The first pronouncement about shutting down the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, was made on May 19 by the immediate past Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika.
Sirika hinted about the proposed reconstruction during a stakeholders’ meeting in Lagos, saying the structure had outlived its existence.
He said he had been inundated with regular complaints over breakdown of the air conditioning system and conveniences within the facility, and noted that with the planned reconstruction, the complaints would be a thing of the past.
Sirika had said, “Thankfully, we have found a solution to the problems; though N14bn is a lot of money.”
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Four years later, the complaints intensified and yet the reconstruction has not been carried out.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the MMIA’s terminal was built in 1978 and officially opened in March, 1979.
Since then, the facility, designed for 200,000 passengers, has not undergone any structural change and expansion despite the exponential growth in passengers.
The terminal handles over six million passengers annually according to records from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
FAAN has had to carry out regular repairs and maintenance of facilities at the terminal over persistent breakdown but the problem still persists.
For a regular visitor to the MMIA, one of the country’s highest revenue earners for the federal government, the decrepit condition of the place is visible. Example: dilapidated baggage conveyor belts, and a malfunctioning air-conditioning system.
In March, 2022, former President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned a new ultramodern terminal at the MMIA; one of the four airport terminals funded by the China Export and Import Bank and constructed by the China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation (CCECC). Those of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport and the Port Harcourt International Airport have also been commissioned, while that of Kano is pending.
The terminal has 66 check-in counters; five baggage collection carousels; 16 immigration desks at arrival, 28 at departure; eight security screening points; six passenger boarding bridges with remote boarding and arrival.
Other facilities include two food courts, four premium lounges, 22 guest rooms and spas, 16 airline ticketing offices, visa on arrival and port health facility, praying areas, more than 3,000sqm duty-free spaces and over 5,000sqm let-table utility spaces.
The terminal is a spectacle for any visitor, providing a bespoke ambience for passengers and other airport users.
But the reverse is the case at the old terminal. It is, to many passengers and users of the airport, an eyesore.
A don, Prof Kayode Soremekun, in a recent memo to the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, expressed disgust at the state of the MMIA old terminal, saying as a fairly frequent traveller he felt “diminished” anytime he got to the terminal.
Similarly, passengers’ facilitation has been worsened by the collapse of the conveyor belts, as some passengers miss their connecting flights due to delay from transit flights. Those arriving into the country are often welcomed by the chaos at the arrival hall.
On his first official visit to the airport after his arrival, Keyamo also made reference to this. He declared that the short-term solution would be to shut down the terminal for repairs while the foreign airlines would relocate to the new terminal where they had refused to go in the last one year.
Keyamo said, “For now, the temporary arrangement we want to make, and for the comfort of Nigerians, we have to find a way to use the new terminal built by the Chinese, even without the big planes coming in, because there are no avio bridges for them to use and the gate bridges for the passengers to pass.
“So, like it’s done in many other countries, we are going to do emergency procurement to buy the big buses. So, we are going to put them in buses and move them to where the big planes stop in an orderly fashion, both the arrival and departure, so that Nigerians can have some sort of comfort with this new facility.”
The minister restated that two private hangars: EAN and Dominion, would have to give way for the apron of the airport to be extended.
Meanwhile, it was learnt that discussions are ongoing with the owners who fear the loss of over $300m in investment.
The minister’s comment has, however, generated reactions in the industry over the feasibility of the new directive amid safety concerns raised by foreign airlines. With the one-month directive given, stakeholders are divided over the time limit. While some stakeholders expressed relief over the directive, others said it would be in the interest of the federal government to engage the airlines meaningfully to avoid flight disruptions.
More importantly, the proposed demolition of the EAN and Dominion hangars is still a subject of litigation which may not happen until the legal issues are resolved.
President of the Association of Foreign Airlines Representatives in Nigeria (AFARN), Kingsley Nwokoma, said the safety concerns raised by the foreign airlines must be addressed before any relocation should be carried out.
He said, “Everybody knows what the issue is. There are safety concerns as per the kind of aircraft they operate and park. That was why the former minister ordered for buildings around that area to go. So, we need to review that and ensure that is done.
“For me, the new terminal is a welcome thing. It is new. Like they say, a breath of fresh air, but let’s just make sure that there are no safety issues. FAAN and any other agency involved should make sure that the movement is seamless.
“We know how epileptic the old terminal is, and the new terminal is a breath of fresh air, let’s just make sure that no safety implications or issues, make sure avio bridges are available and bigger aircraft like the 777 and the 747 can park without issues.
“All we are concerned about is there should be no safety implications, and there are no safety implications or issues, we are good to go.”
On the planned purchase of buses to be conveying passengers from the terminal to the apron, he said, “This is a short-term arrangement…It is workable.”
A former President of Aviation Roundtable and Safety Initiative (ART), Dr Gbenga Olowo, described the planned shutdown as “cheering news”.
He said, “This confirms that he’s not only a seasoned traveler, but a very informed officer of the federal republic who has been reading and listening. This is the activism those of us at ART have been advocating for decades. Shut down MMA1 fingers D&E for D Check and put up fingers ABC in line with the master plan.”
Aviation analyst and former General Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Olayinka Abioye, said any measure that would lead to shutdown of the MMIA old terminal was welcome given the “decadent situation” of the airport.
Abioye further said, “That terminal is an accident waiting to happen,” adding that, “I align with the HMA that whatever needs to be done should be done so that foreign airlines move to the new terminal while comprehensive rehabilitation starts earnestly at the old building, taking after Schiphol.
“Go to the same Schiphol now and see our difference…I plead again that rather than condemn this initiative, we should applaud it and support by constructive suggestions some of which had been taken by the HMA.”
General Secretary of ART, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, said FAAN should take charge of the movement and engage its partners rather than Keyamo pushing the relocation, noting that the movement should be in phases.
He further said, “I have issues with the deadline given for the airport. FAAN should have led the process and not the minister giving a deadline. If we say we don’t want political interference, agencies should take some responsibility.
“FAAN had service agreements with those occupying the MMIA. FAAN should be the one to say, ‘I want to fix my airport, and on that basis I am moving you to this terminal’, and you would give a timeline and ensure the process is taken. You cannot ask everybody to move in 30 days. We should not run from a problem and get into another problem. I think the movement should be in phases. FAAN should be in charge. They should leave the minister out to deal with other serious issues; that is the responsibility of FAAN.
“It is good to tear down MMIA, it is long overdue, but let FAAN deal with its partners rather than push the minister to start engaging in movement of companies to the new terminal. Airports all over the world, you see men at work, you would see people working day and night, expansion and correction; and Nigeria cannot be an exception.”