Flights bound for Lagos, Nigeria, have been diverted to neighboring Ghana or Benin Republic since the Harmattan haze and dust grew thicker.
And it all has to do with the fact that the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos--the busiest in the country and one of the busiest in sub-Saharan Africa--doesn’t have a modern Instrument Landing System (ILS).
This means travelers to Nigeria through Lagos; or Nigerians making the trip back home from elsewhere in the world, have to hover or be suspended in the air for a while before the airline jets off to Ghana.
Oh, the shame! Oh, the international embarrassment!!
Former presidential candidate and former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Kingsley Moghalu, tells it better than most.
“Just arrived Accra on route Washington DC after being stranded in Lagos for the past two days. I'm one of many victims of Nigerian aviation authorities' failure to install aviation safety equipment that led to massive cancellations of international flights to and from Lagos,” Moghalu shared on his Twitter page.
“Why are the simplest things so difficult for our government and its agencies? Air safety standards in Nigerian airports have always been a problem in Nigeria.”
Similar tales of woes have been shared by Nigeria-bound air travelers. The subject has dominated social media chatter as well for days on end.
Here’s the crux of the matter since you asked. Sometime in 2019, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) promised that it would install Category 3 Instrument Landing System (ILS) at the Lagos international airport. Let’s just say that promise was never kept.
Every serious airport in the world is installed with the 3 ILS which enables flights to land at zero visibility.
The Lagos airport runway (18R) is currently installed with Category 2 ILS which does not allow for landing at low visibility.
Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, says Category 3 ILS has been procured for the Lagos airport but was never upgraded.
“The procurement of the Category 3 instrument landing system is in pursuance of the desire of the federal government to ensure the safety of air passengers by ensuring that airplanes can land with almost zero visibility.
“We wish to assure the public and the airlines, that efforts are on to return the system to full working condition and that normalcy of operations will be re-established in due course,” the minister said.
Sirika would go on to blame international airlines for diverting their flights to neighboring countries, wondering why they couldn’t divert their flights to Kano, Abuja or Port Harcourt instead.
The minister stated that the decision to divert flights was solely those of the airlines and that the government has nothing to do with it.
He would go on to say that in recognition of Abuja as an alternate airport, Qatar airlines has applied to divert its flights there and the request was immediately approved.
“It is left to be seen why some others decided to divert to another country,” the minister wondered.
“We wish to use this medium to assure the general public that the comfort, safety and security of the flying populace remain the central focus of this administration and that no effort would be spared in ensuring this.”
It is stunning that while tiny countries like Ghana and Benin can install the latest landing and safety facilities in their airports, Nigeria cannot.
It also says a lot about Sirika that he would rather blame the likes of Emirates and British Airways for diverting flights to neighboring countries and for looking out for their passengers, rather than fix the rot and embarrassment that is the Lagos airport.
The international airport in Lagos has been an eyesore for years. It leaks buckets when it rains, immigration officials assault you every step of the way to forcibly solicit tips, miscreants mill round the place to fleece unsuspecting passengers, the air-conditioners have long stopped working and the carousels are eyesores and creaky. Now, passengers can’t even land on it.
State-of-the-art ILS and other navigational equipment are a given in most airports these days. Of course Sirika and his team knew that the harmattan dust was always going to make landing and take-off tricky in December through March. What did they do? Fold their hands, stand at akimbo and wait for our nationals and citizens to be stranded in the air until they are diverted to Ghana, from where some of them have no idea how to get back home.
Aviation workers tell this writer that Sirika is as incompetent as they come and that he hasn’t got a clue. A man who launches a national carrier with a mere logo is quite capable of being embarrassingly clueless, you’ve got to admit.
President Muhammadu Buhari should immediately fire Sirika for this threat to our national security and this level of international ridicule, if he’s got balls of whatever kind. Doing this should be a no-brainer.