I wonder if there is anyone in authority in Nigeria who understands the brutal counsel offered recently by Ohis Ehimiaghe, Manager of the North, West and Central Africa Region for South African Airways.
Nigeria’s airports are the worst in his area of command, he told aviation journalists. In effect, Africa’s worst.
By his name, Mr. Ehimiaghe is a Nigerian. Evidently, his portfolio enables him to see a lot of airports. As a Nigerian, he is evidently hurt by what he has experienced.
But he is also a truthful and patriotic man, and in the interview, he came down hard and heavy on Nigeria’s airports, particularly the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Lagos.
I quote Mr. Ehimiaghe:
“Some of the facilities at [Nigeria’s] airports have completely collapsed and naturally irritate normal and rational passengers. For instance, if you decide to use the washroom facilities, your hormone system will definitely have challenges.
“Going through the MMIA is a challenge and very bad for usage by a rational being. The smallest airport under me is Cotonou Airport in the Benin Republic. I can go to their toilets and come out with a smile on my face.
“We are not harassed by security agencies, unlike in Nigeria. We have scanning machines at our airports in Nigeria, so, why the harassment by the security agencies again in the country?”
Among other subjects, Mr. Ehimiaghe also reflected on the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Nigeria’s federal capital, Abuja. He stated that the runway was in such a poor state that in the weeks preceding his interview, at least four aircraft were damaged, one of them so badly that that it could not be used for over one week.
Somewhere, Nigerian officials are abusing the manager. It is the way we respond to a Nigerian of visibility who calls the government out. Twice before his death, Chinua Achebe rejected the government’s offer of a so-called National Honour, saying he could accept no such award from governments with no honor.
On both occasions, the government called the literary icon names. It is the tradition of Nigerian governments to denounce anyone who identifies their weaknesses, or as Achebe did, their connivance.
The irony is that Nigeria continues to deteriorate because of these government, a fact that is best illustrated by our airports.
An airport is every nation’s economic, cultural and political border with every other nation and with the international community. When you see an airport, you can feel that country’s heartbeat.
In “First, Service the Engine of Change,” on June 5, 2016, I shared my thoughts of a Nigerian airport in words that were like Mr. Ehimare’s:
“When you step into the restrooms, it is at your peril: the worst experience you can have in an airport, including war-ravaged Somalia, and I apologize to every Somali.”
I observed that the restrooms were not being maintained or really cleaned. “…The place is so wet and so repugnant your life begins to flash before your eyes. You remember, for sure, whether you have a will or not…”
Compare those remarks with Mr. Ehimare’s: “The smallest airport under me is Cotonou Airport in the Benin Republic. I can go to their toilets and come out with a smile on my face.”
While these comments address the airport environment, they are really a report of the collapse of the governance infrastructure in Nigeria. The website: www.sleepinginairports.net, which tracks the quality of airports around the world, routinely lists Nigerian airports among the worst. For 2016, one of ours is among the top two worst; and two of them are prominent in Africa’s worst 10.
We ought to be ashamed, but shame is not a characteristic of Nigerian governance. Of greater importance, we ought to be alarmed. This is because, while international travel, interests, and journalism will always point out our aviation failures and therefore irritate the government perhaps into some action, there is no comparable exposure of the absence of governance in many other areas.
Last week, for instance, Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha lamented that federal roads in the South East have become such death traps his government is having to fix them to help road users, a matter of national concern during the Christmas travel season.
"In Imo we do not know again which one is federal road or state-owned road. We do every road like the Akokwa/Orlu road which we have fixed and dualized. Owerri/Port-Harcourt is so bad.”
After traveling from Benin City to Abuja seven months ago, I wrote in this column that the quality of that federal road was so bad it was a miracle there wasn’t an accident every minute. “You stay sane by closing your eyes and listening to a radio station in your head…The annual losses to the economy ought to make the federal cabinet weep weekly, if anyone cared.”
If anyone cared…
I don’t mean to sound that this collapse of governance exists only at the federal level. In many States, the government is the only business, and that means the governor the only source of economic life. Regrettably, the governor’s only interest is often the governor. Many of them have looted the local government councils into irrelevance, and from the little they receive from the State, many local council chairmen have erected themselves into insensitive deities.
Think about it: Nigeria’s top officials are currently citing lack of resources as the reason for their inability to bring about change.
That is not true. The absence of political will is the most prominent reason for the poverty of the Buhari administration, just as it was for his predecessors.
The most important resource the administration needed was the resounding support of the electorate in 2015, but that has now been squandered on the altar of political convenience, and it is doubtful the government will achieve much before its term is up. Instead of recruiting and deploying the nation’s best experts, the Buhari government chose the quicksand of party personnel and personal relatives.
And while there has been a lot of public agonies expressed about low levels of new oil earnings, it is unclear why almost nothing has been done about a lot of recoverable funds, the government’s attention being completely limited to a few isolated concerns.
A part of this is that for some reason, and while governments are increasingly bloated and indolent, Nigeria’s vision has grown dim, if not dismal. Gone are the big dreams and hopes of our independence and the energy and heart of the post-civil war period.
In contrast to the supposed glory of our past, other nations are building visionary infrastructure capable of making their people competitive for decades to come. That is why the Cotonou airport can make happy a visitor, even an airline official with access to hundreds of airports.
A good airport is not just a good airport. It is an invitation, an investment. It is partly why, in 2014 according to the World Bank, South Africa had 9.5million tourists; Mexico 29m; Malaysia 27.4m; Kenya 1.2m; and Ghana 1.09m.
In that same year, the Republic of Benin had 242,000 tourists. Nigeria had none.