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Yakubu Dati: Nigerian Airports Not The Worst In Africa

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These days, it has become a phenomenon to see phantom studies or researches in the public place. For those who know, such studies should be done away with. Some of them are politically motivated, while others hardly passed through the true test a genuine research expected to make a change in the society.

One of such was a recent study that found its way into our flagship newspaper, The Guardian.

The so-called study on the ‘best and worst’ airports in Africa purportedly conducted recently by an unpopular website was made headline news of The Guardian newspaper a few days ago.

And apparently oblivious of how dubious the report was, the respected newspaper followed up with an editorial on the same subject on Wednesday, December 3, 2014.

Surprisingly, The Guardian chose to give so much weight and attention to the report dubiously named ‘People who sleep in airports’, even though it could have adopted a precision journalism approach to the report.

Indeed, there are several well-known respected journals and news portals serving the global aviation industry, but this apparently whimsical website, People who sleep in airports, is not one of them.

Whereas, airport terminals the world-over are not expected to compete with five-star hotels as this misguided website may want to suggest, some government opposition critics have drummed up this defective and ephemeral report to suggest that something is wrong with our airports.

For one thing, it bears restating that technically and aesthetically, all our international airports (which were named in the report) and many others around the country have improved dramatically in the past four years, under the country’s most ambitious multi-billion naira airport re-modelling/rehabilitation programme.

This programme, complimented by few other upgrade programmes, took a holistic approach to upgrading the facilities at our airports and has largely succeeded in its objectives.

Secondly, the website was looking only at the comfort of passengers at the airport terminals, ignoring several other key parameters such as presence of advanced navigational equipment and security measures, which are typically used by quality journals and aviation agencies globally, to rate airports.

The three Nigerian airports rated by People who sleep in airports are the Murtala Muhammed International Airport,(MMIA1),the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and Port-Harcourt International Airport. For all intents and purposes, this so-called survey falls far, far below the standard of a technical audit. That is not to say however, that a satisfactory customer experience at our airports is not desirable.

Of course, the last airplanes leave the terminal at our airports at 11.30pm, so what has any passenger got with sleeping at the airport, when there is no flight to catch at 4.am.

To be sure, flights arriving into our country come in at about 5am, by which time people can disembark and go straight to their home. So including Nigerian airports in this phantom speaks volume about its intent and how it falls below the standards.

The high technical and safety standards of our airports are not in doubt. To confirm what we already know, Nigerian airports recently passed the Category One re-Certification audit conducted by the US Federal Aviation Authority, FAA which is one of the most rigorous aerospace/airport audits in the world. This, I must say, was an achievement that silenced disgruntled professional critics, selfish naysayers and their political allies who choose not to see the giant strides we have taken to improve our aviation facilities in the past four years of the Jonathan administration. Indeed, these naysayers are still stunned by that achievement of the Nigerian Aviation authorities.

It bears restating that our international airports, including the three mentioned in the survey have been undergoing renovation and remodelling to upgrade their facilities.

This is a fact that is obvious to everyone — it is therefore, unfair, if not mischievous to include them in any serious survey about airports. How do you justify this, if the motives of the website are not ulterior? Can you start a race when some athletes are yet tying their shoe laces, then, you say the race was fair to every one?

The Guardian in its editorial, got it wrong. The website report never said MMIA1 was the worst. It shows the lack of knowledge of those interpreting that report. The number one on a worst list which, in this case, is Khartoum Airport is the worst. Whereas, the 10th on the list, is the least ‘worst’, which is the MMIA1–going by the website report. Whereas, the number seventh (Nnamdi Azikiwe) and Port Harcourt international rank lower than the MMIA 1, according to that ranking. But The Guardian writer turned the report on its head by asserting that MMIA1 was the worst! Thats not what the report said.

The Guardian in its editorial said: “Dysfunctional conveyor belts and air-cooling system are features of the airports.” But it is common knowledge among airport users in the country that the old conveyor belts have been replaced by a new luggage handling conveyor system at the MMIA1 since early last year with capacity to handle about 1,000 passengers per hour. The Arrival lounge area has also been expanded by one-and-a- half times its previous size. These are all in a bid to improve the customer experience at the airport. The Guardian in its editorial also named “space constraints, inadequate facilities and obsolete equipment “as some of the issues plaguing our airports. These things are not new and that was precisely why government took urgent steps to improve the airports through the re-modelling/rehabilitation project.
On inadequate air-conditioning at the MMIA1, FAAN is well aware of this and has taken measures to speedily address the problem by aggressively pushing the contractor working on this to quickly complete the job and also by working hard to install alternative power systems at the airport that can support the new air-conditioning system, when regular electricity supply fails.

Perhaps, political critics of the Jonathan administration would fail to see the tremendous progress made at that airport and others across the country. They probably would not see the dramatic expansion of the lounge area, the increase of passenger handling points and installation of new luggage processing conveyor systems that can handle a 1,000 passengers per hour at the MMIA1!They would also not see the tight security measures achieved via the installation of new access control points at the airport.

It may be pertinent to point out at this juncture that the aviation agencies are not the only government agencies involved at the country’s airports. Other agencies with statutory duties there include the Nigerian Immigration Services, NIS, the Nigerian Customs, and staff of various airlines and other service providers at the airports. What this means is that the totality of passenger experience at the airports is a collective responsibility of everyone involved in providing one service or the other, which obviously goes beyond government agencies alone.

All Nigerians and other people working at our various airports both international and domestic, bear the responsibility of ensuring that their customers have the most pleasant experiences at our airports. It is not the responsibility of government alone.

For over a year now, opposition politicians have been playing politics with those laudable projects of Jonathan’s administration, because they want them to fail, not considering the fact that it is the collective image of us all as Nigerians that is at stake—if those projects fail.

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Yakubu Dati
General Manager,
Corporate Communications,
Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria

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