Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Pain of an Airport

TheMurtala Muhammed International Airport {MMIA} is undoubtedly Nigeria’s busiest airport. Until fairly recently, it was, along with the Aminu Kano and the Port Harcourt Airports, the only international airport in the country. In real terms, the MMIA may not measure up to the standards of better-known airports like Schippol or Heathrow, but it remains about the best that this nation has today.
Despite the often chaotic atmosphere in its departure and arrival halls, the MMIA has a semblance of modernity. Things got significantly better at the airport under the Obasanjo administration when visible efforts were made to rid it of smelly restrooms, malfunctioning conveyors and passenger touts who had become a real menace to air travelers passing through the MMIA. While it cannot be denied that some efforts are being made to further improve the airport in the past few years, the main access road to the airport has been in shambles. Pothole and crater-ridden, the main approach to the airport from Oshodi and Mile 2 is an apology. The frequent traffic snarls is the result of the sordid state of the main access road. Driving in and out of the MMIA has thus become a harrowing experience. And as the road users suffer, so does the image of the country.
TheMMIA-Oshodi-Apapa access road tells any first-time visitor to Nigeria the sort of people we are—a people that pay no attention to things that matter. As one drives through the stretch between Toyota Bus stop and the airport, all one sees is ugliness in its worst forms. To worsen the ugly spectre, one sees on both sides all manner of shacks housing hawkers ranging from roasted corn sellers to carpenters and mechanics. A nation never showcased its under-belly so flagrantly.
Any one used to driving to and from international airports in other countries cannot but be depressed by the ugly state of the MMIA main access road. It was thus quite relieving when early in the year it was reported that the federal government would embark on the expansion and beautification of that road. Minimally, that should improve traffic flow to and from MMIA and make it more tourist-friendly.
Unfortunately, it does appear that the report was no more than a hoax. Admitted, some earth-movement took place on one side of the road. But all that this has achieved is to increase the agony of users of the road. No tangible work either in the direction of expansion or beautification is going on.
Expanding or enhancing the sate of such a vital link road is not something that needs to take such a long time. If there was any seriousness on the part of the government the project could be done within six months. What has become obvious is that there is no commitment to getting the project off the ground, let alone completing it. Instead the road has become even more dilapidated, indeed an eyesore that should grieve the heart of any Nigerian concerned about the image of the nation. Most first-time visitors to any country form their impression of the host country from what they see as their vehicle drives through the airport road. It is no surprise then that international airport access roads are usually kept in the best shape by governments.
Nigeria must be an exception given the sorry state of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Road. Both the federal and Lagos state governments should rise up to this challenge by ensuring the speedy execution of the MMIA access road expansion and beatification project.