The Shame Called Murtala Muhammed International Airport By Japheth Omojuwa
How much does a country need to keep its busiest international airport from running like an oven? The Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos has to be the hottest airport in the world. It is easily the hottest I have travelled through and I have been through quite a lot of airports. Even the Nairobi airport in Kenya that was engulfed by fire is not as hot as the MMIA. You should not even get started with comparing it with the airport in Cape Town or Johannesburg, South Africa. Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport, Accra may be small but it does not meet you with the repulsiveness the MMIA greets you with. Even the Eyadema airport in Togo has a better atmosphere. The Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar, Senegal trumps ours by light years. This is speaking of African countries. We dare not try to compare with airports outside Africa. As soon as you descend from the plane to go through the immigration point, the feeling is as though you were being punished for daring to travel to Nigeria – if a foreigner – or you were being punished for daring to leave the country – if a Nigerian. The saddest part of this reality is that money is not the reason why we have an airport that makes us look like we are a people without shame. Or, are we?
There is a chance you are busy during the week. If you find time this Sunday, please pay a visit to the MMIA. Find your way to the Departure Hall. If it does not remind you of the old Oshodi in Lagos, I’d write an apology for everyone who says it doesn’t. Of course, there is a chance they quickly react to this piece to make a few cosmetic changes. If it looks better this Sunday because of this piece, just wait another four weeks; I can bet it will be back to its seamy self. Last Sunday, there were more touts than there were passengers inside the airport. The system is such that even getting your boarding pass to travel is made difficult so an incentive is created for you to engage one of the touts. I was approached to pay N5,000 to get my boarding pass. I wouldn’t pay because I just needed to see if I’d miss my flight despite arriving over three hours earlier. If that had happened, I’d have made sure the airline in question never gets to try it with anyone again. Where else could an anomaly like this happen? If you arrive the airport two hours before your flight, there is a chance you miss your flight not because that is not enough time before your flight but because somehow, someway, bottlenecks have been created to make you need touts to do what you’d do within minutes elsewhere. Nigeria is a nightmare!
If per chance you are wondering why one would dedicate a column to an airport of all the myriad of issues facing Nigeria, please have a rethink. The airport is an essential part of a country’s prestige and perception. Any country with a badly managed airport as ours is likely to be as badly managed as our country. If a country cannot manage its main airport, how can it manage anything else? Travelling through Section D 34 on Sunday and it was as though someone was increasing the heat as we were getting boiled. How much does it cost to make the air-conditioning systems work? What does it cost to make the airport clean enough? Why should we have people in queues for hours just to go through immigration and security checks? Why have more metal detectors if passengers are made to use just one or two on most occasions? Body scanners have been in use since 2007, how much does it cost to have them in our major airports? Why is Nigeria the only country where, to travel, you must have your box opened and ransacked by security men? What is the essence of running these same bags through electronic security? Why in the world can’t we get even the simplest of things right?
The first impression you get about a country upon visiting is its airport. There are people who intentionally run their flight connections through some airports just to make use of their facilities or make purchases. I know people who travel to other parts of the world but make sure to travel through Dubai simply because of the travel experience. I dare not start comparing our airports with Dubai’s because then I’d be comparing two things of different kinds. You will not find a Nigerian who has been outside of this country who is not ashamed of our airports. Of course, this does not include Nigerians who call things that do not exist as though they do; Nigerians who look at the poverty and gross unemployment and proclaim our lives are being transformed. You will not find a Nigerian who has the ability to face the truth who’d not admit shame at looking at our major airports. I was at the Addis Ababa airport last August when a Nigerian started lamenting behind me. She was shocked even Ethiopia could do better than the “giANT” of Africa. Giant ko, dwarf ni. We stay living in a delusion of grandeur that does not exist.
Having said all this, I will never be able to describe the pain and sadness that come with travelling from the MMIA. The only way you won’t feel this sadness is if you’ve gone past caring about this country or you are one of the reasons this country is so messed us as it is. The MMIA was modelled after Amsterdam’s Schipol. Over 40 years later, the MMIA is worse than it looked when the military government of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo remodelled it. Just look at Schipol airport today. If you dare compare both, tears will fill your eyes before you even get started.
Where then do we start? We can start by doing away with the touts inside the lobby. We can start by ensuring the air-conditioning systems work. We can look to make sure passengers are well-treated on arrival and departure. We always look at problems and immediately assume throwing money at them will solve them. I have since realised half the problems with Nigeria have nothing to do with money. Even with all the money in the world, our airports and our country will not work as long as we do not have people who care about excellence. Caring about excellence means knowing that Nigerians deserve the best all the time. When we reserve the rights citizens of other countries take for granted, upgrade such to privileges for our citizens, we will always miss the point of making things work. Nigerians deserve more but as long as we have people – including the President – dancing on national TV because a road contract has been awarded, we’d always have a situation where mediocrity will remain the norm. Would anyone say the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is the mess it is because of money? Nay. It is what it is because we are who we are. We have become a people accustomed to seeing nothing work.
It’d be great to see someone in authority do something about the mess that is the MMIA for starters. It’s a shame to Nigeria. But does Nigeria even understand what shame is? Does anyone really give a damn about the shame?
-Mr. Omojuwa @gmail.com; twitter: @omojuwa
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