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A tale of two airports’ eras

By Steve Ayobami
11 December 2015   |   3:08 am
IT is inconceivable, two years ago, that any Nigerian aviation agency, in the face of the recent classification of the nation’s three foremost international airports - Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja and Port Harcourt International Airport

Lagos Airport

IT is inconceivable, two years ago, that any Nigerian aviation agency, in the face of the recent classification of the nation’s three foremost international airports – Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja and Port Harcourt International Airport – being among the 10 worst in Africa, would readily admit to this grim reality. In fact, Port Harcourt airport actually earned the shocking distinction of being rated the worst in the world.

The Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Saleh Dunoma, admitted publicly to the gross inadequacies of the facilities in all the airports. Dunoma, who was addressing the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Aviation, recently, in Abuja, reportedly “lamented that the equipment and facilities at the airports like the generators, air conditioners, elevators and conveyor belts were not functioning as expected again because the agency could not afford modern ones to replace old ones.”

In truth, this change in orientation began when the immediate past Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka, with uncommon candour, declared, early this year, that the Murtala Muhammed Airport Two (MMA2), the only privately-run airport in the country, was not only the number one but also the only terminal with a pass mark in performance in the whole country.

In making the announcement, Chidoka submitted: “Aviation industry in other countries contributes in the double digits to their GDP, but in Nigeria it is 0.4 per cent to the GDP. We also decided to find out from our passengers how they feel about Nigerian airports. We contracted a polling company to question the passengers and the result we got from them is that most of our airports are under-performing. They ranked most of our airports below average, only MMA2 (domestic terminal, Lagos airport) came out with a 3.2 score out of 5.”

Similarly, while inaugurating some innovative equipment procured by MMA2 to improve its operations, in June, this year, Chidoka noted: “I think MMA2 has offered the template about how government should go about the issue of the operations of airports in the country. Feelers from the stakeholders in the industry including the pilots, grand handlers, etc. also gave it to MMA2.

“This technology is wholly welcome, and MMA2 is putting us into it and we want to believe that the improvement in passengers’ experience in MMA2, the continuous quest for improvement; the continuous quest for excellence, will be sustained. This continuous improvement is something I would like other managers of airports in Nigeria to begin to emulate.

“This is, indeed, one more step in the aviation industry to make the airport customer-friendly. What MMA2 has done today is to show that what passengers and other airport users see in Dubai, Paris, UK and U.S. can be eminently replicated here in Nigeria.”

Two years or so ago, officials of FAAN and the aviation ministry vigorously defended the airport remodeling project of the then Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, after most industry watchers tagged it as sheer wastefulness and a clear case of misplaced priority. These officials assured that the remodeling exercise would transform the airports into world-class terminals with facilities compared to any across the globe. One can then ask what exactly was the remodeling all about if our airports were still classified among the worst in the world.

Many Nigerians have equally not forgotten FAAN’s blatant disregard for duly signed concession agreements with many private investors. The most notable being the one with Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL). The company once lamented that FAAN had been robbing it of nearly 50 per cent of its projected revenue since MMA2 commenced operations about eight years ago, due to the agency’s failure to comply with the terms of the agreement between them.

Now that the veil is lifted, not a few stakeholders have resumed the clamour for the privatisation or concession of the key airports, as a means to achieving the desired level of improvement in both the facilities and performance. Some even suggested that government should give the first consideration to BASL, judging by what it has achieved with MMA2, which it built and operates under a concession agreement with the Federal Government.

On Sunday, November 1, the Punch newspaper in its editorial, concluded thus: “We have not managed our airports efficiently as they remain a national embarrassment. And, the resources to do so are no longer readily available. But privatisation is an efficient way of managing infrastructure assets, and transparent privatisation will liberate the government from appropriating money annually for airport operations. A striking example of how privatisation can benefit the country is the N63.5 billion being expended on the second runway under construction at the Abuja airport. If our airports had been privately managed, the Federal Government would have been able to save this fund and deploy it to other critical social needs.” Many other stakeholders have lent their weight to this call.

With Dunoma’s revelation, there is no doubt about the way to go for the new Minister of State (Aviation). But the Nigerian government is globally perceived as one that would wittingly tear up an agreement, or completely ignore it, once its terms no longer suit the vested interests of its key players.

Government must, therefore, establish measures that strongly validate its readiness to respect contracts and agreements, regardless of the individual or political party in power. Also, it must take urgent and bold steps to redress the many injustices associated with past concession or privatisation agreements in accordance with the rule of law.

A built-in compensation should also be inserted in these agreements to improve the confidence of private investors. This way, government would have demonstrated its readiness to play by the rules.
•Ayobami, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos.