INVESTIGATION: At Nigerian airports, touts, hawkers have free reign amid poor facilities (3)

MM2 after a downpour
MM2 after a downpour

“Brother, buy my groundnut,” a young girl in her teens said as this reporter left the arrivals of the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, in search of taxi. The girl, who later identified herself simply as Fatimah, had a tray containing groundnut on her head. Together with other teenagers who hawk different items, she sells at the parking space in front of the arrivals section of the Abuja airport.

After much pleas, this reporter soon bought a cup of groundnut and Fatimah moved away, mumbling some words of appreciation. She soon joined others as they struggled to court the attention of passengers looking out for taxis upon arriving Abuja airport.

Apart from Fatimah, visibly present at the departure and arrival entrances are numerous traders, from those selling ‘Kilishi’ (dried meat) to others hawking keys, padlocks and related items.

When then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo signed the executive order on ease of doing business in 2017, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, in its reaction vowed to end touting at all the ports of entry into Nigeria. It promised to clear the airport environment to ensure the safety and comfort of travellers and officials.

But more than a year after the order was signed, touting and other illicit activities still thrive at the airports. They are part of the rots at Nigerian airports, captured by a series of reports by PREMIUM TIMES. Read the first and second parts of the report.

Touts, unregistered commercial drivers in Abuja, Lagos Airports

As part of its enforcement of the executive order, FAAN ensured that commercial drivers plying the Abuja airports into the city are registered with the agency, with their details recorded. They also have ID cards which they display upon being asked. But PREMIUM TIMES’ findings show that apart from the registered commercial drivers, many others operate in the airport without ID cards or any record of registration. These commercial operators, this reporter gathered, work hand in hand with touts who help them scout for passengers.

Twice, between July and August, this reporter met an ‘agent’ – a tout – at the airport who helped unregistered commercial drivers get passengers. For a journey of N5, 000 or less from the airport to Jabi part of the city, the tout collects a tip of between N200 and N500.

“That’s how we survive in Abuja too,” one agent named Aliyu, said. “Business has been difficult lately but we still try put body together,” he added.

Investigations also revealed that unlike the registered commercial drivers, those who go about without registration charge less for same distance.

For instance, PREMIUM TIMES’ findings showed that while most registered drivers charge N5,000 for most destinations in the city, the unregistered drivers could still agree for N3,500 or less.

The drivers explained that it was ‘more lucrative’ to operate without registering with the help of touts than having their cars registered at the airport.

“Most of us have menial jobs we do in town but use this to augment on a part time basis,” a driver named Theophilus said as he drove into the city from the airport.

“You know, because, of the economic situation in the country, we have to hustle. But you’d need more money to register at the airport. Registration is only good for full time commercial drivers.

“So that’s why we settle those touts so they can bring more people. That guy (referring to the tout) is one of those guys in the airport and they really try for us. Many people don’t like to patronize us because of ID card issue but they help bring passengers.”

While there is a considerable distance between the airport arrivals and the open parking space where commercial drivers, traders, touts and others operate in Abuja, the reverse is the case in Lagos –– in particular, at the General Aviation Terminal. While many of them go with ID cards, some still operate as touts despite the presence of security officials.

“Business has been difficult lately but we still find means around it,” Tirimisiyu Adio, a commercial driver, told PREMIUM TIMES. There are more security people and things are not the same for touts and drivers, he said.

FAAN spokesperson, Henrietta Yakubu, told PREMIUM TIMES there were measures put in place to stop touting and other illegal activities at the airports. She explained that the agency, in collaboration with security operatives, also ensure that those who do business in the airport are duly registered for safety and security of passengers. Facilities at the airport are also being improved upon, she noted.

Safety concerns

What obtains at the airports are markedly different, though. In addition to the illicit activities that have continued, there have also bee increased concerns about safety.

“My heart was literally in my mouth,” said Okey, a passenger on an Owerri-bound Air Peace flight which had to take a detour shortly after take-off from Lagos in October. “It was scary and some of us were really not in the know.”

Okey, who identified himself as a trader, explained that the incident threw many other passengers on board off balance as they tried to know what the problem was. The incident happened when an aircraft belonging to Air Peace returned to base shortly after takeoff at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. Air Peace in its reaction attributed the concern to change in cabin pressure.

“We wish to assure members of the public that the incident had nothing whatsoever to do with the engines of the aircraft nor was it a life-threatening situation,” Chris Iwarah, Air Peace spokesperson, said.

But Okey told this reporter that he and others on the flight did not find it funny in the intervening minutes the flight returned to base.

The Nigerian aviation industry has in the last few years been free of incidents. Experts say it is largely as a result of regulations on the part of the agencies in charge. In January 2018, however, Nigerians were worried as news of near-mishaps dominated the industry. In less than one month — between January 25 and February 21 — there were about four incidents that raised concerns around safety of the aviation space.

On January 25 at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, a Gulfstream G200 private jet with registration number 5N-BTF operated by Nest Oil skidded off the runway on landing at the airport. On February 9, passengers aboard a Dana Air plane were terrified when one of its emergency exit doors fell off as it landed in Abuja airport.

On February 17, days after the Dana Air incident, a herd of cows took over the runway at Akure Airport, preventing an Air Peace flight from landing. On February 20, a Dana aircraft with registration number 5N-SRI flying from Lagos to Port Harcourt overshot the runway and ended up in the bush.

While the incidents generated debates in the media and among Nigerians, regulatory agencies and airlines assured that measures were being put in place to ensure safety of passengers. Between February and October, there has been a bit of stability as such experiences have reduced. But passengers still battle incidences of delayed or cancelled flights, with its attendant loss of manpower and huge revenue––for both airlines and passengers.

‘Worst Airports’

Last November, two Nigerian Airports were ranked top among the world’s worst 20 airports by the aviation organisation, Sleep in Airport. The nation’s airports in the ranking were the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa and Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.

According to the survey, the criteria used included comfort (gate seating and availability of rest zones), services, facilities and things to do, food options, immigration/security, customer service, cleanliness, navigation and ease of transit and sleep-ability. The website explained that the airports that appeared on the list of worst airports in the world are those that have the capacity to truly offend travelers.

In the rating of the Lagos airport, corruption was also a major factor considered, with details that airport officials demand bribe to get things done.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) rejected the survey, saying the report failed to reflect that Port Harcourt Airport terminal was under construction while the recently implemented executive order had revved up passenger experience at the MMA Lagos. A section of the Port Harcourt airport was recently refurbished.

But some Nigerians who have had not too palatable experiences at the airports disagreed with the federal agency, citing instances of regulatory failures and other concerns at the airport, including epileptic services from airlines.

Delayed, cancelled flights; lost revenues

In January, the Consumer Protection Department of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said domestic airlines operating in Nigeria recorded 30,214 cases of delayed flights between January and December 2017. The report added that 48,319 flights were operated by eight airlines during the period. For the same period, the NCAA said 872 flights were cancelled for various reasons by the airlines. The airlines in operation were Aero Contractors, Arik Air, Air Peace, Azman Air, Dana Air, First Nation, Med-View and Overland.

Earlier in 2016, Nogie Meggison, executive chairman of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), said domestic airlines in Nigeria may be losing as much as N20 billion annually to flight cancellations. But the airlines are not alone in the loss of manpower and revenue occasioned by cancelled and delayed flights as passengers too share in the problem with ripple effects on the economy.

“Last year, I nearly lost a major contract due to delayed flight from Lagos to Abuja,” Kazeem Yakub, who heads a logistics company in Lagos, told PREMIUM TIMES. “Many of my colleagues have lost jobs and valuable opportunities to delayed flights; it is bad and condemnable.”

For Faderera Johnson, a make-up artiste, most airlines do not even handle cases of delays and cancellation with courtesy. Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES at the Lagos airport, she explained that on a number of occasions, most airlines don’t care about the welfare of passengers. Ms Faderera spoke immediately she was informed that her flight to Abuja from Lagos would be delayed for two hours.

According to the NCAA’s regulation on passengers rights, air passengers have among others, the right to the full value for your money; to compensation for flight cancellation, delays, damaged/loss baggage and denied boarding for reasons other than technical, weather conditions, air traffic control restrictions, security risks and industrial disputes that affect the operation of the flight.

They also have right to the provision of a conducive airport environment before, during, and after flights and right to seek redress for all irregularities during your flight.

Multiple checks by PREMIUM TIMES however revealed that the rules are not adhered to as stipulated. An airport staff attributed it to absence of strict monitoring. “It is even better in Lagos and Abuja; it is worse in places outside these two major cities where regulatory officials are not visible,” Ms Johnson told PREMIUM TIMES.

While passengers grope in the middle of epileptic services, airline operators also complain of poor facilities at the airports. Last year, the operators said most of the cases of delayed and cancelled flights were caused by lack of landing aids required for night landing and landing in bad weather. They also attributed the poor ‎performance of domestic airlines to multiple taxation by various agencies in the aviation sector.

Failed facilities

The Nigerian aviation industry contributed $685 million to the country’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP, in 2015, an aviation expert said. Speaking at the Nigerian Business Aviation Conference in 2016, Managing Director of EAN Aviation, Olusegun Demuren, added that $50 billion would be needed over the next 28 years to grow the sector and ensure that it positively affect the nation’s economy.

Experts agree that one major area of focus in the sector is in the provision and maintenance of airport facilities.

In August 2017, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Nigeria’s air transport sector contributed $8.2 billion to the economy of the country and supported over 650, 800 jobs. IATA’s Regional Vice President for the Middle East and Africa, Muhammad Albakri, said however that “Despite significant investment in Nigeria’s aviation sector, the country’s air transport infrastructure still ranks low among African states.” He added that having emerged from recession, aviation can unlock the enormous economic potential that exists within Nigeria.

But PREMIUM TIMES investigations revealed that while government’s regulatory agencies claim that facilities in the airport are being upgraded to meet international standard, a number of structures are still in decrepit state in the airports.

In the course of the investigation in October, our reporter observed that the roof outside of the departure section of GAT at the Lagos airport was leaking, forcing passengers to find cover at the side of the entrance as it rained.

At the Abuja airport, the sound system malfunctioned, making announcements of flight details inaudible, according to passengers who spoke to this newspaper.

Similarly, at the international wing of the Lagos airport, checks at the departure lounge revealed that buckets were placed somewhere close to the check-in counters of airlines, because of a leaky roof.

But the most appalling was the state of the parking space for commercial cab drivers at the international airport. PREMIUM TIMES findings showed that because the space was largely untarred, dirty water stained passengers clothes whenever it rained as the entire space is littered with mud. Many of the commercial drivers who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES complained about the state of the park, saying it is an eye sore.

“This is an international airport; can you imagine having this kind of motor park here?” wondered Baba Oyo, an airport commercial taxi driver.

“Despite the levies and everything and this is where you must pass into and out of airport if you don’t have a car,” he added, as the cab moved swiftly on the asphalted layer of the airport road, away from the international wing.

Experts Fume

John Ojikutu, aviation expert and former military commandant at the Lagos airport, attributed the poor state of facilities to the problematic nature of the concession agreements signed on management of airports. Mr Ojikutu opined that if the airport would be in good state, the Nigerian government must be committed to providing funding for periodic maintenance.

“If you have an airport like Murtala Muhammed that is making roughly, about N5 billion––N3 billion to N5 billion, say–– every month and it cannot get N100 million every month for maintenance then we have a problem,” he told PREMIUM TIMES. “If we have a system that cannot release N100 million which is probably about 2 to 3 percent for the management of that airport then there is a problem.”

“It is part of what’s leading us to this concession issues. FAAN was supposed to have been commercialized long ago… unfortunately we found ourselves where we are today… and it is because there is no plan for genuine periodic maintenance of the airports.”

Lanre Suraj, activist and head of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), told PREMIUM TIMES the poor state of affairs in the aviation sector has far-reaching consequences on Nigeria’s drive to attract investment and boost the economy.

Mr Suraj argued that the state of the airport, being the first point of call for foreigners, could affect how investors perceive the country and their investment decisions.

“It has a major setback; there is no other thing about that,” he said. “If Nigerians are groaning under this level of misrule, what do you expect of foreigners? You think foreigners will feel confident that they experience things they have never seen before?

“There is the system of seeing people without any iota of business at the airport, running around the airport. You get to other airports and see a measure of sanity; once you get to Nigerian airport, it’s outright insanity. They (airport officials) extort money from innocent travelers, embarrass the country and it happens only in Nigeria,” he said.

“We have a major conference coming up on International Criminal Court and cross-border corruption. The speaker invited from South Africa applied for visa on arrival and for almost two weeks the approval didn’t get to him. It eventually got to him some days before event and it was also the wrong one that got to him. It was too late for him to put up with the flight so he is not going to come. So imagine the investment on the programme, on logistics and on his own side from South Africa and the whole thing has just been truncated. There should be monitoring and serious sanction.”

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Oladeinde Olawoyin reports Business & Economy, Development and Lagos Metro at PREMIUM TIMES. A First Class graduate of Mass Communication from the University of Ilorin, Ilorin, he was nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2017. Aside maintaining a column titled ‘SATURDAY SATIRE’, he also writes art and culture pieces on weekends. Twitter: @Ola_deinde


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