If the Senate expected plaudits for its recent lamentation on the woes of the aviation industry in the country, its expectation would be cut off for obvious reasons. One of the three important functions of a legislature in a democracy is oversight; the others being law making and representation. These functions are often fused in most democracies where the elected representatives work in public interest. If there is a dysfunctional agency in an industry, there are usually standing committees in the legislature to address such anomalies. And if the extant legislation or regulatory framework is weak in the face of disruptive technologies in today’s work, it is the responsibility of relevant committees to recommend amendment to meet current exigencies. That is how the rhythm of governance works in good democracies in global context. This is strange to Nigeria where government officials, notably from the executive and legislature almost daily lament about the rot in the systems they are in office to solve. This is strange and explains why operational efficiency here is often a mirage! Which is why the damning verdict by the Senate on Nigeria’s aviation industry the other day, is also strange in the extreme. The finding corroborates what this newspaper and others have been complaining about: that Nigeria’s aviation industry is among the worst in the world. But sadly, there have been no action plans from Abuja’s loquacious government officials on how to overhaul the failing industry.
What therefore would the nation gain from lamentation of the Deputy Leader of the Senate, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, who the other day described Nigeria’s aviation sector as having the most hostile environment in the world? The top legislator made that toxic statement in Abuja when he had in audience leaders of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) in his office.
The NAAPE leaders requested Na’Allah to use his position as Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation to help in making the National Assembly “beam search-lights” on the multifaceted problems of the sector. The union leaders only turned to the National Assembly for solution to the industry that has become a national embarrassment.
But Na’Allah curiously told the pilots and engineers that the executive and not the legislature should be pressurised to take appropriate action for the sector to grow. According to him, the Senate had debated a Motion he sponsored since 2015 on the problems bedeviling the sector. He revealed that they came up with far-reaching 24-point resolutions on the way out but regrettably, none of the resolutions had been considered by the executive.
The senator said on the basis of the 2015 resolutions the National Assembly should not be blamed in 2017 since the matter had been left to the executive to implement the resolutions.
Nallah’s response to the unionists is quite disappointing. What is the use of the Aviation Committees in the bi-cameral legislature if they cannot be involved in finding solution to the woes in the aviation industry? Are they so clueless that they don’t know what to do even within the ruling party caucus to make their resolution effective?
It would be recalled that in 2014, three Nigerian airports were rated among the worst in Africa. While the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, was rated 10th worst in Africa, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja and Port Harcourt International Airport, Port Harcourt, were ranked the seventh and sixth worst airports on the continent. Going by that ranking, Nigeria’s principal gateway airport in Lagos is the worst in Africa. In other climes, this kind of report is enough to bring down a government for neglect of critical infrastructure in the most regulated industry in global context.
The survey by The Guide to Sleeping in Airports, a website that documents information on airports and the people who sleep in them, ranked the Johannesburg Oliver Tambo International Airport, South Africa the best in Africa. This was followed by Cape Town International Airport, South Africa (second); Durban King Shaka International Airport, South Africa (third); Algiers Houari Boumediene International Airport, Algeria (fourth); and Addis Abbaba Bole International Airport, Ethiopia (fifth).
The assessments were based on the stories submitted by travellers as regards their experiences. These ranged from dirty floors and conveniences to the regular requests for bribes. Travellers were unimpressed with the airports that made it in the worst category in Africa. That even gave the results high degree of accuracy.
Expectedly, Nigeria’s Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) repudiated the survey results as inaccurate. No one was surprised by the rejection by Nigeria’s FAAN as Nigerian government officials are used to debunking any reports that are not in their favour. But that response does not in any way invalidate the survey. The same FAAN has curiously remained silent after the Senate’s recent verdict.
The deteriorating condition of facilities at the airports is glaring and has been a long-standing issue that passengers daily complain about. Space constraints, inadequate facilities and obsolete equipment that adversely affect smooth operations have remained the major challenges over the years.
Recently, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja was shut for six weeks to allow for the re-surfacing of the dilapidated tarmac and runways. That created heavy disruptions in aviation operations at the nation’s capital as flights were diverted to the Kaduna Airport- more than 200 kilometres from Abuja. The epileptic power supply in all the airports is a huge problem. Overcrowding by touts and all manner of flat characters, dysfunctional conveyor belts and air-cooling system are features of our airports. The Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, (the country’s apex international airport) has no good roads leading to its main terminal. These multidimensional challenges have attracted an executive order on ease of doing business. That is just tokenism as there are weightier matters of operations about Nigerian airports that should jolt any serious government.
The regulators in the industry are hot helping business matters too. The airlines get little fraction from the fares paid by passengers due to numerous service charges imposed by different regulatory bodies. That creates problem for aircraft maintenance and raises safety concerns.
What is worse, all the external and internal loans taken to overhaul Nigerian airports by successive governments appear to have gone down the drains as nothing concrete has been sited at the airports. This is shameful and no suspect is being diligently prosecuted as a result of corrupt practices in fixing industry.
This is one industry the government of the day should not ignore. It is in public interest to do so. We cannot claim to be “Giant of Africa” if we continue to parade the worst airports. Apart from South Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya have showcased good airports that have enhanced the brand equity of their aviation industry and indeed the countries. The airports as gateways provide the first impressions visitors have when they land in any countries or cities. That is why government should move from rhetoric and lamentation to action today on the shameful state of the aviation industry.