My trip to Abuja, the other week, once again, brought me into close contact with Nigeria's aviation and its operational deficiencies. It is baffling that Nigeria can't build standard infrastructure at her airports, which accounts for the low ranking of the airports.
This state of affairs explains why the Federal Executive Council (FEC), recently, reportedly approved the concessioning of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, with the hope that the situation will improve. Reports say Middle East investors have shown interest to take over the airports, since Nigerians can't manage them.
The recent damning indictment by the Senate on Nigeria's aviation gives insight into the unpalatable state of our airports. It corroborates with what has been said before that Nigeria's aviation industry is among the worst in the world.
It is heartening that the unflattering verdict came from the Senate quite unlike the others that were usually issued by outsiders, which gave room for rebuttal by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). What else could the FAAN say now that our own Senate has bared its mind?
The Upper Chamber Deputy Leader, Bala Ibn Na'Allah, reportedly described Nigeria's aviation sector as having the most hostile environment in the world. Na'Allah made the assertion in Abuja when he had in audience leaders of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) in his office.
The NAAPE leaders requested Na'Allah to use his position as Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation and a critical holder in the sector, to help in making the National Assembly "beam search-lights" on problems bedeviling the sector for required solutions.
But Na'Allah told the pilots and engineers that the executive and not the legislature should be pressurized to take appropriate action for the sector to grow and be in good shape.
According to him, the Senate had debated on a motion he sponsored since 2015 on the problems bedeviling the aviation sector and came up with far-reaching 24-point resolutions on the way out but regrets that none of the resolutions has been considered by the executive. This, he said, exonerates the Senate, indeed, the National Assembly, from blame since the matter is left to the executive to implement the resolutions.
But that should not be the end of the story. Is there no other way the Senate could bring the matter forward once again to draw the attention of the executive? Otherwise, does it mean that the aviation industry would continue to wobble in utter decadence?
The issuance of damning verdicts on Nigeria's aviation sector is not new. Such has been made by both local and international assessors, which, usually, were simply refuted and ignored as the problems lingered.
It would be recalled that in 2014, three Nigerian airports were rated among the worst in Africa. While the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, was rated 10th worst in Africa, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja and Port Harcourt International Airport, Port Harcourt, were ranked the seventh and sixth worst airports on the continent. Going by that ranking, Nigeria's principal gateway airport in Lagos is the worst in Africa.
The survey by The Guide to Sleeping in Airports, a website that documents information on airports and the people who sleep in them, ranked the Johannesburg Oliver Tambo International Airport, South Africa first. This was followed by Cape Town International Airport, South Africa (second); Durban King Shaka International Airport, South Africa (third); Algiers Houari Boumediene International Airport, Algeria (fourth); and Addis Abbaba Bole International Airport, Ethiopia (fifth).
The assessments were based on the stories submitted by travellers as regards their experiences. These ranged from dirty floors and conveniences to the regular requests for bribes. Travellers were unimpressed with the airports that made it in the worst category in Africa. That even gave the results high degree of accuracy.
Expectedly, FAAN repudiated the survey results as inaccurate. Nigerian government officials have the penchant of debunking any report that is not in their favour. The reaction of FAAN, therefore, was not surprising. It, in no way, invalidated the survey. The same FAAN, surprisingly, has remained silent after the Senate's indictment.
The deteriorating condition of facilities at the airports is glaring and has been a long-standing issue. Space constraints, inadequate facilities and obsolete equipment that adversely affect smooth operation have remained the major challenges over the years.
Recently, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja was shut for six weeks to allow for the re-surfacing of the dilapidated tarmac. That created heavy disruptions in aviation operations at the nation's capital as flight were diverted to the Kaduna Airport.
The epileptic power supply in all the airports is a huge problem. The environment is crushing in all the airports.Overcrowding by touts and all manner of questionable characters, dysfunctional conveyor belts and air cooling system are features of our airports. The Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos has no good roads leading to its main terminal.
The airport parking space is inadequate, dilapidated and impassable when it rains. Traffic snarl is a regular feature at the airports. The airlines get little fraction from the fares paid by passengers due to numerous service charges imposed by different regulatory bodies. That creates problem for aircraft maintenance.
Little has been done to remedy the situation at our airports. The work begun by the former Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, to give a facelift to the airports stalled since she left. Attempts to concession the airports as a way to improving them has been enmeshed in controversies. Maybe that could help.
Of recent, the FAAN has been battling with Maevis Ltd, an integrated automated service provider, and Bi-Courtney Ltd, over the concession of MMA2. FAAN said the agreements were skewed in favour of the concessionaires and to the detriment of government.
But how plausible is this argument? One can't imagine how an agreement between a private company and government could be framed to discredit government.Without doubt, our airports are in bad shape and that is what the Senate has reinforced. The NASS should not keep quite but ask questions. The laws are made by the NASS; as such it has the power to intervene and bring about change by making appropriate laws.
That challenges should be tackled systematically in the national interest and the travelling public. Worldwide, airports burnish the image of nations. Ours should not be different.