Aviation: Beyond The New Terminals
The government of President Muhammadu Buhari is also desirous of establishing a new national carrier. It will be wonderful to see planes with our national emblem nestling in airports across the world, just as we see those of other African countries – South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and even Rwanda. But while planning or working on those major projects, there are currently some minor details begging attention.
First, the Lagos international airport is not user-friendly. Getting to the place is war. The major road leading to the airport is an eyesore and a national embarrassment. It is dirty, in a poor state and the gridlock at certain times of the day is unbearable. We were taught in our public relations (PR) class, long ago, that PR means putting your best foot forward. This road is anything but putting our best foot forward. There is enough space for expansion; so, as a matter of urgency, the road should be expanded to 10 lanes, five lanes each way. Let at least two lanes each go to and fro the airport while the remaining lanes are for traffic going to the local airport and those going to Ajao Estate and its environs. Flyovers should be built at the intersections where vehicles currently turn. The proposed road should be well beautified and should be of international standard.
Second, in well-organized climes, there are designated areas where you get a train, rent a car or get transportation out of the airport. The cacophony and large crowd you experience after jumping the hurdle of customs at arrival is enough to scare the life out of travelers, Nigerians and foreigners alike. In fact, you see fear and anxiety in the faces of travelers who did not make prior transportation arrangements. It should not be so if we want to make our airports regional hubs or Nigeria a tourism destination. The transportation system around the Lagos airport needs reorganisation.
Third, the Lagos international airport terminal is better than it used to be, but it is still a far cry from international standard. The place is stuffy; the air conditioning is poor. You do not need the toilet signs to know the location of some of the toilets; the stench already tells you there’s one around. Some of the toilet components are broken down; there is scarcely tissue paper to wipe your backside or serviette to dry your hands after washing them. The electronic hand dryers that were installed a few years ago are not functioning. Meanwhile the workers saddled with the responsibility of cleaning these toilets are sitting nearby, idling and chatting away. And you wonder, what about their supervisors or the people the supervisors report to? Shouldn’t somebody be moving around checking to ensure things are properly done?
Fourth, I do not know if any escalator works at the Lagos international airport. Using the airport is a nightmare for those who come in wheelchairs or are physically or healthily challenged. I had a taste of it three years ago and nothing has changed. What exactly does it take to fix an escalator?
Fifth, the airport seems to suffer absence of maintenance culture. You notice it as soon as the plane lands. The Murtala Mohammed International Airport sign looks dirty and poorly maintained. The spark you saw in the airport you departed from is not there. This is not just about quality; there is a monumental lack of maintenance and attention to details. There are broken down facilities, dirty walls and the atmosphere is not welcoming.
Sixth, our immigration personnel have improved. Arrival formalities are swift and I have not noticed any extortion of money from travelers recently. But the carrousels (conveyor belts) are a different matter. Sometimes it takes up to an hour to get your entire luggage after immigration formalities. This is not good enough. In other airports, by the time you are done with immigration formalities, your luggage is out. The whole process of getting luggage from the aircraft to the carrousels needs to be automated.
Not only immigration, other airport personnel have improved. They are more courteous. It is also now possible to pass through (departing or arriving) the Lagos airport without greasing palms. Anybody with a contrary experience is either a mugu or should tell us what he/she carried. But we are not there yet. I still suspect a suppressed desire to extort. The new orientation must continue until airport personnel do their work professionally without expecting or demanding gratification.
Seventh, the system of opening travelers’ luggage by immigration, NDLEA and customs during check-in formalities must also stop. In airports abroad, luggage is scanned and it is only those with suspicious items that are physically inspected.
By and large, I will say we are making progress. But things can be a lot better. The situation at the nearby local wing, MM2, which is privately run, is a pointer. At MM2, virtually everything, including toilets, parking lot and escalators, work. Some people just need to sit up and do their work at the international wing.
Ewherido writes from Lagos