On airport maintenance and security
It is interesting that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) announced the other day that it needed about N25 billion for fencing the 22 airports operated by the agency to meet international best practices for premises safety and security. While the monetary figure appropriately generates many questions, it is pertinent to note that an equally commensurate attention must be given to the access roads and the areas contiguous to the airports.
The total estimated figure may seem alarming especially because FAAN gave the information that each airport is 50 kilometres total perimeter long. This space may apply to the total land area acquired for some of the airports, it certainly does not apply to the perimeter area of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. Indeed, some of the other airports are already fenced, especially those located far from built-up areas like Abuja, Port Harcourt, Jos, Enugu, Kano and Calabar.
While FAAN is justifiably concerned about fencing airports however, there is an urgent need to focus on the access roads to those airports especially the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos.
The first impression of a country for an arriving air passenger is the road leading into or out of the airport and in this respect, Nigeria’s gateway, the MMIA, does the greatest damage possible to the nation’s image. Chaos reigns on both sides. There are oil tankers lining both sides while a commercial motor park has taken over the approach to the airport. The abutting land is eroded, spewing dust in dry season and mud on rainy days. In more organised climes, airport roads lead directly to the airports and nowhere else. We have examples worldwide and in African countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa and many others, not so in Nigeria.
Direct access to Lagos international airport is through the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, through Mafoluku and Ajao Estate. It is on this stretch that the nation contends with a most disgraceful spectacle. The turning point for vehicles headed for Isolo and environs (Ejigbo, Idimu,) generates a traffic jam that causes the most embarrassment and delay. The link from Apapa is even in danger of imminent collapse, as the foundational laterite base is eroding. Lack of traffic enforcement has turned every point into a mini-park for small commercial buses, causing a gridlock. The traffic jam experienced either on the Apapa approach or from Ilupeju/Oshodi is caused by the illegal stops on the express lanes by commercial vehicles, especially in the evenings when the traffic enforcement officials step down.
Adding to the mayhem are illegal parks for commercial vehicles and oil tankers, on a site that was once pristine with grass lawns and planted trees. There is no word strong enough to describe the squalor and visual nuisance which is the first impression a visitor from abroad gets of Nigeria on exiting the airport.
Security of airports also includes the approach to the runway. The Lagos Radar Station, exactly one nautical mile from touchdown, was once in a pristine rural country setting of Iju Hills Ogun State. In times gone by, a road was constructed from that point in Agege to Iju Waterworks. That location is now completely swarmed by unplanned development; threatening the security of the radar point that all aircraft heading to Lagos must reach to approach the runway. How was this allowed?
In the construction of the International wing, a road that was built solely to link the Ikeja Airport, (the domestic wing) has become a public highway, for the unplanned communities hemming the airport on all sides. Initially, it was possible to connect the international section, without stress. Not anymore!
Security concerns also include the perimeter area of each airport. When Murtala Muhammed International Airport was opened in 1978, there was no Elliot Estate around the Onipetesi area of Agege. Akowonjo was a huge farm land. Ejigbo had only the activity of Ashamu Farm and Ajao Estate, on Airport Road was a controlled small community. The Mafoluku suburb (an extension of Oshodi) was shielded from airport grounds by a natural swamp. Now, that marshy terrain has been sand- filled and there is a bridge across it leading to the airport approach. At Ejigbo end of the runway, right behind the perimeter wall, stands a high structure in the take-off path. Should the structure have been allowed? Considering its threat to safety, should it not be promptly assessed and brought down with compensation paid to the owners? Are there inspectors patrolling the exterior of the perimeter wall on a regular basis? So many questions in search of answers.
There is indeed a need for a comprehensive study of the Lagos Airport to assess compliance with the masterplan and bold steps must then be taken to rectify violations. While the long-term solutions are being awaited, the Federal Government may well consider taking up the Lagos State offer to include the airport approach in the programme of its Parks and Gardens Agency. A re-design of the direct approach road is recommended, with a view to having more lanes on both sides and boosting Nigeria’s image.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation recently gave a 96 per cent compliance rating for security at airports in Nigeria. While this is something to celebrate, the broader security issues of access to airports and the security of the environment of airports which are part of the inventory of our nation’s critical national assets should be attended to.
Nigerians as a people need to be proud of who they are and must do things to justify as well as sustain the pride.
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