Nigeria airwaste and Jonathan’s Airports
Since the unfortunate demise of our good old Nigeria Airways, no government has given any sort of priority to building a new national carrier. In the last few years we have heard all kinds of funny stories about floating a national airline. There was even talk of government acquiring one of the private airlines and turning it into a national airline. But like many things we have come to associate with our government, nothing tangible materialized from all the national airline talk. At least, not yet. Which is most unfortunate.
As I write this piece, I am sitting in the first class cabin of an Emirates Airline Airbus A380 800. And I am sure you are already thinking of the United Arab Emirates and the wonderful things they have done with their oil money, while we have been busy stealing and hiding ours in vehicles, apartments, farms, latrines and any other place we could think of. Just think how stupid we have been and still are! It seems our governments have no idea what airlines and airports do to the brand image and perception of nations. Worse still, they have consistently lacked the comprehension of the tangible value to be created for the nation’s economy when you have a world class airline and world-class airports. Yet, they are constantly talking of attracting foreign investors and growing the economy. It’s even more disheartening that we used to have a good airline and a decent airport. But that was in the 70s. So are we developing or retrogressing?
Our leaders have made the imperative of having a national airline look like a mission impossible, in an age when some people are already seriously planning passenger flights to space! Look at small Ethiopia. They have operated Ethiopian Airlines for more than 70 years and now have some of the latest aircraft on their fleet. Even poor Kenya has a national carrier that’s promoting the image of that country around the world. And of course, South Africa! Truth is, you need a good airline brand and world class airports, if you are serious about building a successful nation. Your airline flies to several corners of the globe, promoting your image and your culture. When you fly Ethiopian, you taste their culture and when you fly Emirates, you also experience the culture of the UAE.
It is not just about culture. It is about national image and pride. It is also about the nation brand. And of course, it is about developing your economy and uplifting the image of your people. I don’t know how our Nigeria Airways crashed, but those who presided over its burial deserve to be punished. Because the airline should have been rebuilt, and re branded instead of buried. Meanwhile, our government officials became the biggest patrons of Emirates Airline, booking the airline’s luxurious business class all year round! In their rotten brains, they couldn’t imagine that we could build our own world class airline brand. I was not surprised that Emirates stopped direct flights to Abuja when Buhari restored a semblance of sanity to government spending. Our government officials were the ones sustaining that Abuja route.
Imagine someone coming to Nigeria for the first time. He boards a Nigeria Airways flight in London and enjoys excellent onboard service. He already has a positive impression about this country even before he lands in Lagos or Abuja. And guess what? Some people even form a positive impression about a country just from seeing that country’s branded aircraft in their airport. Many people will see your Dreamliner in a foreign airport without even visiting your country. But that aircraft is making a strong statement about who you are. Unfortunately, as I write this, there is no airport anywhere in the outside world, where you can sight a Nigerian branded aircraft. Too sad!
I don’t know how Arik ended up crying into the arms of AMCON, but I feel broken hearted that when we finally seemed to want to have an airline that could promote our nation’s image across the world we don’t seem to be getting it right. Arik, which was positioned as “the wings of Nigeria” has had its wings clipped by appalling customer service and poor management. Successful branding is about doing the right things and doing things the right way. Why can’t we just get things right?
When President Jonathan and his aviation minister, Princess Stella Oduah started rebuilding and repairing our airports, I was relieved. But now I see the new terminals at Lagos and Abuja almost ready and am saddened and disappointed. I can’t help asking myself: as the biggest nation in Africa, is this the best we can do? The airports are just plain modular boxes of glass, and the same design we have in both Lagos and Abuja and I presume Kano and Port Harcourt! It wouldn’t have been too bad if the design was breathtaking. But what we have is a shame by 21st Century standards! It seems we are perpetually condemned to praising what other countries have done without realizing that we can do better. All the people taking these odious decisions have probably been to Dubai International Airport, and indeed other airports around the world. Yet they have given us airports that don’t even compare with some airports built 30 years ago. This is unpardonable. I just can’t help concluding that we have been ruled for too long by people suffering from acute inferiority complex. People who lack vision and have no idea what nation building is all about. People who think Nigerians are third class citizens of the world and do not deserve anything of international standard. These people must be banished from governance if we are to make real progress as a nation.
Must we forever be an underdeveloped nation? Or must we till eternity be a so-called third world or developing country? Are we even developing? And when can we hope to join the league of developed countries? Right now, I don’t see any convincing evidence that we are even headed in the right direction. I don’t know of any country in the world where the airports are the same design. Why don’t you design Kano airport with a dash of Northern Architecture? Why not reflect in the design some elements of our cultural identity, so that a visitor knows he is in Nigeria? Why not build airports that are truly of 21st Century standard both in design and function? Since the airports are not yet operational I sincerely hope the latest technology will be deployed to at least make using the airports a pleasant experience. In terms of design however, these new terminals are a huge disgrace.
• Muyiwa Kayode is the CEO at USP Brand Management and Author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding