MMA2… 10 years against all odds
Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), operators of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2 (MMA2), has shown demonstrable commitment to the development of aviation infrastructure. Despite inconsistent government policies and lapses on the part of regulatory authorities, the terminal has continued to be adjudged Nigeria’s best in terms of facilities.
Before MMA2 came into existence, the idea of a domestic airport to an average Nigerian was that of dilapidated facilities. Thanks to a fire incident at the then domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, the journey to a modern airport terminal began. Ten years down the line, the terminal, which was built based on a Public Private Partnership agreement, remains the talk of the town. The operators have proven to be credible, reliable and resilient partners. They have consistently set and maintained high standards in terminal operations.
Since the exclusively privately-funded airport added another feather to its cap with the inauguration of the Common User Passenger Processing System (CUPPS) and other technology innovations in these climes, passengers have been experiencing a faster, safer and more customer-friendly way to board flights.
Services such as e-check in, automated e-gates and a full Baggage Reconciliation System (BRS), which were only enjoyed abroad, are now being experienced at MMA2. MMA2 is in fact still the only terminal in Nigeria that offers an automated baggage reconciliation system as prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Passengers travelling without bags can use the self-check-in kiosks. The e-gates make it virtually impossible for an unauthorised person to enter the boarding zone. The system is the same as installed in major international airports like Charles De Gaulle in Paris and Bangkok International Airport, as well as over 200 airports in the world.
With a technology known as PAXTRACK, the airport can also, among others, analyse peak periods and is thus better placed to plan. This facility also makes it easy to locate a passenger within the terminal and enables boarding agents to have a better on-time performance.
During the inauguration of the BRS and Self-Check-In System, former Aviation Minister Osita Chidoka was so impressed with the facilities that he declared MMA2 “a template that must be used to grow the aviation sector… MMA2 has offered the template about how government should go about the issue of the operation of airports in the country”.
But for the doggedness of the leadership of Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), there would be no MMA2 again today. Inconsistent government policies, regulatory authorities’ lapses and so many other challenges have reared their heads in the last 10 years, threatening to turn the airport into another of the airstrips called airports in some states of the federation.
The major problem has been the interpretation of the concession agreement. BASL continues to insist, supported by various court judgements, that going by the concession agreement, all domestic flights ought to emanate from its terminal and that the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) is supposed to be managed by it. But successive governments have not honoured this agreement. To cap this, even while GAT continues to be managed by FAAN, the passenger service charge due to BASL under the agreement as part of the revenue stream for recouping its investment has not been paid for 10 years. As at today, FAAN owes BASL N200 billion in damages and the interest will continue to accrue until the agency pays up. Even the approval for regional flights from the terminal remains frustrated and is yet to see the light of day.
It was this refusal to respect agreements that made the Senate to threaten not to support plans to concession four international airports in the country. The lawmakers noted the need for government to probe the controversy trailing the concession of MMA2 to BASL and to ensure resolution of this issue for credibility sake, before any proposal to consider further concessions can be approved.
Decrying the refusal of the government to honour the terms of its agreement with BASL, chairman, Senate Committee on Privatisation, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, said it could discourage investors with the requisite experience from bidding for the proposed concession of the Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano international airports.
“We won’t allow the four airports to be concessioned when the crisis over the concession of the MMA2 has not been settled. It has created a bad image for the country. You have to abide by the agreements that you sign. You can’t get the best (private sector firms) because they are frightened and will not come, knowing that when agreements are signed here, we don’t honour the terms,” Murray-Bruce said.
For instance, the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) Agreement between the government and BASL includes an exclusivity clause, which gives the company the sole right to operate scheduled commercial domestic and sub-regional flights out of Lagos, to enable it recoup its investments. Murray-Bruce noted how the Federal Government frustrated the deal by also giving the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) the permit to operate the General aviation Terminal (GAT). The government has also not allowed the company to operate regional or sub-regional flights out of the MMA2.
“The lack of respect for agreements in the sector goes beyond BASL. Maevis Nigeria, a firm which entered into a concession agreement with FAAN on October 31, 2007, for the supply of Airport Operations Management System (AOMS) to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja; Mallam Aminu Kano Airport and the Port Harcourt Airport, also got a dose of the bad pill. The contract was to last for 10 years and was renewable every five years subject to satisfactory performance. Five years into the agreement, FAAN terminated it, saying it had lost N17 billion due to Maevis’ alleged incompetence and replaced the firm with Societe International Telecommunication Aeronautiques (SITA).
Maevis sought refuge in court, where it accused FAAN of forcibly chasing its men out of the airports. It said it had committed over N5 billion into the project. Two years ago, Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos asked SITA to pay Maevis N5 billion. He also invalidated SITA’s contract with FAAN.
The case of Sir Richard Branson, the man who brought the Virgin brand to Nigeria, is another sad example. He gave the Federal Government 49 per cent stake in the booming airline and owned 51 percent. Eleven years after, this is what he had to say about his experience with government officials: “The details of the doomed attempts to crack the Nigerian market in the 2000s is better imagined. We put together a very good airline, the first airline in West Africa that was ever IOSA/IATA operational safety audit-accredited, but unfortunately it got tied down to the politics of the country. We led the airline for 11 years.
“We fought daily battle against government agents who wanted to daily make fortune from us, politicians who saw the government’s 49 per cent as a meal (ticket) to seek all kinds of favour, watchdogs (regulatory bodies) that didn’t know what to do and were persistently asking for bribes at any point. Nigerian people are generally nice but the politicians are very insane. That may be irony because the people make up the politicians.
BASL continues to fulfil its obligations to its partners and stakeholders, despite the challenges of the environment. As MMA2 celebrates its 10th anniversary, it is hoped that the government would now honour the terms of its agreement with the terminal’s operators and respect the subsisting court judgements. This would encourage the firm to continue to be a pace setter in the aviation industry and attract investors to our country.
Ms Olaosun is Media Manager with The Resort Group, Lagos.