The Murtala Muhammed International Airport, was commissioned over 40 years ago, and remained, Nigeria’s premier gateway, until, the new Abuja, International Airport was opened for use this year. Regrettably, in retrospect, since, the MMIA was commissioned, no major attempt was made to refurbish and sustain smooth running, customer friendly, operations at this, earlier, celebrated, aviation facility. Presently, aviation hubs in Cairo, Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, and lately Accra, now showcase superior facilities that put the MMIA’s image to shame. Indeed, the excitement of Nigerians returning home from foreign destinations, to rejoin family and friends, often, quickly wears off, after, arrival at the MMIA, in Lagos! Admittedly, the process of disembarkation, immigration, baggage collection and Customs clearance, has been, lately, largely streamlined; nonetheless, there is still a disturbing overhang of an untidy ambiance, in service delivery, by the various Port Agencies. These challenges actually begin, the moment, passengers exit the Customs controlled area, and suddenly become confronted by a host of porters, taxi drivers and other myriad transport contractors, who besiege travelers, as if to wrestle and divorce them from their luggage! Obviously, the product of such rude engagement have become of concern, as warning posters on billboards and structural pillars, carry the stern warning that uncontrolled rage of any passenger, within the Arrival Hall, will be severely dealt with by Airport Authorities.
Furthermore, to the anguish of travelers, arriving from destinations, which have much colder climate, it is not unusual for the airport air-condition system, to fail for extended periods. Sadly, the disjointed array of several, roughly, fabricated commercial kiosks, in the arrival hall, is often reminiscent of similar degraded retail outlets and mini-supermarkets, in dingy shopping precincts, in several unserviced locations, in Nigeria’s cities. Notably, also, the horrid spectacle of decay in toilet facilities and other conveniences, may be strong enough to encourage, only, desperately pressed travelers to compulsively ease themselves. However, the preceding unnerving, experiences, are just the beginning of an exhaustive and depressing exercise, of transporting one’s self and luggage from the Arrival Hall, to “the unsheltered” Pick-up Point or to the farther, equally frustrating, final Car Park Exit.
Notwithstanding, immediately outside the Arrival Hall, the traveler is forced to weave his way with a rented, rickety luggage trolley, through a congregation of in-your-face taxi drivers, currency traders, porters and other non-specific contractors! Sadly, the intense solicitation from these motley groups for business, persists beyond the Arrival Hall through an over 60 metres uncovered bumpy walkway, before the Exit route weaves through another 100 metres or so of a 5-6 foot wide concrete lane, with aluminum roofing and side-netting, before reaching a designated Pick-up Point, that is completely open to the elements. Furthermore, beyond the always rowdy, shoving and pushing at the seeming jungle of a Pick-up Point, travelers, proceeding to the main Car Park, must veer again, thereafter, with their heavily laden trolleys, into another crowded lane, that runs for about 100 metres, before the embattled passenger, would dash across a very busy, dangerous airport access road, with its stream of cars, rushing to the Departure Hall of the MMIA, with outward bound travelers! Expectedly, if it rains at anytime, the discomfort to an already stressed, and invariably confused passengers with the cumbersome burden of pushing a wobbling, and heavy laden pushcart, can best be imagined. Heaven help the traveler, if children are also a part of the entourage of travelers, arriving from abroad.
Expectedly, the tortuous journey from the Airport Arrival Hall, to either the Designated Pick-up Point or the main Car Park, may not bring much joy to older travelers or anyone, bound to a wheelchair, because of a health challenge. Invariably, the patience and equanimity of travelers become seriously tested during waiting time, that it takes to make the journey from the Arrival Hall to the designated Pick-up Point, where transportation to passenger destinations can be accessed, after, still more patient waiting under open skies with the unbearable heat! The travelers’ pain is unfortunately compounded, if they, also, have the “misfortune” of heavy luggage, which must be hauled all the way, for over 200 metres, or so from the Arrival Hall, to the Car Park! It is not clear why an intermediate Pick-up Point was carved out, when there is, already, a fully furnished, multi-level, operational modern Car Park! Not surprisingly, however, the designated Pick-up Point has become an intermediate day and night market for a host of unlicensed foreign exchange hawkers, taxi drivers and a motley of touts, some of whom are moon-lighting armed Security Officers, who are out to make a quick buck; God help the poor weary passengers at the Pick-up Point, if the clouds also decide to empty its burden of rain at anytime!
Predictably, any excitement that a Nigerian traveler, experiences on returning home, to family and loved ones, most probably, evaporates, because of the prolonged torture, endured before such traveler accesses transport, for the return journey back home. Similarly, foreigners who are also compelled to exit the airport, in such distressing and oppressive process, may wonder whether they have not made a mistake, for choosing Nigeria as their destination, as they may project from their oppressive airport arrival welcome, that more horrid experiences must await them outside the airport precinct! Indeed, unless these foreigners expect to harvest substantial ‘booty’ from their visit, they may never choose to visit Nigeria ever again; furthermore, these foreign visitors may, in fact, wonder whether Nigeria’s Aviation Authorities have also gone “gaga”, as they would find it, inexplicable that the ‘docile natives’, who have acquiesced, without a whimper, to such, insensitive, involuntary torture meted out to them, may not also have the capacity to make their rulers accountable or responsive to their plight.
Invariably, the tortuous process from the arrival hall, to the Pick-up Point, and thereafter to the main Car Park, becomes greatly amplified, if for whatever reason, the traveler arrives at MMIA after nightfall! Although the distance traversed remains the same, weary travelers, invariably become increasingly apprehensive as they would traverse the same tortuous ‘temporary’ exit route, under a narrow, dimly lit corridor, with aluminum side-nettings, flanked on either side, by currency hawkers, touts and transport contractors, lurking in the shadows of darkness, in a seemingly abandoned construction site. Evidently, this daily spectacle, is an, indescribable, horrific experience, that does not do Nigeria’s image any good. In fact, the journey from Arrival Hall to the Car Park is probably reminiscent of a war zone with besieged and helpless travelers, who must suffer, and, still manage to smile, when family members and loved ones turn up, in the midst of the chaos, to welcome one of their own back home. Instructively, the simple process of moving from Arrival Hall to Car Park, which may not exceed, say 15 minutes, in a neighbouring country, like Ghana, may in contrast, regrettably, consume well over an hour at MMIA, with the attendant, unexpected heavy dose of pain and humiliation, to boot. It is possible that the management and infrastructure deficit of the MMIA may have also guided the decision to adopt Accra as the International Aviation hub, under the African Continental and Free Trade Agreement, even though the present limited facilities at the present Kotoka Airport, may not be adequate to support such a huge traffic!
However, Nigerians still remain expectant, that with the commissioning of the long anticipated, new facility at MMIA, these address the challenges and erase the passenger trauma described above, since the New Terminal is just a pole away from a massive, four storey car park, which is already operational. Notwithstanding, the construction and delayed commissioning of the new Terminal should not be an excuse for the continued abuse, stress and tears that both Nigerians and foreign visitors have to endure whenever they arrive Nigeria through the MMIA!