Why Nigerian Airports Must be Urgently Overhauled

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All over the world, air travel is an experience new and frequent flyers look forward to, because of its ease, speed and comfort. But often times in Nigeria, before an air traveler embark on his journey, the experience is usually best described as long and tortuous. In the wake of heightened concerns, poor customer service and experience across the nation’s airports, Adedayo Adejobi writes on the unique essence of why they must be overhauled.

Maltreatment
For anyone visiting Nigeria through Lagos for the first time by air, the first port of call is the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. For an international airport that daily oversees between 30- 50 international flights, it is indeed a huge shame that the unwelcoming ambience, poor customer service, awful passenger experience and non-existing comfort facilities, puts the ‘giant of Africa’ in a rather bad light and ranking.5

The awful stench of urine and faeces from the toilets speaks volume of the airports’ rather poor maintenance culture. It gets worse when passengers use the restrooms and start to scamper for hand wash and toilet rolls. If you are lucky to find an attendant as at the time you use the toilet, be sure to expect a frontal beggarly attitude from the attendant, as though he’s done you great favour by handing you the toilet roll. The mentality is simple and obvious, ‘‘I’m doing you a huge favour by being here’’.

For anyone who has travelled to Ghana by air recently after the launch of the new Kotoka International wing airport, Nigeria’s Murtala Muhammed looks like a child’s play. It’s not near comparison to the Ghana’s old international airport, now converted to local.

For the aviation sector, a major revenue generating source for the Nigerian government, attention should be paid to the effective and efficient running of the overall running, welfare and affairs of this crucial sector.

Market
All over the world, entrance to airports are always free, but in Nigeria, be prepared to meet all sorts of uniformed men ready to heckle you at the slightest civil conversation you throw at them. It is as though you are in a war front. From the police, to soldiers and more, it’s a scary and unwelcoming sight. You are greeted with a rather angry look, an uncultured demeanour unbefitting of men who should be patriotic, civil, warm, and welcoming to all passengers.

For foreigners who are used to a convivial, warm and friendly airport experience, it can be a really huge culture shock!
A perfect excuse for refusing passengers and their loved ones entry into the airport is on the convenient grounds of security. Meanwhile, a mass of touts litter inside and outside the airport itself. One then begins to wonder, to what end is this wanton greed and wickedness meant to appeal.

A particular incident the reporter witnessed on his way out of the country, specifically on the 26th August this year, at the Lagos Murtala Muhammed International Airport, was the rather mean, crude and insensitive treatment of an aged woman about to miss her flight. Accompanied by her son to help ease the burden of check- in and movement in and around the airport, the old, feeble and all-wrinkled woman in her late 70’s who spoke calmly pleading for the security operatives to allow her son entry, was brashly spoken to, looked down at, whilst her son who accompanied her to help assist at a crucial time, was denied entry after being quizzed to show evidences of travel- passport and travel ticket. How mean could they be?
For lack of help by airport authorities, Nigerian Police, immigration and local airport staff who seem only interested in collecting bribes from passengers, the old woman was eventually helped by a compassionate Nigerian passenger.

Meanwhile, last week Saturday the reporter again, saw first-hand, the underhand dealings of another set of uniformed policemen stationed at the entry gate, deny others , yet allowing a Nigerian family of 6 entry unquestioned, once they parted with new bills of 1,000 denomination squeezed into the hand of the man in charge at the gate. What a corrupt and conscienceless lot! Where in the world, if not Nigeria do Policemen barricade the airport entry points, denying families, friends of travelling passengers the opportunity to bid their loved ones farewell?

Passenger’s Rights
When the reporter took a cursory look at the rights and privileges due to a Nigerian air travel passenger, they include and are not limited to; the right to the full value for money, the right to compensation for flight cancellation, delays, damaged/loss baggage and denied boarding for reasons other than technical, weather conditions, air traffic control restrictions, security risks and industrial disputes that affect the operation of the flight. Others are: the right to the provision of a conducive airport environment before, during, and after flights, the right to seek redress for all irregularities during your flight, the right to timely feedback in respect of matters/complaints lodged with service providers, the right to be treated with respect and dignity irrespective of race or physical condition. None, if not all of these rights, are upheld in favour of the passengers.

Airport Touting
Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) Abuja, serves as a major hub for the Nigeria air transport industry, since its inception some decades ago. Touting has been one of those issues confronting NAIA over the years, due to its sensitivity. Still, open and frank discussion is needed to change people’s mind-set about touting.
In order to obtain balanced view and responses from both passengers and the touts, the results reveal that most of the touts operating at this airport were males, while only a quarter were females, only a few of them had higher education. They engaged themselves in all sort of activities – carry passenger’s luggage, make a reservation for their taxis and hotels, purchase and resell airline tickets at the airport. Besides, they extort money and collect illegal fees from passengers, engaged in stealing and intimidating passengers, and most of them were pleased with the profession, whilst the majority of passengers were unsatisfied with the touts’ activities.

Some aviation experts and government officials tend to shy away from this subject, since it has become a national embarrassment. The unease caused by reprehensible activities of touts to the nation’s air transport industry reputation cannot be quantified, especially when trying to lure potential investors and tourists to the country. It is imperative that relevant stakeholders (public, scholars, aviation experts and regulatory bodies), start having an open honest debate over this issue, as this will assist in finding a lasting solution for this menace. Pestering and intimidating of passengers by touts across the nation’s airports is unacceptable. Some stakeholders believe that touting activities in the nation’s airports have contributed directly to the service users’ dissatisfaction and added to the negative impression on the country.

According to a perception management consultant, Niyi Oyedeji, “Touts, who operate in the Nigerian air transport industry, constitute a security risk to the nation’s airports and the service users, as they can be influenced easily with money, by anyone who may wish to harm the traveling public or damage the airport infrastructures. What causes extortion is because most of the processes are manual. The touts can work for anybody as an informant to expose the security lapses at the nation’s airports, if reasonable promises are made. They represent an insider threats, which any criminal or terror group would like to use for their benefits. Currently, the nation is faced with the Boko Haram activities, a terrorist group, who is fighting the government and out to cause harm to the general public. These groups can infiltrate the airport security agencies as touts and uses their knowledge of the airport setting, including their good rapport with the airport security operatives to transport narcotics, contraband goods and incendiary devices to the airside and even into the aircraft.’’

Stopping Extortion
Giving his Professional approach on taking the opportunity for touts to operate, Managing Director, DataPro Limited, Abimbola Adeseyoju, said, “One of the problems of Nigeria is the implementation of security measures. There is a people’s problem. We also have a process, technology and control problem. There is no problem with the control. We should not compare ourselves with other countries, because Nigeria faces a different security risk.”
“There has to be a monitoring and enforcement department to weed out the touts and monitor every activity of the airports until the security situation is improved. They should work on enforcements, sanctions, automation and monitoring. With that they will remove the opportunities that exist for these touts and for bribery and corruption.’’ he added.

Recommendation
For an airport that receives every nine months, an average of 92 million passengers, operatives of the Immigration, Police, customs, health and security screening, no doubt give a poor representation of Nigeria, with their brazen corruptive proclivities at the points of entry and exit.

Instead of chasing shadows and milking the country dry through wild projects, which bear little or no impact on the life of the average Nigerian air passenger, it may not be out of place for the Minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika, to take a cursory look at the model adopted in Ghana, with a view to replicating same in Nigeria.

Secondly, a holistic overhaul of the operations of the management and re-training of the operating staff within the airport is crucial to its survival. The care-free, careless, lazy, unfriendly attitude of the immigration staff has for long given a first, negative and remarkably terrible impression of Nigeria to millions of visitors who daily visit. For Nigerians to feel comfortable in their skin and proud of their country, it starts with a good experience. If the Nigerian government is spending hundreds of millions in foreign currency to sell Nigeria, the men who work at the entry points to Nigeria would keep killing the brand whose foundation, brand essence and DNA is not properly understood by its people who should propagate and sell the experience to millions of travelers, who troop into Nigeria daily.5

In selling brand Nigeria, the brand story, narrative and experience which begin at the Nigerian international and local airports, and land borders should be the best experience any one encounters of Nigeria.
With negative news in the foreign media about Nigeria’s economy, leadership and corruptive proclivities, there is no better way to sell the Nigerian brand than overhauling Nigerian airports.