By Muyiwa Adetiba
Two close friends of mine who are senior members of the ruling PDP, got caught in the face-off between Arik Airline and the FAAN last weekend. One, a Senator in the last dispensation, spent the entire day at the airport in an ordeal that started a day earlier when he had to queue up for over an hour to purchase an airline ticket, only to be told some two hours later, that the flight had been cancelled.
He got to the airport the following day as early as 6am, hoping to catch the first flight of any airline(only there weren’t too many airlines flying) So he was in for a long wait.
For once, class didn’t matter for someone who has travelled business class for as long as I can remember. And money also didn’t matter. Given the importance of his appointments in Lagos and his home state, he would gladly have paid 100,000 naira for a seat, any seat. Only none was on offer.
He eventually got to Lagos around 9pm and his first words to me were ‘Muyiwa, I have really suffered today.’ I made the appropriate noises of sympathy after he told me his story. But was I really sorry for him? In my mind, he is part of a system that has brought the country to this sorry pass.
The other friend, a minister in the Obasanjo government, fared a little worse. He got to the airport with a confirmed ticket and some two hours to spare so he thought he was sitting pretty. He started getting uncomfortable when no announcement was made when it was time for his flight. Instead, what he saw around him were confusion and motions without movement.
After about six hours, his flight was announced. Then the scramble started. He refused to join the maddening crowd and with some expatriates, walked briskly, if ministerially, towards the tarmac. Unfortunately, five paces to his turn, he was told the aircraft was full. Then pandemonium broke out. How did the aircraft fill up when ‘bonafide’ travellers were on the tarmac? What happened to confirmed seats?
So the ‘bonafide’ travellers took the law into their hands. Chief executives, top politicians, and successful entrepreneurs turned into touts. They lined their boxes in front of the plane, sat on them, and dared the pilot who was fretting and fuming in the cockpit, to taxi over them.
This impasse went on for another hour until they were assured that another plane was coming to airlift the backlog.
To cut a long, sad story short, my friend eventually got home at the unholy hour of 2am. When he told me the story, I seized the opportunity to lay it into him. His party, I reminded him, has been in power since 1999. Since then, the hands of the clock in the aviation industry has been turned back, just as the hands of the clock in several key sectors, has been turned back.
The result is that we have several private jets and no National carrier. A situation I call private wealth amidst public poverty.
Here is an excerpt of what Richard Branson, the Virgin Airline boss reported said about the airline industry in Nigeria. ‘For eleven years… we fought daily battles against government agents who wanted to make fortune from us, politicians who saw the govt 49% as a meal ticket to seek for all kinds of favour, regulatory bodies that didn’t know what to do and persistently ask for bribes at every point…this joint venture should have become the largest African carrier by now if allowed to grow but the politicians KILLED IT’ End of quote.
How many viable, employment generating projects have been killed by politicians and civil servants all over the country because of personal greed?
Today as we speak, there is no safe, efficient, cost effective way to travel from Lagos to Abuja – our two most important cities. The rail service is comatose, while floods have taken over the roads meant for vehicles. The planes, as, we know, are in private hands.
What we have instead are empty promises in the midst of corruption and confusion. And you ask; How many more times must a people endure and suffer in the midst of plenty because of selfish and inept leadership before it takes its destiny in its hands? The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer…. is blowing in the wind.