Waiting Looong For Port Harcourt Int’l Airport
Operators of Port Harcourt International Airport say the facility is an ongoing project and should, therefore, not be unfairly criticised; travellers say it is dirty, smelly, with terrible infrastructure and services. Is anyone being economical with the truth? THE respondent barely waited for the reporter to finish the second question, when he spat a furious answer. “Have you ever used the Port Harcourt International Airport?” he was asked. “Yes, just two days ago.” “There is a report about it being…” “IT IS STILL THE WORST!”
It was immediately obvious the man needed little or no prompting to spill his frustrations. The journalist leaned back and listened. “The moment I alighted from the aircraft, that report flashed across my mind, and I said, ‘They are very correct.’ The place is rundown. You 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, not to talk of being international.”
“You don’t mean it?”
“Certainly! “The worst part is that international flights takeoff and land there – Air France, KLM, others. That’s why I think that report…that rating was by foreigners who were coming there. Nigerians might not have cared. These foreigners are oil workers, so they prefer to fly directly. With the exception of the presidential lounge…that is the only place. What the airport uses is a canopy! That is where you are checked in, under a canopy! You wait for your flight under a canopy with fans instead of air conditioners!” “That is strange. But when the report came out October last year, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) said the place was undergoing renovation. What about…?”
“Don’t mind them; they have been at it for more than a year. Did I say more than a year? It’s since 2013! As at Monday, January 18, 2016, I was at the place. I am praying in my heart, and using this opportunity to ask the federal government to do something urgently about it. It is a national embarrassment. It degrades Nigeria. Government should give it a facelift. That is what it requires now. It is in a state of emergency. It is rundown, so rundown and so bad; you will not like to be associated with it.” In October, last year, the CNN published a report by travel website The Guide to Sleeping in Airports. “Despite the site’s name, airports weren’t just rated according to how easy it is to take a nap while inside them. Sleeping in Airports’ readers were asked to judge facilities in four categories: comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service,” it writes.
The website had released a list of 10 airports it says were the worst in 2015. Top on the list was Port Harcourt International Airport. It was followed by King Abdulaziz International Airport (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia). “Voters suggested Port Harcourt Airport should also win the title of most corrupt airport in the world. The terminal’s unpleasant and unhelpful staff help to earn it this trifecta of atrocious awards. With virtually no seating, broken air-conditioning and a tent as Arrival Hall, it was a struggle for many voters to pass the minimum required amount of time here,” writes the website, adding: “The good news is that some areas of the terminal have been recently renovated, meaning you can expect actual walls, floors and windows. Though it is a far cry from reasonable, improvements are being made.”
When The Guardian visited the airport on Thursday, some operations were carried out under tents, as the arrival lounge stood uncompleted. The temporary structure has continued to draw the ire of passengers who describe the situation as a contradiction and an embarrassment. The tent is usually congested and without adequate ventilation. Travellers are forced to endure heat and an unpleasant odour. There are also inadequate chairs to sit on. The departure lounge, the first phase of the project, has been completed and furnished. Facilities like air conditioner, lighting, chairs were sighted at the complex.
Customer care and security, however, are still in the woods. The Guardian’s reporter was in fact assaulted by one of the security men at the departure hall. As the female journalist spoke with a passenger, the hostile guard approached menacingly, snatched away her midget recorder, and began pushing her out of the premises. It took the intervention of a senior staff to calm the situation. The staff apologised to the reporter and described the incident as an isolated case and a misrepresentation of the airport’s values. Realising he had acted brashly, and to a journalist, for that matter, the repentant guard promptly laid his hand across his heart, in an apparent concealing of his name tag. It was observed that some of the staff, especially senior ones, were well mannered and polite to visitors.
Passengers, who aired their views on conditions at the airport, did so with disturbing adjectives. Mrs. Ezinne Hellen Duru, who arrived from Lagos, 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.” Mrs. Tina Friday, an Abuja-bound traveller, said the airport looks funny. According to her, the place is “dead” infrastructure wise. She urged the government to mobilise the contractors as a matter of urgency.
“You suffer to get paid, you suffer to buy fuel, you suffer while using the airport, and you suffer while using the road. Why has the government decided its citizens must suffer this way? Why do people in Nigeria always go through hell before they can use public services? It is unfortunate. It is high time we stopped playing politics with everything. Personally, I can’t see any work going on at this deplorable airport. We just keep using the airport because we do not have an alternative,” said Mr. Dennis Iheanacho, who flew in from Lagos. Mr. Richard and Melvin (both Indians) also voiced their displeasure: “It does not meet the minimum requirement for an airport. A good airport should be comfortable, with good facilities and good customer service. The customer service here is very poor; you do not get information aptly. Sometimes, five minutes to departure, you hear an announcement that the flight has been cancelled for six hours without any show of remorse! Such thing affects business and communication negatively.”
Segun Lawal, who disclosed that he has been using the airport for the last five years, said: “Imagine someone coming to this airport for the first time, the set up here is devastating. It paints a very bad image of the country. Port Harcourt, the hub of the oil and gas industry, where a lot of people come to do business, deserves a standard airport.” And according to Jeff Wilfred, who was travelling to London: “The airport is below standard; it is still operating in an obsolete mode. There are a lot of things that can upset passengers, like customer service. Flights are rescheduled for five hours without any apology to passengers. The departure complex is okay. But the problem is the management.” Reacting, however, Airport Manager, Engr. Chigbo Nwobu, disagreed with the report by travel website The Guide to Sleeping in Airports, saying it is unfair to assess an airport, which is undergoing remodeling and rehabilitation. “The report is biased; you don’t give judgment when work is in progress. A lot of work is still ongoing. And when completed, it will bring desired comfort to passengers. The report was done in 2010. By 2010, we were using tents in both departure and arrival halls. At the time, this place was like a market. You do not paint a house that is yet to be completed. Do you? The report was done when work was in progress. So, it is not a balanced report; it has elements of bias,” said Nwobu.
He added: “The tents, now, are used only for arrival. Infrastructure in an airport does not constitute the building only; there are things that make up the infrastructure, and these things are all operational. They are fully functional, like runways and lighting system. We have 24-hour light. This should be commended. These are the things that make an airport.” Asked why the contractor handling the rehabilitation works is not on site, the Manager said it might be due to delay in passage of the budget. “You are aware that the budget has not been passed. So, when the budget is passed, a lot of things will improve; the contractor will come back to site.” Nwobu expressed optimism that in three year’s time, the airport would have more facilities. On what is being done to improve staff-customer relations, he said: “We have specialists in charge of the training of our staff. I do not tolerate rudeness from the staff. But sometimes, you see good and bad at the airport. Several staff who go against the rules have been sanctioned.” Asked if the Port Harcourt International Airport could again top the ‘worst’ list in 2016, FAAN spokesman, Yakubu Dati, answered: “The airport is under construction. Whenever an airport is under construction and there are operations simultaneously, it is usually a nightmare. It is like having a construction site and having operations going on at the same time. It was on the basis of that – not knowing the airport is undergoing construction that they carried out that survey. And like the title is: ‘People who sleep in the airport’, definitely, a construction site cannot be comfortable for people who sleep. We have already made that clear to them. And I believe they will put that into consideration in their next report.
“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.” Ironically, while Port Harcourt, which belongs to the ‘almighty’ federal government, topped a list of worst airports in the world, some states – so broke, they couldn’t pay workers’ salaries and had to be bailed out – are planning to build airports. States, like Osun, Bayelsa, Abia, Ogun, Anambra, Ekiti and Nasarawa, are toeing that line. Governor Al-Makura of Nasarawa State, in particular, is in the process of constructing a N17bn airport in his village, Kwandare, when a similar facility exists in Makurdi, Jos and Abuja. “At present, only four, out of Nigeria’s 22 airports, including Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt, are adjudged economically viable. There is very low passenger traffic in the other airports and most of the airlines decline flying to those unviable routes. So, where are the passengers and airlines that would fly into the new airports? Most of the infrastructure at airports are rotting away due to lack of maintenance and it is disturbing that the governors are deliberately planning to waste more scarce public resources on projects that would eventually be abandoned,” writes The Guardian in its January 20, 2016 editorial.