Chief Victor Ikwuemesi
Late Chief Victor Ikwuemesi

OBINNA EZUGWU

The novel Coronavirus pandemic has claimed yet another Nigerian life in London, this time an illustrious son of Anambra State, founder of the now defunct Sosoliso Airlines Limited, Chief Victor Ikwuemesi

Ikwuemesi, a foremost industrialist whose Sosoliso Airline was once a leader in the country’s airspace, passed on on Monday in the UK capital after being infected with the virus.

He was said to have been in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) on oxygen since he arrived the London hospital, but when the oxygen was removed for him to eat, he couldn’t breathe on his own. And while he was subsequently put on a ventilator, he eventually died.

Ikwuemesi’s death represents a huge loss not just to Anambra State, but the entire country. He was a trailblazer and pacesetter in the airline industry. He established Sosoliso, a scheduled, domestic passenger airline in 1994, but the airline eventually began fight operations in 2000.

The airline which had head office in Ikeja, Lagos, was, however, eventually grounded in 2007 having failed to meet the April 30, 2007 deadline by the government of Olusegun Obasanjo for all airlines operating in the country to be recapitalised.

The airline’s troubles, had started in 2005 following an unfortunate crash that involved one of its aircraft.

Mourning the late industrialist, the Anambra State government in a statement signed by the Commissioner for Information, C Don Adinuba, described him as a great son of the state and a worthy Nigerian in the truest son of the expression

“The government and people of Anambra State have received the news of the painful exit yesterday in London of Chief Victor Ikwuemesi, a foremost chartered accountant and entrepreneur who came into national limelight in 2000 when he set up the Sosoliso Airlines Ltd to run scheduled domestic passenger services,” Adinuba has said.

“Chief Ikwuemesi, an indigene of Nkwelle Ogidi, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, has become the latest prominent victim of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. This highly infectious disease is real. Our people must continue to take precautionary steps to save our place from the contagion.

“Chief Ikwuemesi was not just a great son of Anambra State but also a worthy Nigerian in the truest son of the expression. His sole purpose for establishing the carrier was to change the sociopolitical landscape of a key component of the Nigerian federation which was unfortunately being schemed out of national affairs.

“The two airports in the Southeast by 1999 when democratic rule was restored were no longer in use. People travelling from the Southeast to any other part of the country had to go by road, with all the incalculable costs and risks. Rather than thrown up his hands in the air in despair and lament about marginalization, as many of his people are wont to do, Chief Ikwuemesi decided to take the bull by the horn by establishing an airline to reopen the Enugu and Owerri airports. It is instructive enough that Enugu became the headquarters. It is to his credit and foresight that the two airports have remained open ever since.

“Sosoliso Airlines was flying into Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, apart from Enugu and Owerri. Owing to its acute professionalism, it commanded tremendous customer loyalty. However, on December 10, 2005, its 1145 flight which took off from Abuja with mostly students of Loyola Jesuit College who were going home on holidays crashed at Port Harcourt International Airport. Only one person survived.

“In its authoritative publication captioned “How blunders and neglect stoked an African tragedy”, The Wall Street Journal, after reviewing reports based on investigations by the Boeing Corporation, the Accident Investigation Bureau of Nigeria and its American counterpart, showed on October 1, 2007, that the crash owed to wind shear, that is, a sudden and dramatic change in the speed and direction of the wind. In other words, it was due to natural forces.

“Yet, the deaths would have been averted if the drain at the airport had been close; the machine ran into the open drain with force after the pilot had successfully landed the aircraft. Consequently, its dual purpose kerosene (DPK) caught fire. To exacerbate matters, the fire service could not respond robustly, as its officers were to complain of a lack of critical items like hydrant. The result was the avoidable deaths of the passengers and crew.

“The airline did not recover from the crash. It is regrettable that the authorities at the time did not address themselves to the core issues raised by the Sosoliso accident. They rather engaged in shadowboxing.

“Chief Ikwuemesi’s place in the history of our people is assured. He devoted the last 20 years to his own spiritual growth and to the development of his Ogidi community which honoured him with the chieftaincy titles of Ezelue and Ebube Ogidi, making him a High Chief and a member of the Royal Cabinet.

“There are five major things for which Chief Ikwuemesi will be remembered for long: humility even in spite of huge entrepreneurial success; a high savings rate which accelerates business growth; integrity, loyalty and trust in business; commitment to the common good; and the practice of the Aku Lue Uno, or Think Home, philosophy, which this administration has been espousing with evangelical fevour.

“The people and government of Anambra State commiserate with the Ikwuemesi family and the Royal Cabinet of Ogidi over the death of this noble, selfless and quiet Nigerian. They are in our prayers and thoughts. May God receive Chief Ikwueme’s soul.”