By Dele Sobowale
“As a strategic weapon, time is the equivalent of money, productivity, quality or even innovation.” George Stalk, Jr.
Stalk should have added raw materials and infrastructure as well as knowledge to the list of variables providing national economic advantage. The last century was the first in global history to discover that vast mineral resources, large population alone no longer result in any advantage. Knowledge has moved to the fore-front among the list of variables countries must have. China and India had become the two most populated countries before the beginning of the last century. But, they did mot emerge as two of the leading economic powers until late last century. It was only when they invested in education and became more innovative that they raced past some of their former colonial masters and now talk as equals to even the United States of America.
Among the factors in their favour is the pervasive respect for time. Africans in general, and Nigerians in particular, still remain in the Dark Ages with respect to our understanding and regard for time as an economic input. That explains why no meeting, however important or high level starts on time. Even functions over which Buhari will preside invariably start with “we apologise for starting this meeting late….”. Never mind that the same thing will be repeated the next day and every day thereafter. So ingrained is our disregard for time, we have even institutionalized what we call African time – as if a minute in Nigeria is no longer sixty seconds. Nothing is done on time and there is no remorse when delays occur.
Of all economic sectors, transportation is one that has been created since men traded with one another – either within nations or across borders – specifically with time savings as the primary objective. Whether on road, water, rail or by air, mankind had adopted various means of getting his goods to the market faster that his legs could carry him and he has discovered the benefits of getting the products there on time. Some have even defined Marketing, which is what every business is all about as “Right Product, Right Price, Right Promotion and at the Right Time.” A lot of Made In Nigeria goods suffer competitive disadvantages with respect to imports on account of our national failure to harness time properly and incorporate its judicious usage into our marketing plans.
While all means of transport primarily aim to save customers time, aviation is the sector which is inherently the most time-saving. That partly explains why it continues to grow annually as a sub-sector. It is also not surprising that the leading twenty economies are also the largest users of air services. China, the second largest economy now has the biggest aviation sector because it is also the world’s largest producer of goods needing to be transported.
The closest rival to air transport among all the means of carrying goods is the railway. But, with the exception of bullet trains now traveling at up to 400kph, no other means of transport can rival air services. Consequently, global investors in the aviation sector operate with only one axiom in mind. The customer patronises the airline because he wants speedy delivery of services; and as much as possible at the time of his choice. Implied in that assumption about the basic air transport consumer need is the penalty for failing to recognize that need and to strive at all times to satisfy it.
By global, including best African standards, the Nigerian aviation sector is a dismal failure. The last thing Nigerian airlines and the Federal Government agencies established to support it care about is customer satisfaction. What the Civil Aviation Authorities care the least about is improvement of travelers’ satisfaction. A good example will illustrate the point. Three of the last Ministers of Aviation have measured their success, not in terms of getting flights to depart and arrive on time; but, in terms of how many contracts they have awarded. The confusion between means and ends could not have been more total.
The consequences of this faulty process of thought can be observed by going to any of our airports and spending a day there. The first thing the visitor will notice is that no airline departs or arrives on time. Not, even the first flights of the day – which elsewhere in the world are always the most reliable. That is bad enough.
What happens as delays occur is even more indicative of the contempt Nigerian airline operators have for their customers. At best, an announcement is made about “flight delayed for so many minutes”. The time elapses and something strange frequently occurs. There will be no announcement for a long time. Then another delay is announced. Sometimes the delay can occur for more than two hours; and the situation gets worse as the day progresses.
March 30, 2018 was date several passengers will never forget. It was the day President Buhari was starting a two-day official visit to Lagos State. The visit created havoc in the nation’s two busiest airports and exhibited Nigerian airlines in their worst light. I have no idea when Buhari finally flew out of Abuja; but all first flights out of Abuja were delayed for more than one hour after his departure. I understand that flights into Lagos were also stopped for over one hour after the President touched down.
Then, the announcements started about delays for one hour; followed by further delays for one hour. By mid-day all the intending passengers for Lagos on two or three flights were sitting at Abuja waiting for flights. It turned out that the shortest delay was for four hours!!
The main reasons for the delay were “shortage of operational aircraft” – meaning that passengers are delayed because the airlines which booked them had no respect for their time. This again was not without unpleasant consequences for some passengers. Those intending to travel abroad out of Lagos invariably missed their flights and nobody needs to be told how painful that can be. Meanwhile, the airlines which got them stranded in Abuja and who got them to miss their flights out of Nigeria disclaimed any responsibility for their predicament.
Even Nigerian passengers were not all comfortable. A candidate for a job whose appointment was fixed for one o’clock in the afternoon should be forgiven for thinking that booking a 7.30 am flight was a sensible thing to do. The announcement of a “further delay for one hour” made at 11.30 am brought hot tears without restraint. He had waited six months for the opportunity.
The most baffling thing about this incident was the fact that Buhari’s visit to Lagos was planned and announced weeks before and all the airlines should by now be conversant with the procedures. Was it too much for the managers of Air Peace, AREO CONTRACTORS, Arik, Medview, DANA etc to have alerted all booking agents as well as those booking on-line of the difficulties they would encounter on that day and to discourage those not on emergency flights to delay their trips for another day?
Great brands and their companies – NESTLE, COCACOLA, TOYOTA, MERCEDEDS, MICROSOFT — endure by providing satisfaction to the greatest number of their clients. Without exception, Nigerian airlines are dishing out pain to the vast majority of their passengers. Few people would patronize them if they have other choices. They should consider themselves lucky that Buhari declined to sign the continental free trade agreement. One taste of Ethiopian or South African airlines on our domestic routes and all our airlines would have been plucked from the skies.
LAST LINE: Nigerian airlines apparently don’t train their staff to handle such an emergency as that of March 30, 2018. I can help them. The first to try it will grab a good chunk of the market share.