By Kenneth Ehigiator
For every aviation minister that is appointed to superintend the sector in the country, the appointee appears not to have assumed office until an inspection tour of the nationâ€™s airport flagship, the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, is undertaken.
Since Nigeriaâ€™s democratic experiment began on may 29, 1999, every person appointed to oversee the industry makes it a point of duty to tour facilities at the airport and, thereafter, makes pronouncements about what to do to transform the airport in accordance with internationally acceptable standards.
Right from the appointment of Chief Olusegun Agagu to the immediate past aviation minister, Mr. Babatunde Omotoba, statements had been made about transforming the airport, but unfortunately, the actors have since exited the stage, but the airport remains in its decrepit stage without ant major transformation since its commissioning in 1979.Â Airports across the world built same time as the Lagos airport, have undergone up to five levels of transformation to keep pace with changing trends in global aviation.
Virtually all the ministers that have toured the airport since 1999 have promised to expand the airport or renew facilities therein.Â Agagu spoke in excess, nothing happened; Chikwe came on board and spoke glowingly about giving the airport a facelift, yet no facelift came its way.Â Her efforts in giving the international terminal a facelift did not go far enough to transform it into one of international repute.Â Yuguda came and made a similar pledge, but all to no avail.
Of course, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode had a very short stint as aviation minister and had no time to even make promises of changing the face of the airport, let alone carry out actual executions.Â After Fani-Kayode came Mr. Hassan Hyat, who made no promises of reshaping the airport.Â Therefore, nobody expected anything from his administration of the sector.
It is against this backdrop that plans by the incumbent, Mrs. Fidelia Njeze, to tour the airport did not excite stakeholders, particularly aviation press.
As Minister of Transportation who oversaw aviation when the sector was collapsed into transport by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, said repeatedly that one legacy she would leave behind in the sector was to see the international wing of the airport expanded to cope with increasing traffic, especially following the forays of more foreign airlines into the country.Â Unfortunately, she did not deliver on this.Â She also pledged to replace the epileptic chillers at the international terminal building, which had been a source of embarrassment to the country.Â But again, it never happened.
Babatunde Omotoba commissioned runway 18L serving domestic operations, at a time the resurfacing of the runway was just completed, but without airfield lighting installation.Â While commissioning the runway and opening it for domestic operations by airlines, he promised to, within the duration of his tenure, instal the facility to enable planes take-off and land on it at night.Â Weeks after he was removed from office, the airfield lighting is yet to be installed, compelling only daylight operations on the runway.
Now, Njeze has assured stakeholders in the industry that within the next three months, the runway airfield lighting would not only be ready, the chillers would have been transformed for the comfort of passengers and airport workers.Â Consequently, close watchers of the industry are expecting these facilities to be in place by end of July.
If the minister does not have proper briefing about the state of the airport, it is important for her to know now that the chillers at the international wing of the airport need outright replacement and not repairs.
The facility had, in its 31-year history, gone through series of repairs, to the extent that its lifespan has expired.Â She may not bee able to complete it within the short span of her tenure, but she can set the process in motion to ensure that the project is completed within a short time after her exit from office.
The terminal also requires a new conveyor belt to fast-track luggage and baggage delivery to owners.Â At present, travellers spend as much time as it took them to travel to the Lagos to take delivery of their luggage because of the epileptic nature of the conveyor belt at the terminal.
However, if government is still serious about the privatisation of the airport, the process should be concluded as fast as possible, so the new managers could put these facilities in place.
Though the nationâ€™s flagship, the Murtala Muhammed Airport cannot attain international status in the real sense of the word in its present state of dysfunction, let alone compete with other airports across the globe.Â No other airport in the country can attain this status, considering the volume of traffic, passenger and cargo, passing through the airport daily.Â MMA needs help, and the challenge is Njezeâ€™s.