STILL ON THE POOR STATE OF NIGERIAN AIRPORTS BY STEVE AYORINDE
The seriousness with which Osita Chidoka, Minister of Aviation, is dissecting the true state of airports in Nigeria lately deserves attention and, perhaps, commendation. Knowing that December in general and the yuletide period in particular are as important to air travelers and holiday makers as they are to the Christian faithful, the Minister entered this month with a courageous admission that all is not well with the industry under his supervision. After inspecting several of the Federal Government-owned airport facilities and agencies in Lagos, it was a worried Chidoka that told journalists that Nigerian airports were grossly underperforming. The damning reports that our airports are far below global standards should indeed be worrisome, even if it is not the new
Minister’s fault. While Chidoka served as the helmsman at the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), with remarkable achievements, the Aviation Ministry was being run on exaggerations, scandals and half measures. As priorities got misplaced and profligacy reigned through cosmetic face-lift contracts in a few airport terminals, air crashes increased and public trust plummeted. And while the Ministry of Aviation and agencies like the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) lived in denial, equating progress with mere fanciful intentions, foreign independent assessments suddenly exposed how our airports are far from cruising level. First to expose the low ranking of our international airports was the survey by Skytrax Aviation, an influential United Kingdom-based Consultancy Group, which found no Nigerian airport worthy of the Best 10 Airports in Africa slot at its 2013 Best Airports Awards, which held at the Passenger Terminal Expo in Geneva, Switzerland. Particularly damning also was the survey by the popular website, Guide to Sleeping in Airports, which in its latest ‘Worst Airports of 2014’ listed three international airports in Nigeria among the worst in Africa. The Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos is rated 10th worst in Africa, while the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja and the Port Harcourt International Airport were ranked seventh and sixth among the continent’s worst. Like the Skytrax survey, the Guide to Sleeping in Airports ranking shows that when it comes to airport infrastructure and aviation generally, South Africa, which has three of its leading airports among the Top 5, is poles ahead of Nigeria. The Oliver Thambo International Airport in Johannesburg, Cape Town International Airport and the Durban King Shaka International Airport are the first best three, ahead of Algiers (Algeria) and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) in the fourth and fifth positions. It must be embarrassing if not utterly disgraceful that the three biggest gateway airports into Nigeria could not make the Top 10 list, but would indeed sink into the bottom of the worst airports in the continent. And so it is easy to appreciate why Chidoka is furious at the reality of our situation in spite of the lies of the airport transformation that has gulped billions of naira and bullet-proof cars. The Minister has done well by carrying out its own local assessment and acknowledging that second terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA2), operated by the Bi-Courtney Airways Services Limited is the only airport terminal in Nigeria that meets international standards. There must be a whole lot to learn from the MMA2 operations, obviously, which as the only privately-operated airport terminal in the country is still standing solid as a good example that a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) concessionary agreement with government can succeed if the rules of engagement are respected. Yet, two things are obvious from the surveys that have given the Aviation Ministry a rude awakening. While it may be true that staggering sums of money are voted into airport remodeling and transformation, a good chunk of the money must have either gone into private pockets or mismanaged because the type of thinking and personnel for a 21st century aviation business are lacking. Far more important is the reality that because those airports are used by international passengers, people are indeed taking note of our folly and foibles. The Skytrax awards were decided by 12.1 million airport customers who judged airport facilities and staff. Similarly, the Guide to Sleeping in Airports ranking, is determined annually by feedbacks from passengers. In the survey, the travelers’ overall airport experience was based on Four Cs: Comfort, Conveniences, Cleanliness and Customer Care. With the exception of the MMA2 in Lagos, as Chidoka rightly acknowledges, which of the Government-owned airports can boast of a pass-mark in those four areas? Therefore, the report of the rankings must have shown that the world is not fooled, customer is king. Chidoka says part of government’s immediate plans is to concentrate on the improvement of Lagos and Abuja international airports so that they can be certified by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in 2015. That may be a good start. But he must be aware that there are no two ways to global standards and international best practices in assessing the quality of airport facilities and the conduct of the staff. The transformation that is required at the Lagos international airport is particularly enormous, especially in the ill-thought decision to relocate car parks several miles away from the airport while regular passengers are subjected to untold hardship in struggling for shuttle buses that have no consideration for the aged, children, physically-challenged or just about anybody with luggage. It is not a good testimony that Africa’s biggest economy which has a city-state like Lagos as one of the Top 5 most-visited in Africa is, ironically, the only big economy without a national carrier and none of its airports in Africa’s best.