Owing to the neglect by government, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos is in a sorry state. Passenger services at the airport may have reached its all-time low. The palpable rot, in the form of leaky roofs, unkempt floor, walls and lavatories, ineffective cooling systems, stuck escalators, and poorly lit checked-in area, among others, advertise the negligence by the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), and worsen the travel experience of thousands of daily users.
Apparently miffed by the consistent decay, regular air travellers and other stakeholders yesterday described the situation as an embarrassment in the face of FAAN’s earning $50 (N17, 500) as service charge per international passenger.
The airport, built in the 1970s, is the foremost gateway into the country. It currently sees over six million passengers yearly, compared to about 200,000 it processed at inception.
A visit to the ever-busy terminal yesterday spoke volumes of gross infrastructural gaps within the facility. Though the departure lounge was packed with afternoon-belt passengers, the cooling system was hardly felt – contrary to the strength of about 20 air conditioners positioned across the terminal.
It was learnt that FAAN, about two years ago, awarded the contract of a new central cooling system. The contractor, however, abandoned the work midway, and the project has remained uncompleted till date.
Indeed, the Lagos airport is not in short supply of toilets, but they are largely an eyesore. The Guardian observed that each lavatory was manned by at least three to four janitors attached to various cleaning services engaged to manage the toilets. The trend is that the janitors leave the toilets unkempt, as they attend to more lucrative business of serving toiletries to users that could be kind enough to offer cash rewards.
Samuel Akinbami, a Dubai-bound passenger, emerged from one of the toilets tiptoeing. “Naija, we will never change!” he said. Akinbami, though a frequent traveller, had, until yesterday, practically avoided using the lavatory in the last one year.
“I found it too dirty to manage. But today that I just ventured to use it, I came out not disappointed because I actually met it in a bad state. We cannot just change around here. The more people are deployed to clean it, the worst the toilets become. It is either the taps are bad or the water is not running, leaving everywhere dirty. We are just a peculiar people,” he said.
Another user, Elizabeth, said the discomfort of a bad toilet was better, compared to “a leaky roof right inside a modern airport.”
She was departing Lagos last Friday in the company of foreigners when it started to rain heavily. “Before we knew it, the wing where we were kept started to leak like a basket. I couldn’t believe it. Even the officials got fed up and abandoned us to our fate.
“I felt ashamed to call this an international airport. The whole world is moving forward but we are going backward. Yet, all our leaders travel round the world and enjoy the best of services, including the resource-poor ones, but do not count us worthy of such little comfort. What is wrong with putting the airport in order?
“Do you know why many travellers get onboard and immediately fall asleep? It is because of the stress of this airport and our country at large. It is not like that anywhere,” Elizabeth lamented.
A private official, who works at the airport, said the maintenance task had overwhelmed the concerned team.
“They are just doing minor repairs, waiting for the opening of the new facility. Before now, you would always see them going round, fixing bad bulbs, broken glasses, fittings and walls. We hardly see that now, except when there is a major problem,” the agent said.
The MMIA was in 2018 ranked the fifth among the worst airports in the world by The Guide to Sleeping in Airports – an international survey. The yearly review asks travellers to rate airports worldwide based on their overall experience, which they do based on factors like comfort, services, facilities, food options, immigration or security, customer service, cleanliness and sleepability.
Besides the infrastructure gaps, the survey respondents complained about corruption.
“This happens to be the number one travellers’ complaint about the Lagos airport. Add to this filthy bathrooms, limited seating, archaic check-in procedures, sporadic air conditioning, and lousy customer service, and you’re not likely to enjoy your time here. Fortunately the airport does host a number of pay-to-use lounges that might make an extended stay a bit more bearable,” the report read in part.
A survey respondent stated: “Every official asks you for money. Don’t tell them you have cash, otherwise, the customs official will take you to the dark room. But if you give the money to the Nigerian official, you can bring anything on to the plane.”
A travel agent, Enitan Abayomi, blamed FAAN for allowing the infrastructure problems to fester, and leaving the security agencies unsupervised.
“It is always embarrassing dealing with the so-called security officials. Even the new guys (aviation security operatives) have joined them in extorting passengers by asking: “Any thing for me?” “What did you bring come?’’ “Shake body small, now’. It is sad, but nobody is feeling concerned. That is why I will always blame FAAN that owns the airport.”
With over six million passengers yearly, the stakeholders are of the view that the airport, if used to potential, has enormous resources to operate as the hub for West Africa.
For instance, on each passenger that travels through the airport, FAAN earns Passenger Service Charge of $50 (N17, 500) for airport maintenance and to improve passenger facilitation. By about three million outbound passengers, the earnings is in the neighbourhood of $150 million (N52.5 billion) a year.
An aviation security consultant and former Commandant of the Lagos Airport, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd) yesterday said “the premier airport to Nigeria and in the West African region” made a minimum of N2 billion a month.
Ojikutu, however, described it as shameful that the authority could not afford to allocate five per cent of that amount for the maintenance of its service infrastructure.
“What is happening now at the MMIA is one of the reasons I support the concession of the airports. Concession of the terminal buildings does not affect the aeronautical services but the earnings will improve the aeronautical services.
“A taxiway at the airport has been in disuse for over a year, yet every month we rake in about N2 billion and cannot spend five per cent of the amount for the periodic maintenance of the aeronautical and non-aeronautical services in the airport. Can you find the same level of infrastructure services at the MMA2 (under a private management)? That is why the airport’s non-aeronautical services should all go for concession without exception,” Ojikutu said.
However, the government is not unaware of the overstretched facility. The immediate past Managing Director of FAAN, Saleh Dunoma, recently said a massive rehabilitation would soon begin.
Dunoma said the airport would be partially pulled down by Julius Berger for major facelift, which would cost N14 billion. He added that this would happen after the inauguration of the new terminal, a partnership between Nigeria and the Chinese government.