Fixing Murtala Mohammed “Air-Nightmare”

Nothing best exemplifies the state of Nigeria’s leadership than the dilapidating state of the gateway to the nation, the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja. An airport that sits strategically as not only a possible gateway to Nigeria, but West Africa as well as the rest of the World, MMA today sits as an example of a failed nation, a decaying leadership and above all, a clueless president!

Arriving the weekend before thanksgiving, we were welcomed aboard the posh flight via Frankfurt to an airport of simmering heat. Compare that to my arrival in Ghana’s Kotoko International few days later; even though evidently aged and not as rich as their cousins, the Ghanaians have been able to provide a well lit arrival hall, clean and air-conditioned as well. In addition are courteous immigration officials that were not hassling visitors for tips, bribes etc. One would consider the two experiences as a lesson in true contrast.

The state of the airport under the direct guardianship of the President is well written all over the faces of the officials and unfortunate employees that call it their place of work. Indeed, given the poor working conditions at MMA, I am surprised labor is not suing FAAN and the Federal Government for inhumane treatment of employees who seem to be working perpetually under horrible conditions of heat stress, over crowded workspace and above all a dirty environment unfit for pigs.

Your first nightmare as a traveler of course is any contact with these frustrated employees. I happened to be quite unfortunate this time around, as the almighty Nigerian factor ensures that some chip embedded in the substandard passport manufactured by the failed government of Nigeria had broken. This ensured my passport being seized and I was asked to report to Immigration office in Alagbon the next Monday.

It took me quite about one hour to finally find my luggage in the poorly lit, heat soaked, unwelcoming arrival hall on the rickety conveyor belt provided by our rickety government. On finding my luggage, exiting the hall also proved a nightmare; as official touts in immigration & customs uniform overwhelmed me for tips and all sort of welcome gifts, and unofficial ones offering all sort of services from money changing to taxis also dug in.

Of course, this airport is owned and operated by a federal government that took in more than $30billion in oil revenue just this year alone, and over $3trillion in the last twenty-five years. This airport caters to 85% of foreign visitors to Nigeria, including investors upon which the FG spends billions trying to woo yearly.

The very existence of MMA is a potential negative for any foreign investor in Nigeria and rightly so. While MMA stinks, the government of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is busy spending $60million on a new Veep house when the same money if properly applied can at least provide the arrival hall some semblance of modernity and conduciveness like that obtainable in Accra.

My experience in the hands of the totally broken Nigeria Immigration Service to replace my broken passport (never heard of it anywhere but Nigeria) is best left for another article. My return however to my base overseas did not spare me the experience, fit for a six part Nollywood movie, of how essentially bankrupt the federal government of Nigeria has become.

It has to be Nigeria alone in the world, where relatives and friends are essentially prevented from seeing their loved ones off at the airport. This essentially is the order of the day at MMA, as the almighty Federal Government under the PDP, would rather loot the millions accruing to her purse to expand the departure lobby or build essentially a brand new airport fit for a nation of our status. Indeed, the multiplicity of agencies literally hand checking luggage’s make for a sorry sight in a world where checks are now electronic and sophisticated.

The grounds of the Murtala Mohammed Airport is today surrounded by highly populated areas that quite realistically makes it an unlikely location for a modern airport. The roads that leads to the airport ensures that travelers are subject to delayed or cancelled flights due to crew and/or VIP passenger delays on a routine basis. The millions of lost revenues and opportunities given the dilapidating state of the Murtala Mohammed Airport is possibly costing Nigeria up to 2-5% in our annual GDP if properly quantified.

Only a strategic plan to build a new befitting intercontinental airport for Lagos will suffice. Anything short of this: be it concessions of the current one, or makeshift rehabilitation amounts to a waste of money. This plan may see the transformation of the current site to a regional/domestic hub with a functional business district.

A new modern multi-terminal airport in Lagos, comparable to what is obtainable in Dubai or Houston that may directly cost between $3-5 billion over a four years period (for Phase 1) may require hurting the current cartel holding us hostage.

Basically put, FAAN has proven to be an agency that is totally incapable of operating or maintaining a modern airport. Hence, the right approach is to seek a Private Public Partnership with international airport operators, to invest in not just an airport but also a flagship hub of a new intercontinental carrier of passengers and freight taking advantage of the central location of Lagos to the world.

Such airport will need to be relocated from Ikeja, with a concerted and necessary infrastructural investment by the federal and state governments to link it up to the major urban centers of Lagos Mainland, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ife and Lagos Island. Such may be the actual direct investment in this project, if the right infrastructural investment and management company is found for such long-term investment.

Possible locations for a new Lagos airport include areas to the north of the current site towards Sagamu or Ibadan, or even towards Otta and Lekki. Badagry given its prominence as a land gateway to the nation and free trade zone status is also another great green location for such project.

This multi-year, multi-phase project will essentially require development of a new city around it even in the first phase. It is however capable of attracting up to $20bilion in Foreign Direct Investments in new infrastructure, roads, power, rail, hotels and other conveniences (including new airlines).

Such project will also create up to 100,000 new direct jobs and ten times as many indirect ones annually, some even while under construction. Indeed, this investment will be the first step towards decongesting Lagos as traffic moves from the center outwards and better positions the city as a true mega-city.

Does one need to be concerned about execution? Absolutely. A project of such size in Nigeria is subject to delays, contract inflation, scheduling creep and basically a lack of know—how’s. Chief of which is project management and operations if care is not taken.

Hence, for it to succeed, a group of true professionals with long track record of performance and patriotic intent is required to lead the change to salvage the project execution reputation of Nigeria. The funding and execution strategy from the feasibility studies to project operation phase will need to be subjected to a radically new thinking to achieve success under these circumstances.

A concerted investment in a new Lagos Intercontinental Airport is essentially a much need boost to a flailing economy and a better spend of Nigeria’s oil windfall than crazy expenditures emanating from the bankrupt government of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Until MMA is fixed, any amount allocated to attracting foreign investments is a waste of money and should be discounted from the national budget. Is anyone listening out there?

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