Over the past couple of months, there have been arguments and counter arguments about the sense in concessioning Nigeria’s prime international airports in Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt.
The Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, has been very emphatic on how resolute the government of the day is about going through with the process. He has assured us that the facilities would remain properties of the Federal Government and that the institution of infrastructure and service delivery measuring with best international practices, motivated the idea to concession.
To show government’s seriousness, the minister, two months ago, inaugurated two committees on project steering and project delivery to provide the general direction, and steer the course of public private partnership project concessions in the aviation sector.
He also reiterated the conviction of government that this was the way to go and explained that misgivings about the exercise were borne out of misconception that concession was synonymous with privatisation and loss of jobs.
Of course, labour unions in the sector at the head of agitations are against the initiative. Aside from concerns over the possible loss of jobs, members of the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, the National Union of Air Transport Employees and the National Union of Pensioners also worry about stripping the nation of its most precious assets. They argue that the facilities earmarked for concession remain the most viable ones upon which the sustenance of the 17 other airports depended and describe government’s insistence as comparable to economic terrorism.
As one who has actively played in this industry for all of the last decade, I have looked at the two sides of this matter and will suggest that both parties come together in the interest of the nation.
It is an understatement to say that the country’s aviation industry is currently at its lowest ebb and that a lot of the handicaps that we suffer revolve around the ineffective ways in which we have managed our affairs over the years.
As the minister has argued on a number of occasions, the state of infrastructure at all our airports leaves much to be desired. In fact, it is a shame that a country with the capacity to do between 70 and 100 million passengers annually is still scratching the surface of its enormous potential. Concession therefore is the only way to guarantee full potential in the aviation industry.
And without any doubt, one of the limiting factors for the aviation industry is the state of infrastructure. The Murtala Muhammed International Airport, which is the foremost facility in the country, tells the story of the rot that has visited the sector. The chaos at the departure and arrival lounges, the heat which slaps people in the face, the nightmare that passengers encounter in checking-in and reclaiming baggage sections typify the inefficiency of the system.
This is not to speak about the abominable level of service delivery. Employees of our agencies are not just unprofessional; they are unfriendly and sometimes supplicatory. It is not a sight that a country desirous of the respect of the rest of the world should have at its airport.
It even gets worse. Within this year alone, we have had many cases of power outage at the MMIA. These outages were not just a matter of a few minutes; they lasted for hours such that passengers had to resort to torchlight from their phones to perform tasks like stamping passports! I do not imagine anything could be that shameful.
This is not to talk about the safety and convenience of operations at our airports. As busy as the Lagos airport is, there are just two runways, none of which is at an impeccable state at any time. Two months ago, South African Airways had its operations interrupted for days for no other reason other than the damage the operating aircraft into Abuja suffered during landing. The aircraft was grounded in Abuja for a number of days before the fault was rectified. This state of affairs, in addition to other issues relating to the awkwardness surrounding doing business in Nigeria, accounts for the decision of some airlines to reduce their exposure by outright withdrawal of services or reduction in the frequency of flights into Nigeria.
The question that then comes to mind in all of this is. How is it impossible for the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria to decently maintain its facilities when Nigeria has the highest number of passengers on the West African coast, earning a sum of $50 on each of the thousands of international and regional tickets sold daily?
. Bernard, the President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents, wrote in from Lagos.