By Helen Ovbiagele
A piece appeared the other day on the Aviation pages of a national daily about how extortion, harassment, stealing, etc., are still being carried on openly on passengers at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos. It was well-written and it must have been an eye witness account because it aptly described all the shenanigans that go on at our nation’s busiest airport.
A page away from that piece were some assurances by the heads of the various bodies involved in the running of our airports that all those things will soon ‘be a thing of the past’. Of course! Isn’t that a popular phrase used by our authorities here to hoodwink us into believing that they’re actually going to do something about a complaint?
The funny thing is that each time they throw it at us, we lap it up eagerly and actually expect a drastic change in the situation. Usually, that desired change never materializes, and even where it does, it’s for a very short while and things would return to status quo.
I don’t know about our other international airports, but the one in Lagos smacks of gross neglect and is a disgrace to our great nation. Yes, people may snigger at that last bit but Nigeria is indeed a great nation no matter how much it is derided both here and elsewhere.
No important power in the world can afford to turn its back on Nigeria, and in spite of the negative reports written about us on almost all fronts, there is no plane load coming into the country that will not have some expatriates on board.
Some live here on a long term basis, while many come to do business; a few even dare come on vacation. We are a huge market for whatever product/service you have in mind. Almost on a monthly basis there are adverts in our papers announcing the impending visit of one expatriate consultant or the other.
I’m told that in some Asian countries, factories are set up for the manufacture of some specific products earmarked for the Nigerian market.
That shows how important we are. Let’s not forget the fact that we’re a top crude oil producing country. Yes, we’re huge despite the fact that we are mired down in under development because we’re not getting our priorities right, and are not managing our funds properly.
It is a known fact that the gateway into any community usually tells the visitor how that community is and what to expect there.
If you’re a first time visitor to the largest black country in the world and you come in through the MM International airport in Lagos, here’s what awaits you.
The first big disappointment when you step out of the aircraft is the corridor that takes you to the immigration hall. It is very narrow and you have to struggle past airport staff who line up part of the way. You have to mind your step because the carpet is old, wretched and tattered, and you could trip and fall flat on your face.
The roof leaks in several places when it rains and the musty smell of mould is heavy in the air. The escalator that descends into Immigration hall is faulty and passengers can slip and end up in a heap at its foot. I sincerely hope they’ve fixed that already, otherwise the airport authorities could be sued if a passenger is injured in a fall, or even traumatized in any way.
This airport is a very busy one, but the Immigration hall is so small that just one plane load fills it up, and the atmosphere is claustrophobic. The air-conditioning unit which never functions well makes the place seem like an oven, and you risk fainting from the heat.
Immigration service there has improved considerably in the last few years, I must say, and their workers are a lot more polite, friendly and helpful than they used to be, but because there are never enough desks and officers to attend to passengers, the whole procedure is so slow.
In fairness to the staff they do try to pick out passengers they feel are old, and also those that are pregnant or with little children so they could get speedy attention., but this good intention doesn’t help much when there are so many people to attend to. Also that hall should be adjusted in such a way that the physically challenged/very elderly can have a smooth ride down there from the aircraft, and all the way out of the airport.
The luggage hall with its few sluggish conveyor-belts is disgraceful. Much time is wasted waiting to collect your luggage, whereas the right thing is that your luggage should be ready for you, well before you leave the Immigration hall.
As you leave with your luggage, you’re harassed, mobbed and distracted by hangers-on who form an unsolicited welcoming crew within the building: ‘daddy!, mummy!, oga!, madam!, sister!, welcome! Wetin you bring for us?’ A lady told me recently that it was during such distraction that her passport was stolen. On getting outside the building, she checked for it and found it was gone! She said she broke down and cried. She was a regular traveler and she had visas from several countries in it. She said it took several years before she was re-issued the relevant documents and her business could flow again.
Personally, I’m glad that a woman is heading the Aviation ministry, because women are more concerned than men, about order, cleanliness and working services. It was during the time of Kema Chikwe that our airports, for the first time, took on a new look, with cleaner toilets, surroundings and improved air-conditioning unit.
I’m hoping that the current head of Aviation ministry will do a lot to improve our airports during her tenure and leave a lasting legacy of worthy improvement behind.
The MM airport needs a lot of modern expansion in all aspects of it, including a modern and safe car park with CCTV.. All the roads leading to the airport should be rehabilitated and kept clean, and the traffic there should flow at all times.
If we want to gain the respect of outsiders, and attract visitors for business and tourism, apart from having a good national character, we need to ensure that the entry points are clean, have modern facilities and are safe. That first impression is important.