Angry passengers were reported to have grounded the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, last Thursday. They had booked to fly to the Margaret Ekpo International Airport in Calabar but were delayed for hours due to, as the airline later explained, the movement of VIPs and bad weather. By the time the aircraft was cleared to fly, it was well behind schedule, and, by the time it reached Calabar, the station manager had closed the airport. There was no lighting at the airport and the aircraft had to return to Abuja.
It is unfortunate that the nation has witnessed another awful embarrassment -- another security breach at one of its leading international airports. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, has expressed its displeasure over the incident, but, according to the spokespersons of the airline, Arik Air, concerted efforts were made to pacify the passengers: they were offered flight seats to Uyo but a number of them refused while about 45 passengers accepted the offer. The NCAA, citing the Consumer Bill of Rights, has stated that the passengers are entitled to compensation from the airline for the three hours' delay. But the matter is more complicated.
Security breaches at our airports are becoming frequent. From airplanes running into cows at the airport tarmacs to adventurers driving onto the tarmacs and into the underbelly of aircraft in addition to stowaways, they are both alarming and embarrassing for the nation. Why, in the first place, did air traffic control in Abuja clear the flight when it knew that the lights at the Calabar airport would have been switched off when the service would arrive at its destination? It is rather curious that instead of the NCAA to investigate and deal with the picketing of the airport, it is already threatening to punish the airline. What signal is this sending to the world about the safety of our airports? We are concerned about the current state of professionalism - if it still exists at all - at the NCAA. The aviation ministry recently stated that it was repositioning its airports to be competitive internationally. We hope the envisaged reform includes the thorny issue of security.
The NCAA should wake up to its responsibility as the agency charged with ensuring that airports are safe and secure. The closure of the Margaret Ekpo Airport for the reason of poor lighting is most indicting. Any international airport or landing facility under the NCAA that endangers the lives of citizens and visitors alike over such a sickening excuse needs a massive intervention. And this has unfortunately exposed the lie in the so-called renovation and repositioning for competition and development.