Lately, aviation minister, Stella Oduah, undertook a tour of airports in the country and came out with the verdict that infrastructure at the various gateways were in dire straits. Analysts say the minister should hit the ground running and take steps to address the challenges. IME AKPAN writes.
Recently, the minister of aviation, Stella Oduah, embarked on and completed a facility tour of some airports in the country where she shed a deluge of tears over the state of infrastructure at such airports.
From the airport in Lagos to the ones in Ibadan, Benin, Delta State, Kaduna, Kano, Gombe, Bauchi, Abuja, Calabar, Owerri and Enugu among others, the story was shockingly, but familiarly similar: obsolete infrastructure and broken down facilities. At every stop, including the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos, the minister broke down and wept, perhaps, uncontrollably.
“I was almost in tears to see what I saw during the inspection tour.
What I saw was not dignifying of a major gateway to the nation and commercial hub of Nigeria.
For example, about two underground floors which should serve as convenient parking lots as well as a huge revenue generating avenue for government have been left to rot for over two decades while commuters struggle for parking space on the surface.
We cannot allow this waste to continue so we are going to find a way to restore the parking lots to their original uses and in the process, generate revenue for government,” said Oduah after her tour of MMIA.
Unfortunately, Nigerian public office holders are known to assume duty with great promises, but leave without achieving anything worth remembering. Her predecessor, Fidelia Njeze, was high on promises but very poor in delivery.
The only thing she has to her credit is that she refurbished the toilets at MMIA and ‘commissioned’ them with much publicity and fanfare.
The story of the runway 18L at the domestic wing of MMIA is not only old but also unpalatable.
The contract for the rehabilitation of the facility was awarded without factoring in the provision of airfield lightings. Thus, since the runway was re-commissioned in 2008, it has been handling day operations only.
Any aircraft that arrives in Lagos after 6pm has to land on the international runway 18R and taxi to 18L at a huge cost to airlines that buy a litre of JET A1 for N210.
At Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, the story is similar as it is only opened for diurnal services.
Bemoaning the state of the airports, the Senate president, David Mark, regretted that South Africa, former apartheid enclave, has better airports than Nigeria, the giant of Africa and the world’s most populous black country.
“All our airports are major sources of embarrassment. Even the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, is becoming an embarrassment. I was in South
Africa for the World Cup and none of our airports here is up to the standard of what I saw there. I do not know whether those who run our airports travel.
“Something seriously needs to be done about the state of our airports if we need to develop as a nation. We talk about 20:2020, but these are the variables that can make that possible.
“The environment at the airports is dirty, everything is wrong with our airports, it is either the conveyor belts are not working, or the lift not working or even the air conditioning not working.
We need to really improve,” remarked Mark at the end of a debate on the report of the investigative hearing on power outage at MMIA on Sunday, May 9, 2010.
Nigerian airports are so porous that animals and unauthorised persons can now have access to sensitive places, including the airside. Bauchi Airport, for instance, is so open that Fulani herdsmen could stray into the runway because there is no perimeter fence.
During the run-up to last year’s general election an aircraft conveying the vice presidential candidate of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Mr. Fola Adeola and other party faithful for electioneering in Bauchi State crashed into goats that had roamed freely on the airside.
The airport does not only serve as a grazing ground, but also a converging point for commercial motorcycle operators.
It was learnt that sometimes when an aircraft is taxiing, it stops for some motorcyclists to leave the runway! Equally, it is not a strange sight to see Fulani men and their cattle standing by the runway and waving at the pilot during takeoff or landing rolls.
“Animals and ‘Okada’ riders have been allowed to pass through the airstrip because there is a village nearby.
The Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) does not have the power to stop them but the government through the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) can,” said Danjuma Zakka, operations manager of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, (NAMA) at the airport.
The incident at the airport was not the first. In 2005, an Air-France aircraft collided with a herd of cows which had wandered into the runway of the Port Harcourt International Airport. The incident was blamed on the leaky nature of the airport.
At the MMIA, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has lost a chunk of its land to private persons who are building uncontrollably into the property, especially on the Ajao Estate and the adjoining Mafoluku axis. For instance, the land allocated for the construction of Servair Catering Services and Lagos Airport Hilton Hotel respectively is bounded by a civic centre which is also built on FAAN land. Beyond the civic centre, there is a filling station as well as high-rise buildings owned by some powerful Nigerians.
The development has made security a daunting task, not only in those blocs, but also around Shasha, Akowonjo, and Ejigbo areas which serve as host communities to the airport. Apart from individuals erecting private properties on the airport land, some villagers have coveted a part of the property and use it for public convenience, play ground and farmland.
The situation has become so worrisome that Aviation Round Table (ART) has challenged FAAN to utilise its resources judiciously and provide perimeter fence round the airport and the other ones across the country.
“As at today, FAAN cannot show evidence of the limit of the land for MMIA and has not systematically followed the original master plan.
The present utilisation is haphazard leading to chaos.
The development around the airport is also taking advantage of the external chaotic condition and people are either building on the fence, or are pulling down the fence to extend development of buildings into the airport land, especially at the Ajao Estate end.
This chaotic condition was what gave way to persons who stole the direct data capture machines. Also, there are other areas where people jump into the airport ground from the neighbourhood to answer the call of nature,” said ART.
Similarly, the president of National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Segun Musa said MMIA is choked.
“We are talking about the perimeter of the airport.
It is so choked up. We used to believe the airport extends to the whole of Ajao Estate, in both directions, and the Mafoluku area; but these days, you see that the airport is already choked up and this has made it difficult to expand.
A lot of private buildings are encroaching on FAAN land and the perimeter fence is shrinking by the day,” he declared.
It is not only MMIA that is permeable. Villages near Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja airport have created various footpaths, which cannot be managed effectively by the FAAN security personnel on a 24-hour basis.
Like ants, these villagers can, at any time, create similar inroads to the fenceless runway areas at will. In August 2010, a woman crossed the airport’s runway on a commercial motorcycle.
The desperate lady, who bought an on-line ticket, was late to catch her flight.
She therefore hired a motor-cyclist for N700 and successfully crossed the runway. The cyclist took her directly to the foot of the aircraft, like a VIP.
When she was arrested, she explained that the cyclist had assured her that there was a bush track to the airport and that in a short time they would be at the tarmac.
The director of operations at FAAN, Mr. George Uriesi, identified long standing lack of commitment and proper investment in personnel development, lack of planning, funding, poor maintenance culture as factors that have significantly impeded service delivery and projected a very poor image for the agency and the country.
Delivering a paper entitled ‘How critical is Training to Aviation Infrastructure Development’ at aviation infrastructure summit held in Lagos recently, Uriesi argued that top-down and down-up apathy and disinterest had led to a lack of ownership and an established norm of doing things the wrong way.
The director of operations regretted that airport facilities and services such as check-in areas, arrival concourses, air conditioning, toilets, trolleys, waiting areas, directional signage, were unserviceable, unreliable, unavailable or user-unfriendly.
“All buildings, vehicles, equipment and facilities have been left to deteriorate beyond their designed life spans or serviceability parameters because of lack of maintenance.
Lack of planning has prevented proactive and timely budgeting, causing a huge backlog in maintenance and replacement of vital assets.
Lack of planning has also prevented the adoption and application of modern airport solutions and international best practices in the airport environment,” Uriesi said.
He added: “Long standing lack of commitment and proper investment in personnel development has resulted in widespread ignorance of modern airport management practices and processes.
Top-down and down-up apathy and disinterest led to a lack of ownership and an established norm of doing things the wrong way.”
The poor state of infrastructure at the airports has been responsible for the non-certification of any of the gateways.
The director-general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren confirmed this in an interview when he said that the inability of FAAN to improve on the existing infrastructure in all the airports, lack of airfield lightings on the runways in some airports and the old terminal building of MMIA were some of the contributory factors.
Demuren maintained that unless the airports in the country meet the required international standards, none of them would be certified.
He said FAAN’s management was not unaware of its position on the matter, but added that NCAA had been working with FAAN to address the challenges in the sub-sector.
“No Nigerian airport will be certified until we are satisfied with the standards. For instance, the terminal building in Lagos has been a major challenge to us, and I know we are able to do a lot of rehabilitation, but I am calling for a new terminal building.
We must build a new terminal building. I am disturbed, but FAAN is aware and we have been working with it in this area.
“We need to improve on our infrastructure, but that cannot be done overnight, as it requires a lot of money,” said Demuren.
At this threshold of change, analysts said critical sectors of the economy must be handled with deft insight. Aviation is one of such because, apart from the tremendous contributions it makes to economies, it can easily constitute the Achilles heel in the march to Vision 20: 2020.
With all the things that the minister saw during the facility tour, analysts said Oduah has her work cut out for her in order to salvage the aviation industry and that it is time for action.
“I accepted this assignment out of passion and the sheer conviction to transform the aviation industry and indeed, any sector of our national life that may possibly and positively impact on the greatness of our dear and beloved nation.
My agenda is to make air transportation the preferred choice of travelling for Nigerians. We want to ensure safety, comfort and efficiency,” she stated.
The chief executive of First Nation Airways, Kayode Odukoya said funds should be provided urgently to rehabilitate most of the nation’s airport before considering privatisation or concession.
“We need to do something urgently. The Lagos international airport building needs great expansion. I am of the view that FAAN’s income cannot support infrastructure rebuilding; that government will need to invest heavily into airport infrastructure. Privatising the airport is a bit premature in Nigeria at this time. They should take a cue from South Africa that has re-invested heavily in all their three airports. We need to do something. We have the Murtala Muhammed Airport and it has been there since 1978. Passenger movement out of that airport is close to (12) million. You cannot have an infrastructure built to support two million movements supporting (12) million movements,” he said.
The former managing director of the Nigerian Aviation handling Company (nacho aviance) argued that although revamping the airports would cost huge amount of money he doubted the ability of government to carry out such a programme effectively and transparently. He said that government is always ill-equipped to upgrade facilities at the airports. He therefore advised that the airports should be privatised so that they may be self-sustaining. He added that currently, a majority of the airports are not viable.
The managing director of FAAN, Mr. Richard Aisuebeogun attested to this fact when he told the senate committee on aviation last year that the airports are in a bad state and revealed that only two of the 22 airports are generating revenue.
Invariably, FAAN is using funds generated from the two airports to finance the near-dormant ones. Available records show that in 2004, for instance, FAAN spent N70 million on the development of Makurdi Airport while it (Makurdi Airport) only generated a paltry N1 million during the period. In the same year, FAAN spent N90million on the development of Kaduna airport, while the airport generated less than N10 million to the purse of the agency.
Between 1993 and 2009, Lagos airport recorded about 53,869,876 passengers; Abuja, 23, 520, 70; Port Harcourt, 9,443,069 and Kano, 5,629,096. During period under review airports such as Katsina recorded 65,524, Akure, 30,689; Minna, 64,924; Ibadan, 75,038; Ilorin, 145,371; Sokoto, 675,807; Yola, 34,668; Maiduguri, 1,320,149; Benin, 1,154265; Calabar, 2,244,205; Enugu, 2,840360; Jos, 1,100,679 passengers while Owerri Airport, which commenced operations in 1994 had 1,816,904 passenger traffic. These figures confirm the fear expressed by stakeholders that most of the airports are not only unviable but cannot also generate money to continuously sustain themselves.
Aisuebeogun admitted that many years of neglect by successive governments led to progressive decay in infrastructure. However, he said FAAN would utilise its internally-generated revenue to upgrade airport infrastructure, which include such facilities and equipment as runway, taxiway, apron, terminal building, power supply system, airfield lighting system, fire tenders, fire hydrant systems, security installations, and perimeter fence.
Uriesi proffered that FAAN should embark on critical infrastructure and facilities upgrade and replacement, urgently initiate airport master plan, invest smartly in human capital development- management and technical training-establish a proper management structure to focus on the right things, as well as review remuneration structure and working conditions of staff.
To boost aviation in the country, Mr. Nick Fadugba, chief executive officer of African Aviation called on the government to draw up an aviation roadmap or blueprint in the task of planting the country’s aviation sector on the world map.