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The cesspool of Nigerian airlines

By Patrick Dele Cole
17 January 2023   |   3:00 am
The flight was for 6:30pm from Abuja to Lagos, we left home at Katampe at 3:00pm and got to the slipway to Abuja airport about half an hour later. Just before the toll gate at the airport, there was a security checkpoint, Military, Police etc. After paying the toll, we moved towards the departure entrance,…

Arik Air,

The flight was for 6:30pm from Abuja to Lagos, we left home at Katampe at 3:00pm and got to the slipway to Abuja airport about half an hour later. Just before the toll gate at the airport, there was a security checkpoint, Military, Police etc. After paying the toll, we moved towards the departure entrance, we had to go through a road bordered on both sides by gigantic constructions of a new terminal by the Chinese.

The Chinese have been reputed to be first-class in the building of infrastructures such as airports, railways and roads. In Nigeria, our experience does not support this estimation. The Chinese have been at the airport in Abuja for upwards of three years and it is not clear what exactly they are building and how long it will take. One thing is clear, construction is a hindrance to departures from the airport. On this particular day, we took well over an hour to navigate from the toll gate to the departure entrance.

I dispatched my Personal Assistant (PA), and staff to ensure that we got to the Akwa-Ibom Air departure check-in station. And since I was an invalid, I needed a wheelchair which they provided. I got to the departure lounge with the wheelchair and attendant a good one hour before departure. My forerunners had attempted to check me in but the attendant Akwa-Ibom check-in officer, rightfully refused to check me in until he saw me, even after seeing my ID and pressure from my staff. There was a small queue in front of me, The Station manager, for some inexplicable reason decided that the flight was closed, this was about 5 o’clock for a flight of 6:30 pm. Nevertheless, they were checking other passengers behind me in. The supervisor ignored me for 15 minutes. He eventually came to me to say the flight was closed.

It was evident that this was not so, as other people behind me had been checked in. He then volunteered to check me into Lagos with Arik which was the next flight. My unpleasant experience with Arik notwithstanding, I went to Arik counter, only to be told the cost of the flights for myself and my aid was ₦ 240,000 economy. I thought this was exorbitant and bulked.
Whereupon the Arik supervisor called on a number of people milling around. Two of them came to see me and told me that they had two seats for me at Azman air and pushed me towards the check-in counter of Azman air. Azman air was an all-economy flight and after about 10 to 15 minutes, he came out with the Azman supervisor and two or three well-dressed gentlemen who seem to inhabit the airport.

They obviously were not staff of any of the airlines but had a first-class connection with the supervisors of various airlines. These guys produced two economy tickets for which they demanded ₦100,000 naira each for myself and my PA. I demonstrated, that I thought the fare was exorbitant but they kept insisting. It was getting dark. I had the choice of either going back home and coming the following day or meeting their demands. I gave them ₦100,000 each for myself and my PA, but they will not hand over the boarding passes because they were demanding to be paid for securing the seats, I refused, but the small crowd had started gathering, including the supervisor from Akwa-Ibom air, and his counterparts from Arik air and the supervisor from Azman insisting that I pay them something extra for securing the seats. It was well Past 7 o’clock, my driver had gone home, and I was left with the choice of paying the touts or of going home with another taxi and the inherent danger that this might ensue. In the end, I gave them ₦50,000 and boarded the plane for Lagos.

A little while later, I had the occasion to go to Abuja again. These agents saw me and greeted me like a long-lost brother “how are you sir, Where are you going sir “I smiled and told them I was going to Legos, I was only carrying a suitcase. The Dana check-in supervisor asked for my luggage and I told him I had none just carry-on luggage he said according to Dana rules I cannot fly with a bag that was more than 6 kg. By this time, there was a commotion, I moved aside on my wheelchair so as not to obstruct other passengers. I pointed out to the supervisor that other passengers had similar luggage, some two, without the hassle of trying to force them to check in their luggage. This matter escalated and again a small crowd gathered. I tried to place a call to the owners of Dana Airlines but had no luck, then I placed a call to one of the Dana supervisors I used to know. He called someone else and within a short time, the matter was resolved. Then I boarded my flight to Lagos.

Almost every person had a similar suitcase or bigger luggage than mine, so I couldn’t work out why I was having this kind of difficulty. On arrival in Lagos, because I needed a wheelchair I had to wait for all the passengers to disembark. My idle mind started counting passengers with hand luggage similar to mine or even bigger. By the time I counted 37 passengers with similar luggage to mine, I gave up. But not without pointing out to anyone who was listening what my predicament had been.

It is of course possible that something of my personality may be jarring or I might attract unnecessary attention. All the officers and their touts may see me as an easy mark liable to produce money with the slightest of pressure.

It is entirely possible that these incidents were only one of a kind and that I was singularly unlucky in running into this kind of people. One thing however is clear, there are too many touts in our airports who collude with the airport’s authorities and the check-in agents of the airports. The touts and the agents are on very familiar grounds.

I have been going to Abuja since the beginning of Abuja as a federal capital. All our airports are replete with an extraordinary number of touts, who prey on passengers at any given opportunity.
Nigeria has been singularly unfortunate in the various people who have been made Ministers of Aviation, general managers of airports and several other top managers in the airline industry. There is no effective reporting system which might reduce obvious areas of corruption and bad management.

The airline business is a very sleek and efficient organization everywhere else in the world except Nigeria. There must be well over 30 airlines that have operated and died in Nigeria. The airport is a graveyard of discontinued airlines and aircraft. Compare this with the success of Emirates, Qatar, Etihad, Kenya Airlines, Ethiopian and South African Airlines.

One airline minister attempted to convert the parking lot outside the Murtala Muhammed international airport into a hotel, another minister owns a service company for delivering catering services at the airport: and another owns aviation storage facilities at the airport. All the ministers and officials are reputed to receive handouts from operating airlines, and several government officials on security services, baggage handling companies and all the ancillary services within the airport spaces.

Nearly all the airlines operated by Nigerians have been taken over by AMCON without any visible improvements. Now a few months to this government handing over, the sceptre of another national airline carrying the flag of Nigeria looms before us.

The aviation Ministry announced a few months ago that it had contracted consultancy services for an international airline, for several billions of naira. In my humble opinion, that is a waste of money, it will go like its predecessors into a dunghill.

Moreover, this exercise will increase our unacceptably high debt rates without one conceivable achievement. The airline industry is symptomatic of the rest of our economy, “Over borrowing, underpaying, wasteful, inefficient-veritable Ali baba and the 40 thieves”.
Cole, PhD, OFR, is one-time Nigeria’s Ambassador to Brazil and Argentina.