Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport

The ball is in the court of the new Transportation minister to address the bad image and problems of our airports bearing in mind that they constitute the best advertisements for any country since they remain the first point of contact with foreigners. Therefore, Nigerian aviation authorities should take the poor ranking by the travel website and the Turkish Airlines episode as a clarion call to holistically improve our airports as we enter into a New Year.

What could best be described as a national embarrassment took place some days ago following the security breach that occurred at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, where scores of angry passengers of a Turkish Airlines flight invaded the airport’s tarmac and stopped the carrier’s aircraft from flying. According to eye witnesses, passengers on the airline had disembarked and found out that their luggage did not arrived in Abuja. Because of that, they took the law into their hands, forced themselves to the tarmac after overpowering the official on the ground and prevented the aircraft from flying in protest. This is nothing but complete lawlessness of the passengers, serious security lapse and a dent on the nation’s image.

Unfortunately, the recent occurrence is coming after the recent naming of three Nigerian airports among the worst 10 in Africa. The worrisome verdict from the survey conducted by a travel website, “The Guide to Sleeping in Airports”, stated that the Port Harcourt International Airport, Rivers State; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Air­port, Abuja; and the Murtala Mu­hammed International Airport, La­gos, were the 1st, 7th and 10th worst airports in Africa! As the website claimed, the com­plaints of users of the airports, who participated in the survey, bordered on corruption, crowds, disorderliness, confusion and uncleanliness.

The website further noted that the lack of standard facilities was a common feature in the affected airports. The survey noted that “top complaints generally revolved around corruption, crowds, chaos, confusion and a total lack of cleanliness – five Cs an airport definitely does not want to be associated with. Amenities across the board are decidedly scarce if not entirely non-existent”. With the latest Turkish Airlines protest, the poor ranking is not really strange in the sense that users of the three airports can easily attest to the assessment.

The location of the airports such as the Lagos International Airport is also a big problem. Most times, getting to the airport is Herculean because of the busy and dilapidated expressway that leads to the airport. What we see there is that the access road is often blocked by commercial taxis, petrol tankers and other road users.

Most complaints about Nigerian airports centered around the lack of maintenance and proper passenger services, dirty floors and unhygienic toilet facilities, extortion, lack of functional air-conditioning system, limited, exploitative catering facilities, slow operation, interminable delays for luggage clearance collection, embarking and disembarking process and corruption. The problem of luggage clearance is so common that most passengers often prefer to carry them as hand-luggage instead of in the cargo hold, causing much discomfort to others and rowdiness in the cabin.

Apart from these, the besieging crowd at busy airports remains embarrassing, making passengers fall prey to fraudsters and miscreants. During the screening of passengers, which is usually done manually, a combination of security personnel from different agencies simultaneously search the contents in the luggage of passengers, unlike what is obtainable in other nations, whereby luggage are thoroughly scanned even without sighting the contents. What amazes me the most is that when the personnel are conducting the search, they will be busy asking the passenger about the details without thoroughly carrying out the task they set out to do in the first instance. Why carry out the search then? Another security lapse usually experienced is the operations of airport taxi cabs. As found in more organised airports, regular taxis usually form a queue and pick up passengers in an orderly manner at designated areas and are closely monitored by airport security using the closed-circuit system.

But here, airport taxis operate outside security perimeters of the airports in a not-too-coordinated fashion thus exposing travelers to attacks. Most times, the airport cooling system hardly work, the escalators are hardly functional and conveyor belts usually break down, causing passengers to wait endlessly for their luggage. The location of the airports such as the Lagos International Airport is also a big problem. Most times, getting to the airport is Herculean because of the busy and dilapidated expressway that leads to the airport. What we see there is that the access road is often blocked by commercial taxis, petrol tankers and other road users.

…our airports and the aviation sector in general are in dire need of complete overhaul to improve their performance. To begin with, the right people should be put in the right places while those responsible for the rot should be shown the way out. Facilities such as the cooling system and escalators should be made functional to international standards. There is the need to put a stop to the manual screening of passengers’ luggage. It is saddening to note that our airports do not have such sophisticated equipment to screen luggage without having to open its contents.

There is the urgent need to revamp our airports and improve their efficiency without further delay. Although efforts were made in the past to improve airport services through public-private sector partnership, these appear to have been riddled with controversy based on issues that bordered on proprietary rights and concession processes. The concessionaires, most especially the taxi operators, often complain of the high charges imposed by airport authorities, which invariably result into exorbitant fees being charged customers.

A good airport is not only a reflection of the corporate identity of a country, it remains a veritable source of foreign earnings for its economy. For instance, the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France generated a revenue of $3.65 billion in 2009 alone. This can be replicated in Nigeria. That is why the government should pursue the privatisation programme as an efficient and profitable way of managing infrastructure assets and transparently liberating the government from running airport operations. When the airports are properly privatised, the Federal Government would have been able to save scarce funds and deploy it to other important social and welfare needs.

No doubt, our airports and the aviation sector in general are in dire need of complete overhaul to improve their performance. To begin with, the right people should be put in the right places while those responsible for the rot should be shown the way out. Facilities such as the cooling system and escalators should be made functional to international standards. There is the need to put a stop to the manual screening of passengers’ luggage. It is saddening to note that our airports do not have such sophisticated equipment to screen luggage without having to open its contents. Operations of taxis should be better regulated. Touts should be flushed-out while extortion of travelers should be made difficult for perpetrators. The use of cash for official transaction should be discouraged while those found engaging in corrupt practices should be sanctioned.

It is hoped that the budget for the Federal Ministry of Transportation, as contained in the 2016 Appropriation Bill – which is over 1,000 percent higher than what was approved for both the Transport and Aviation ministries in the 2015 Appropriation Act – would make the desired transformation possible.

To prevent travelers from missing their flights due to the traffic congestion being experienced on the way to the airports, the government should ensure easy vehicular movement by clearing the main access roads from congestion. More importantly, passengers should always be patient whenever they have issues with the airlines and aviation authorities. Impatience was largely responsible for the Abuja airport mess. In future, airports should be located far away from densely populated areas.

It is hoped that the budget for the Federal Ministry of Transportation, as contained in the 2016 Appropriation Bill – which is over 1,000 percent higher than what was approved for both the Transport and Aviation ministries in the 2015 Appropriation Act – would make the desired transformation possible. In 2016, the Transportation ministry’s budget is N201.68bn higher than the combined budgets for the two former ministries in 2015. In the 2016 Appropriation Bill, the recurrent and capital expenditure estimates for the Transportation ministry amounts to N13.8bn and N202bn, respectively.

The ball is in the court of the new Transportation minister to address the bad image and problems of our airports bearing in mind that they constitute the best advertisements for any country since they remain the first point of contact with foreigners. Therefore, Nigerian aviation authorities should take the poor ranking by the travel website and the Turkish Airlines episode as a clarion call to holistically improve our airports as we enter into a New Year.

Adewale Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), E-mail: adewalekupoluyi@yahoo.co.uk, Twitter: @AdewaleKupoluyi.