By Henry Boyo
THE Murtala Muhammed International Airport, which was commissioned over 40 years ago, remained, Nigeria’s premier gateway, until, the new Abuja, International Airport was commissioned this year. Regrettably, in retrospect, since, the MMIA was opened, there was no major attempt to refurbish and sustain smooth running operations at the earlier celebrated aviation facility.
Presently, aviation hubs in Cairo, Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, and lately Accra, have since showcased superior facilities that put the MMIA’s image to shame. Indeed, the excitement of Nigerians returning home from foreign destinations, to rejoin family and friends, often, quickly wears off after arrival at the MMIA, in Lagos!
Admittedly, the process of disembarkation, immigration, baggage discharge and Customs, have lately, been largely streamlined, nonetheless, there is still a disturbing overhang of an untidy ambience, in service delivery, by the various port agencies.
The challenges, actually begin the moment, passengers exit the Customs controlled area, and suddenly become confronted by a host of porters, taxi drivers and other myriad transport contractors, who besiege travellers, as if to wrestle and divorce them from their luggage! Obviously, the product of such rude engagement may have become of concern, as warning posters on billboards and structural pillars, carry the stern warning that uncontrolled rage of any passenger, within the arrival hall, will be severely dealt with by airport authorities.
Furthermore, to the anguish of travellers, from destinations, with much colder climate, it is not unusual for the air-condition system, in the airport, to fail for extended periods. Sadly, the disjointed array of several, roughly fabricated commercial kiosks, in the arrival hall, is often reminiscent of similar degraded retail outlets and mini-supermarkets, in dingy shopping precincts, in several unserviced locations, in Nigeria’s cities.
Notably, also, the horrid spectacle of decay in toilets and other conveniences, may actually be strong enough to encourage, only, desperately pressed travellers to compulsively ease themselves. However, the preceding unnerving, experiences, are just the beginning of an exhaustive and depressing exercise, of transporting one’s self and luggage from the arrival hall to either the open to the skies pick-up point or the farther, more frustrating, car park exit.
Notwithstanding, immediately outside the arrival hall, the traveller is forced to weave his way with a rented, rickety luggage trolley, through a congregation of in-your-face taxi drivers, currency traders, porters and other non-specific contractors!
Sadly, the intense solicitation from these motley groups for business, persists beyond the arrival hall through a bumpy walkway, for over 60 metres under the open skies, before the exit route weaves through another 100 metres or so of a five-six foot wide concrete lane, with aluminum roofing and open side-netting, before reaching the first designated pick-up point, which is not also sheltered from the elements.
Furthermore, beyond the rowdy, shoving and pushing at the seeming jungle of a pick-up point, those travelers, proceeding to the actual car park, must veer thereafter, into another heavily crowded lane, that runs for about 100 metres, with their heavily laden trolleys and, ultimately, dash across a very busy airport access road with its stream of cars, heading to the airport departure hall of the MMIA. Expectedly, if it rains at anytime, the discomfort to an already stressed, and confused passenger with the burden of wobbling, heavy laden pushcarts, can best be imagined and not endured.
Expectedly, the patience and equanimity of travelers are seriously tested during the 60 minutes or more, that it takes to make the journey from the airport hall to the pick-up point, where transport to destinations can be accessed, after still more waiting! The travellers pain is unfortunately compounded, if they, also, have the “misfortune” of heavy luggage, which must be hauled all the way, for about 200 metres, or so from the arrival hall, to the car park! It is not clear why an intermediate pick-up point was carved out, when there is a fully furnished, multi-level modern car park! Ultimately, the pick-up point has already become an intermediate day and night market for a host of unlicensed foreign exchange hawkers, taxi drivers and a motley of touts, some of whom are moon-lighting armed security officers, who are out to make a quick buck; God help the poor passenger, if the clouds also decide to empty its burden of rain at anytime!
Predictably, any excitement that a Nigerian traveller had of returning home, to family and friends would most probably soon evaporate, with the prolonged torture, endured before they accessed transport for the journey back home.
Similarly, foreigners who are also compelled to exit the airport, with such distressing and oppressive exit procedure, may also wonder whether they have not made a mistake, for choosing Nigeria as their destination. Indeed, unless these foreigners expect to make substantial ‘booty’ from their visit, they may never choose to visit Nigeria ever again; furthermore, these visitors may wonder whether Nigeria’s aviation authorities have also gone gaga, as they may find it, inexplicable that the ‘docile natives’, who have acquiesced to such involuntary torture meted out to them, are still unable to make their rulers accountable or responsive.
Invariably, the tortuous process from the arrival hall, to the pick-up point, and thereafter to the main car park, becomes greatly amplified, if for whatever reason, the traveller arrives at MMIA after dark; although the distance remains the same, the weary traveller invariably becomes apprehensive as they traverse this route, under a narrow, dimly lit corridor, with aluminum side-nettings, which is flanked on either side, by currency hawkers, touts and transport contractors lurking in the shadows of darkness. Evidently, this daily spectacle, is an indescribable horrific experience, that does not do Nigeria’s image any good.
In fact, the journey from the arrival hall to the car park is probably reminiscent of a war zone with besieged and helpless travelers, who must suffer and, still manage to smile, when family members and loved ones turn up, in the midst of the chaos, to welcome one of their own back home.
Instructively, the simple process of moving from the airport arrival hall to the car park, which may not exceed, say 15 minutes, in a neighbouring country, like Ghana, may in contrast, regrettably, consume well over an hour at MMIA, with an inclusive heavy dose of pain and humiliation, to boot.
Admittedly, Nigerians are expectant, that with the commissioning of the long anticipated, new facility at MMIA, the challenges and pains listed above, would be erased, since the new terminal is just a pole away from a massive, four storey car park, which is already operational. Notwithstanding, the construction and delayed commissioning of the new facility should not be an excuse for the continued abuse, stress and tears that both Nigerians and foreign visitors have to endure whenever they enter our country through the MMIA!