The Port-Harcourt airport has become more of an embarrassment to Nigeria than blessing. The aerodrome has continued to maintain its unenviable position as the worst in the, globe but government is set to erase that tag, WOLE SHADARE writes
The Federal Government, last week, disclosed that it would spend huge amount of money to rehabilitate the Port-Harcourt International Airport. This is cheery news considering the fact that the aerodrome has brought a lot of shame to the nation despite huge amount of money reportedly spent on it and others by the Federal Government, midwifed by a former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, under the airports remodelling mantra.
Hope turns to despair
The euphoria that greeted the airport remodelling project of Oduah gradually gave way to skepticism. This is because not much was achieved contrary to the high expectations raised when it was launched amid pomp and celebration. At the inception, she stressed the need to give the nation’s airports a face-lift being the first point of contact with the country by foreign visitors. Most analysts, however, estimate that over $2 billion has so far been expended on the projects.
But despite that expenditure, Nigeria’s aviation infrastructure remains one of the worst in the world. From Lagos to Abuja, Calabar, Owerri, Enugu, Ilorin, Kano, Sokoto, Kaduna, Ibadan, Port Harcourt airports the state of infrastructure has not risen above what could be considered as “above average.”
At the Port-Harcourt airport, the place is rundown. One cannot recognise it as an airport. It is like an airfield with ramshackle buildings, here and there; an uncompleted structure.
The workers are disorderly; there is nothing there to show it is an airport. In this airport and many across the country, one still finds an endless list of nonfunctional facilities inside the terminals including dilapidated structures, unpainted walls, poor air conditioning systems, no comprehensive flight information display systems, absence of communication facilities to allow passengers access wifi and the Internet, absence of comfortable and secured seats for passengers, poor toilets and other conveniences facilities.
Passengers who aired their views on conditions at the airport, did so with disturbing adjectives. A frequent traveller, Mike Alaegbu said: “Port Harcourt airport is embarrassing; it is irritating.
The tent used as arrival lounge is dirty. As I arrived, I couldn’t breathe. I asked my daughter how the people who sat in there were surviving the hot air and bad smell. I am quite disappointed. Why should this be? The report that named it the worst is correct; it is the dirtiest in the world.”
An hotelier said the airport looks funny. According to her, the place is “dead” infrastructure wise. She urged government to mobilise the contractors as a matter of urgency.
There are still poor perimeter fences that allow just anyone access to the airports, leaking roofs, non-functional conveyor belts, no self-check-in facilities, automated gates for security and passenger tracking, air field lighting systems and other navigational facilities on the runways such that most airlines had to shut down during harmattan seasons and the absence of car parks, among others.
At the Port-Harcourt airport, returning and departing passengers and other users of the airport undergo harrowing experience; check-in done under canopies, profiling of passengers is also a big issue and one that pose serious security threat to passengers and equipment.
The managers of the airports, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), had at different time defended the decrepit state of the airport, saying the airport is under construction.
FAAN said, “Whenever an airport is under construction and there are operations simultaneously, it is usually a nightmare.” “Port Harcourt airport is like some other airports across the country, under construction. They are practically construction sites. But because of the fact that we have a service to provide, we cannot shut down the airport. So, we are working and operations are ongoing with construction side by side, which is bound to create inconvenience.”
Govt approves N3bn
The Federal Executive Council had last Wednesday approved about N3 billion for the completion of the rehabilitation work on terminal building phase 11 and international wing of the Port Harcourt International Airport.
He said the council approved the project as it is captured in the 2016 and 2017 budget. Sirika said: “So, very soon we will complete that very important airport, especially the arrival, Port Harcourt airport has been tagged the worst airport in the world. “But, by the grace of God and the wisdom of the council, it has been approved and will be completed.
“The upgrade and the rehabilitation of the terminal building, international wing of the Port Harcourt from N777, 726,669. 30 to N1,684,520,310.58. “Second one, is the refurbishment of Port Harcourt airport terminal building phase II domestic wing from N746,830,782.12 to N1,411,662,855.67.”
If the government is spending close to N4 billion to rehabilitate the airport, one needs to ask what the government did with over N500 billion budgeted for repairs of the terminal buildings of many of the airports less than four years ago when there was so much noise on remodelling but very disappointing in delivery as virtually all the facilities collapsed shortly after work was said to have started on the new facilities.
The airport was one of the five approved for remodelling by the Federal Government. When former Governor of Rivers State Rotimi Amaechi alleged in 2013 that the FG had abandoned the project, the FAAN through its former spokesman, Yakubu Dati denied, saying 90 per cent of the entire job had been completed.
Another good example of shoddy job done was the Murtala Muhammed International Airport; Lagos, which facilities started decaying immediately contractors finished their job.
Inferior materials were used at a cost that appears to be a scam on the government. A visit to Kano and Abuja also showed how poorly those jobs were done but for Port Harcourt, it appears abandoned. This abandonment led to the rating of the airport last year as the worst in the world.
Currently, only four, out of Nigeria’s 22 airports, including Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt, are adjudged economically viable. Most of the infrastructures at those airports are rotting away due to lack of maintenance. There is the need for government to take airport development seriously to boost air traffic.