When former Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah began the reconstruction of the nationâ€™s airports, there were sighs of relief that these facilities would be brought to global standard. Regrettably, the gains are being reversed by an â€˜evil handâ€™, writes Bennett Oghifo
The cooling systems in the open spaces in terminal buildings of the nationâ€™s international airports hardly function. The VIP lounges are kept cool for obvious reasons and the users do not get to feel the heat since it is always a short walk from the cold rooms to the aircraft.
But for everyone else, it is furnace heat and sweat in both arrival and departure halls, which, incidentally have been remodeled to have international outlook.
Furnace heat trails arriving passengers from outside the plane to the baggage claim area to the car park. The escalators do not work. So, passengers walk on the steps, dragging their hand luggage along. â€œIt is usually an ugly sight,â€ said Modupe Kajola, a lecturer in the United States, who visited last week.
â€œI expected things to be different at our airports, particularly in Lagos, after all these years. Nothing seems to have changed,â€ She added.
The horrid experience for international and domestic travellers begins when the plane is on its final approach to any of the nationâ€™s airports during the day or at night. â€œIn this era of re-branding, those in charge should understand that these are the nationâ€™s gateways and the zone that help mould visitorsâ€™ impression of the country. It is believed that a true test of how people live could be determined from the state of their toilets in airports and in their stadiums.
State of the Airports…
All airports in the country remain in their original state, meaning no new wings have been added as envisaged by their master plans. For instance, the Murtala Muhammed Airport terminal was modeled after Amsterdamâ€™s Schiphol Airport. The airport, which opened officially on March 15, 1979, consists of an international and a domestic terminal, located about one kilometre from each other. Both terminals share the same runways. The domestic terminal was relocated to a make-shift domestic terminal in 2000 after a fire. A new domestic terminal has since been constructed and commissioned.
Meanwhile, the departure and arrival lounges in the international terminal at MMA are bursting at the seams. During peak hours when travellers are trying to check in for their respective flights or reclaim their luggage, the departure and arrival areas are overcrowded and unmanageable. They stink to the high heavens because of high human traffic, poor ventilation and epileptic air-conditioning. The situation is made worse by poorly turned out officials from various government departments who are unprofessional in their conduct and always allegedly asking for bribes.
In 2008, the airport served 5,136,697 passengers. The only construction work going on there right now is that of the car park that was concessioned to a hotel group, but observers complain is taking longer than necessary to complete. â€œThe airport ought to have been expanded to have other wings or terminals,â€ said Robert Adeniyi, Managing Director of Air Transport Services.
There are other concerns, particularly of security, that in the late 1980s and 1990s earned the international terminal the unfortunate reputation of being a dangerous airport. From 1992 through 2000, the US Federal Aviation Administration posted warning signs in all international airports advising travellers that security conditions at the Lagos airport did not meet International Civil Aviation Organisation minimum standards. In 1993, the FAA suspended air service between Lagos and the United States.
During this period, security at MMIA continued to be a serious problem. Travellers arriving in Lagos were harassed both inside and outside of the airport terminal by criminals. Airport staff and other officials from other departments contributed to its reputation. Immigration officers allegedly begged for bribes before stamping passports, while customs agents allegedly demanded payment for non-existent fees.
Many travel guides suggested that Nigeria-bound travellers fly into Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in Kano and take domestic flights or ground transportation into Lagos.
The United States FAA ended its suspension of direct flights to Nigeria in 2001 in recognition of these security improvements in the years following the enthronement of democracy in 1999 and with the improvement of security situation at the Lagos airport. Airport police instituted a â€œshoot on sightâ€ policy for anyone found in the secure areas around runways and taxiways, stopping further airplane robberies, while the police secured the inside of the terminal and the arrival areas outside.
Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport
The Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, local and international wings in Abuja have not fared better either because, for some unknown reasons, there have not been any facility upgrade or conscious attempts to maintain it. The airport consists of an international and domestic terminal. Both terminals share the same runway. On December 15, 2009, construction for a second runway was approved. Construction is expected to be completed within 24 months.
A private sector concessionaire, the Abuja Gateway Consortium signed on November 13, 2006 a $101.1 million contract for the management of the airport over the next 25 years. The contract includes the construction of an airport hotel, private car parks, shopping malls and a bonded warehouse, totaling $50 million during its first five years, in addition to an upfront payment of $10 million. Total investment, will according to the business plan, amount to $371 million during the period of the contract. However, President Umaru Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s administration revoked the contract in April 2008.
The international wing of the Abuja is less than ten years old. But like all other airports in the country, it suffers from neglect. Its air-conditioning and escalators do not function, the toilets do not flush and have no running water, and the building is turned into a hostel every night by homeless people who lurk within the vicinity of the airport. The domestic wing is a make-shift operation that does not in anyway qualify to be termed an airport. It lacks proper check-in counters, has one dilapidated conveyor belt in the baggage reclaim area, and is bursting at the seams with petty traders and all manner of unprofessional food outlets.
The Port Harcourt International Airport also suffers neglect regardless of the fact that it was shut down on August 18, 2006 for more than a year for rehabilitation after the ill-fated Sosoliso plane crash. In reality, in terms of maintenance, it is the worst of all the international airports and is a huge embarrassment to the country.
The Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport which is the oldest in the country, with operations starting in 1936, is not fairing any better. It has fewer passengers than the Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt airports. From the outside, the building looks relatively decent, but its facilities inside do not function.