day in Imo State. As early as 9am, heat from the oriental sun scorched the Eastern Heartland and turned it to Dallol in Ethiopia.
Creatures that opened their holes in the earth to peep at the outside world quickly ran back and shut the dark door of the holes.
Nevertheless, the people of Eastern Heartland from all walks of life defied the heat and trooped to Sam Mbakwe Airport to wait for their governor, Rochas Okorocha to unveil Imo Air, an initiative of the state government and Dana Air.
They stood in the scorching sun singing and dancing ecstatically from about 9am to around 11.30am when Dana Air which brought visitors from Lagos to witness the epoch partnership between the airline and Imo State government arrived at the airport.
On the ground to add colour to the event were traditional rulers and ndichie (elders) of the state and members of Women of Divine Destiny Initiative (WODDI). WODDI is the pet project of the governor’s wife, Nnoma Rochas Okorocha. WODDI delegates adorned special regalia embossed with Nnoma’s portrait.
Also spotted in the crowd was the former state chairman of the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), Chief (Dr.) Edmund Onyebuchi.
For the entertainment, there was the Omenimo Cultural Troupe. Also on hand to keep the place alive was a live Ikwokrikwo highlife band with no known name. The band sounded like the Oriental Brothers International Band led by late Dr. Sir Warrior.
The lead vocalist, who dressed in a pair of tight blue jeans, body-fit long-sleeved shirt and over-sized black shoes, held a jumbo hand bell but unlike Sir Warrior, he held no white handkerchief. However, like Sir Warrior, he would jingle the bell intermittently and yell eyo o, eyo o, eyo o while dancing frenetically.
The Omenimo Cultural Troupe was also spectacular. The male dancers wore indigenous igbo tutu and a pair of brown canvass shoes; the females dressed in white corset-like top on black leggings and black canvass shoes while the drummers dressed in igbo traditional costume, okpu agu cap and sandals. The young men and women employed vigorous body movements and danced so energetically like the mkpokiti and atilogwu dancers.
Okorocha, some members of the state executive council and royal fathers who had stayed in a lounge in the terminal building since they arrived joined the sun-beaten plebeians shortly before the aircraft landed.
After the delegates from Lagos had joined the crowd, the national anthem was sung. It was followed by Imo anthem which competes in length with the 158-stanza “Hymn to Liberty” or “Hymn to Freedom” written in 1823 by a Greek, Dionýsios Solomós. The song, which first two stanzas form the national anthems of Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, is the longest national anthem in the world by length of text. Imo anthem takes after that.
Little wonder that by the time the singing was over, many in the crowd were fagged out and they began to look for somewhere to squat. Some in the WODDI entourage crossed the driveway and sat on the tiny concrete pavement
Onyebuchi, who has been made weak by time and who is not now that strength which in 2000s moved ANPP in the state, had disappeared from the scene, probably to the lounge.
With the anthem over, Okorocha began his speech which was always interrupted with shouts of ‘My people, my people’ which normally starts and ends every speech of the governor.
Shortly after he began to speak, the sound from the loud speakers ceased. Technicians worked the wires and before anyone could blame the opposition for the disruption, they spotted a giant stubborn lizard which had scurried from nowhere despite the scorching sun and stepped on the wires connected to the speakers thereby causing a ‘breakdown in transmission’.
A horde of bystanders attacked the poor creature which was, perhaps, attracted by the shouts of ‘my people, my people’ and came out to see what could have made the people so exhilarated in the midst of biting recession: whether the pump price of fuel had been reverted to N65 or less per litre; whether the government had increased the minimum wage to N100, 000 and paid all the pensioners, whether the government had announced the introduction of quality free meals for primary school pupils, whether the dollar had exchanged for one naira, whether government had commenced payment of N5, 000 to every most vulnerable Nigerian.
The lizard took them round the wire maze and escaped by hiding in a small split in the side of a concrete pavement and God shielded it from those who sought for its life.
With the intruder chased away and the speakers working optimally, Okorocha announced to the astonishment of the crowd that Imo is not affected by the economic recession ravaging the country. Some people on the fringe of the crowd shrugged their shoulders and glanced at one another in shock and disbelief.
He said the state had cleared the arrears of pension and paid salaries up to December 2016 and was about to commence the payment of January salary.
Okorocha said some people might wonder why the state dabbled into airline business in time of recession.
“The aim of going into the air business is because I want to drive traffic to Imo State as Imo is genuinely becoming the fastest developing city outside Abuja and Lagos. For this, there is need for more airlines to cushion the effects of high traffic coming to the state.
“This is a 10-year partnership between Dana Air and the Imo State Government and it is borne out of our desire to increase business activities in Imo state, improve tourism drive, diversify the economy of Imo state, and provide employment opportunities for Imolites’’
“We believe that our partnership with Dana Air to operate Imo Air is a step in the right direction to open Imo State to the world.
The governor further said his administration partnered Dana Air to operate the airline because the state government was yet to have the license to operate a full-blown airline.
He pledged that the government will continue to maintain the airline and grow it to become one of the best in the country.
To ‘my people’ of Ngor Okpalla, the governor had good news for them. They are going to be host community to a cargo airport which comes on stream in April 2017. And there was a thunderous shout of ‘My people, my people’.
Wild applause and shouts also greeted Okorocha’s announcement that each ndi-Imo would fly the airline at a discount of 10 per cent of the value of the ticket. This was followed by the announcement that the ‘new’ airline will create direct and indirect jobs for many Imolites. This, too, was greeted with loud shout of ‘My people, my people’. More shouts of ‘My people, my people’ rent the air when Okorocha, who has added the appellation ‘Owele’ to his name announced that the aircraft in the fleet of Imo Air will be christened variously as ‘My people, my people, ‘Eastern Heartland’ among others.
After rounding off the speech, the governor and his entourage went to inspect the aircraft while the traditional rulers stayed behind. The bandstand continued to reel out a medley of highlife tunes from the orient; the Omenimo Cultural Troupe too treated the onlookers to breathtaking dance steps and acrobatic displays.
The inspection was over in about 20 minutes and Okorocha was back to the arena with his team.
After exchanging parting pleasantries with the traditional rulers and ndichie present and waving to the crowd, the governor and his team headed for the executive lounge from where he retired to the government house for some other official state matters.
But something happened while the entourage made for the driveway. There was a mild struggle in the WODDI camp as some of the women snuggled up to Nnoma. But the overzealous security men would not let them.
The women remained resolute. Like the biblical woman who kept on at an unjust king to avenge her traducers, the women pushed on until ‘aunty’ Nnoma acknowledged their presence. She stopped briefly, waved and smiled at them and said daalu.