MMA– Our National Monument of Shame

By Bamidele Ademola-Olateju

Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA)? Yes. Certainly not Murtala Muhammed International Airport, there is nothing remotely international about this airport; it is a disgrace.

Without a shred of doubt, MMA is the worst airport in the world and I have travelled through quite a few. It is damp, dingy, unwittingly bare and impossibly crazy – a fitting edifice in celebration of Nigeria’s decay. The statistics shows an airport with great potential; an airport that should be taken seriously. MMA can be the biggest and best Africa’s hub, if only we have it in us to get things right. In the first quarter of this year, it recorded 43, 784 inbound and outbound flights of which 28,890 were domestic flights and 14,894 were international flights. MMA handled over 800,000 passengers on domestic as well as international routes during the first quarter of the year 2013.

When you pass through the airport, you ask yourself; “why are we like this?” “how did we get here?”. How can Nigeria compete globally when an important tool for developing the economy is ignored? Many other countries are spending big money into attracting foreign direct investment into the country by developing and improving airport facilities and ours looks like an airport run by guerrilla fighters in country fighting a century long civil war. It is a shame really because airports are the first to know when an economy is booming and when it is about to experience a burst. As an engine of growth, passenger traffic often reflects the level of economic development, business activity and tourism. In like manner, cargo shipments are good indicators of economic strength.

If this country must succeed, we must work at it. We must quit stealing public funds. We must be totally altruistic. We cannot will development into being and we cannot grow by declarations. We have to invest in infrastructure and in ourselves. We have to stop doing stupid things. I left Nigeria on a humid day in June. The departure hall was dusty, noisy, putrid with sweat with a kind of chaos reminiscent of Hadj camp filled with abandoned pilgrims. The staff are implacably rude, has no work ethic, they behave like they are doing you a favor, security is lax, no functioning Air Conditioning, it was pure hell.

Since 2007, every Aviation Minister does some “renovations” and such surface coating had been underway since. This is 2013, construction is still in ongoing and the airport is not up to scratch in any way. The only reprieve are the remodeled bathrooms; they are heavily accented with visibly expensive fittings, faucets and granite walls but the cleaners routinely make a joke of the improvements by holding/hoarding toilet paper. They intrude at your most private and vulnerable moment asking if you want “tissue paper”. It hits that Nigerians are just incorrigible! They find a way to extort money in every and under any kind of situation. Of course you need toilet paper. They make you ask for it and ingratiate themselves with you. They make you pay.

Before, I could be checked in that day in June, rain poured on in torrents; I would have been better off with an umbrella on hand, an umbrella over my head inside the departure hall. The roof leaked at several points. A leak here and a leak there might be tolerable but it is a problem when gaping holes on the roof run in scores and the nations’ foremost airport is in major disrepair. It is that bad.

The people (men and women) working the security lines on departure barks orders at passengers at every turn. They have a permanent scowl on their faces that makes you glad you are leaving the country. You get on board and heave a sigh of relief, a sense of escape!

I came back a few days ago, you probably know the drill if you travel into Nigeria. You get out of the plane and you get hit by furnace level temperatures in the jetway. You walk through the labyrinthine shoddy partitions smelling of mould and you steal furtive glances at any foreign visitor wondering what they must be thinking.

You run into barricades without warning and meander through unsightly benches on your path. Oh yes! The escalators works! Unfortunately the two escalators lurches everyone directly into the immigration area with passengers crashing into each other. With United, Delta, Air France, KLM, British Airways, Lufthansa etc., coming in at short intervals in the course of an evening; one gets a taste of what the day of judgement would look like.

Getting through immigration is a nightmare, morose officials plod through hundreds of arriving passengers preparing you for the harsh realities outside. Luggages trickle in forever, the hall is hell hot and you pay for carts with cold cash. Good luck if you don’t have Naira on hand. The car park is a picture perfect poster for third world chaos, it usually takes a gifted mind to navigate. Outside the airport, you must be vigilant with street level bonafides. No one helps for free nor are they friendly for free; they always want some money.

These are what first time and repeat travellers in and out of Nigeria experiences. Imagine the pain if you travel several times a year through the world’s best airports with an 8year old who questions you relentlessly about why Nigeria is the way it is. It feels like Chinese water torture to me, telling my daughter “that is just the way it is here”.

When you finally survive the customs check and come out in the open, artisans are still working on the “renovations” at the very same spot they were working on when I left in June. I shook my head at what is being done.

I have written it before and here it is again. “This national monument of shame, the Muritala Mohammed International Airport is simply getting a stupendously insulting whitewash of counterfeit laminates, particle boards and dry walls; many are jubilant and in a rush to congratulate the minister for doing a spectacular job. This is at a time when nations with less resources are building terminals that are jaw dropping architectural masterpieces. We are a pathetic bunch who applauds every town hall, primary school building and culvert built by our leaders. We design posters and pay for advertorials to hail them as the Moses of our time when they commission village boreholes.”

It beats me hollow that Nigeria’s leaders travel abroad and pass through world class facilities without a thought on how to replicate the good things they enjoy abroad at home. I am exasperated really but I’m old enough to know that only limited sense can be made of what is often nonsensical. I’m back here until my sanity is threatened. Sigh!

Note: What you just read was published in my Premium Times column on September 17, 2013. Seven years later, nothing has changed!

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