THE nation was shocked when, earlier last week, it was reported that the Benin Airport was closed down. Hundreds of air travellers going and coming from all parts of the world were subjected to an embarrassing, inconveniencing and humiliating thwarting of their travel plans without any prior notice. They met an airport that was under lock and key, with no one around to explain why.
Information came out later that it was the Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who ordered the shutting down of the airport over the failure of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to pay tenement rates due to the state government. Sanity, however, prevailed when a day later, the Director General, Mr George Uriesi, went in company of top executives of FAAN to meet with and apologise to Comrade Oshiomhole for roles the Authority played which led to the incident.
It was at the occasion that the governor disclosed he did not order the shutting down of the airport. Rather, according to him, the tax authorities of the state obtained a court order to seal up the office of the FAAN Manager. After the order was carried out the FAAN manager decided to shut down the airport “to gain public sympathy”!
The airport row was clearly avoidable. The government of Edo State is correct to insist on individuals and corporate organizations, including those owned by governments, should pay their taxes according to the law. Democracy is incomplete without taxation. It is when citizens pay taxes that they earn the right to demand accountability. FAAN and other governmental corporate bodies are still living in the military past when such organizations and their helms-people felt they were above the law and refused to play the civic roles spelt out for them under the law.
FAAN should sanction its Benin Airport Manager for his childish misdemeanor that subjected the travelling public to untold suffering. His behaviour was totally unbecoming of the holder of such highly placed office. Aviation management is not a job for the boys. It is a serious assignment and those who administer them must bear in mind that every airport is part of an international network that must operate like clockwork for business and social activities to thrive. There are no local standards for today’s aviation worldwide.
In more advanced countries FAAN could become a target of fierce litigations from travellers whose businesses were disrupted with such rude impunity. As the nation prepares to join the league of big players in world economy, we must upgrade the attitudes and conducts of our system managers, particularly their attitudes to customer care and consumer protection. The legal system should also become more alert and come to the assistance of citizens unlawfully subjected to avoidable torture such as the Benin Airport incident. When people know they will pay dearly for such misbehaviours they will think twice.