Lagos airport: A gateway bereft of alluring features….THE GUARDIAN

THE twin problems of incessant robbery attacks and traffic congestion have made the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, particularly its international wing, to be less friendly to passengers and other visitors.

With Lagos being the nation’s commercial nerve centre, the airport is understandably the busiest in the country. That status may have made it alluring to robbers and other hoodlums.

All over the world, airports are seen as places where security and safety are guaranteed. In Nigeria, the pervading national security challenge has found expression at this strategic gateway.

The Lagos airport is a place where orderliness has taken flight, with irregular electricity supply lacking; a ‘hellish’ place where passenger facilitation is not only cumbersome but one that has made travelling uninteresting.

The attack by bandits, which left two police officers and a robber dead last week, has again brought to the fore, the porousity of the premier airport.

Last week, a gang of robbers invaded the car park of the airport, engaged in a shooting battle with policemen who were obviously ill-equipped to battle the bandits. They came, robbed bureau de change operators which activities had always attracted them to the area.

The car park has always been poorly lit; just as it is very unclear whether the newly installed Close Circuit Television cameras (CCTV) are working.  It is not paved, as there are many potholes that have added ugliness to the area and unbefitting of an international airport.

There is no sign that the car park was ever paved and is undulating with potholes. Infact, the area is a den of robbers.

Somalia, Afghanistan, countries ravaged by war can boast of better facilities than most of the nation’s airports.

The car park lacks convenience for people who are in need of toilet facilities.

How about the harrowing experience the traffic snarl often cause? How about the security threat it poses to the airport in times of emergencies?

There are no facilities to indicate that the car park is full to capacity during peak period, as economic reason, rather than provision of security seems to be the priority of FAAN and leads to anxiety for returning and departing travelers.

A frequent user of the airport who gave his name simply as Kennedy lamented the break down of order in the area.

According to him, “it seems that FAAN has gone to sleep as usual. Nigeria needs a befitting car park at the airport, not the shame that we are parading here.”

He stated that airport refurbishment project would not yield dividend if the facilities around the terminals were in terrible state, adding that security at the Lagos is, ‘very porous”.

The chaos outside the airport, foretells the one inside. The car park has become choked and is also poorly maintained. Lawlessness rules as cars, most of them belonging to highly influential Nigerians, are still parked on the roads leading to the arrival and departure halls, seriously obstructing the flow of traffic.

Besides, there is need for policy consistency. Under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the federal government settled on a policy of developing and operating airports through Public Private Partnerships (PPP). Bi-Courtney Aviation Services developed Murtala Muhammed Airport Domestic Terminal Two under this policy.

Has the federal government abandoned PPP as a means to develop the country’s aviation infrastructure and why, if this is the case? The current trend in aviation is to have airports developed and managed by private investors while governments focus on regulation and safety, areas in which Nigeria remain challenged severely. What is important is to embrace due diligence in choosing the partners.

Brazil, a much richer country, in December 2012, announced a plan to attract $9.2 billion of private sector investment for the Rio Airport and 270 regional aerodromes under concession arrangements.

The renovation of airports by the Ministry of Aviation has attracted its share of controversy with allegations of opaque procurement and poor design by aviation experts. The rationale of spending millions to upgrade financially unviable airports all over Nigeria is also suspect. The private sector is better skilled at undertaking the ministry’s proposed plan to incorporate revenue-generating facilities such as shopping malls at the airports as a means of enhancing their financial viability.

Immediately after the recent attack, FAAN quickly evicted bureau de change operators. The agency’s action is commendable but stakeholders said that they should be more proactive rather than the reactionary measures they take most of the time.

Last year, the airport police command engaged a group of robbers in a gun duel while trying to rob shops of some bureau de change operators at the local wing of the airport.

The robbers, numbering over 25, according to the airport police commissioner, made their way into the airport at about 2.30 a.m in a bus.

In 2011, dare devil robbers stormed the cargo wing of the Lagos airport. They carted away some electioneering materials belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The hoodlums were later arrested but security is yet to be tightened.

Thank God that there was no major casualty despite the heavy shootings that transpired during the event as airport workers had not started resuming to their work places then.

Ade Johnson, an airport worker said since it had been established that the robbers preferred to perpetrate their crimes at the airport by making the airport road accessible to all manners of people may give the robbers and other undesirable elements a lee way to focus more attention on the airport since they can pay their ways into the airport under the guise of driving through the place.