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Complacency, incompetence of aviation authorities

.. There is an urgent need to fast-track airports concessions

People must be held responsible for the abysmal failure to provide a service as ordinary as an instrument landing system at the international and local of the airports in Nigeria.

For most of last week international and local airlines either cancelled or diverted their Lagos-bound flights because the equipment needed to land safely in near-zero visibility had not been installed at the local and international wings of the airport.

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The diversions and cancellations were needless, the reasons given by the authorities – the Minister of Aviation and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the agency responsible – for the flight disruptions are inexcusable. That both waited for an embarrassing and avoidable fiasco to happen before hurrying to install and calibrate the landing equipment in the airports shows how complacency and incompetence have become the hallmarks of governance in Nigeria. This anyhow attitude has become so pervasive because there are no consequences, and specifically why drastic measures must be taken.

We daily lose whatever is left of our respect as a nation. Respect that is undermined every day by a government that is unwilling and unable to perform simple functions such as keeping a national database, securing its borders, or protecting its citizens from bandits, kidnappers and terrorists. Whatever sense of self regard individual Nigerians have is dented daily through no fault of theirs.

Now, the lack of a basic equipment in any airport is almost cutting us off from the rest of the world. Low visibility is normal and expected. It’s an annual event. It can be predicted and prevented, and the solution is available. Instead the authorities charged with our airspace and airports is just carrying out “routine maintenance” and the equipment is undergoing installation”. This is abnormal and unacceptable.  The period and duration of Harmattan is more predictable than the outcome of a football match between Manchester United and Chelsea. It is seasonal, occurs between November and March every year, and Harmattan haze, dust plumes that choke the clouds can occur for days, reduce visibility and cause flights to be cancelled or diverted.

Local and international travellers have been stranded for hours, international flights have had to be diverted to airports in Dakar, Accra and Cotonou and others cancelled indefinitely, all because none of the airports in Nigeria has a functional instrument landing system. Passengers and airlines have borne the cost of these disruptions even though NAMA receives a percentage of ticket fees and airlines pay it monthly.

To avoid such disruptions in the future the airports responsible for most of the traffic in the country must be run as concessions – contracted to those who can run them professionally, safely and profitably. Three years ago, Hadi Sirika, the Minister of Aviation, started the process, it’s time to fast-track it.

Global expertise and best practice on how to run airports are not in short supply – Global Infrastructure Partners, the biggest infrastructure investment fund in the world, owners of Gatwick airport in the UK, was co-founded by Adebayo Ogunlesi, a Nigerian.

The Bureau of Enterprises which lately announced plans to raise N266.8 billion from the sale of government-owned assets in mining, electricity and communications shows renewed appetite for getting government out of the business of business. Airports should be included among many others given how it has miserably failed in ensuring landing equipment at the airports were up and running.

Government shouldn’t be running the airports where bureaucrats just sit tight, deliver no service, and feed fat off fees and levies rather than buy equipment that can save millions of naira and lives. Such people in ministries, agencies and departments have frustrated past attempts to privatise state-owned companies. They must not be allowed to succeed.

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