By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
When on July 16, 2013, Dickson Lee, a Briton arrived in Nigeria via the Murtala Mohammed International Airport for the first time to take up an employment with an oil firm, he was prepared for the culture shock that would assault his eyes and mind, but what he never prepared for was his forceful abduction for five days by armed men on the international gateway’s road by Mafoluku.
Although his kidnappers were waiting for any prey, Lee immediately became an instant target once the black Sportage SUV he was in was spotted. But the kidnap was easy for Lee’s abductors due to deplorable state of the road, particularly before Junction bus stop. At the spot, the three-lane road has been collapsed to one, with more than half of the section waterlogged and riddled with car-wrecking potholes.
But if the Briton’s kidnap did not draw concerned authorities’ attention to the five minutes of shame that is Murtala Mohammed International Airport Road, the downpour days after the incident, which has left a sour taste in the mouth of motorists and commuters, and exposed the ineptitude of government, has made it one of the most dreaded roads in Lagos, especially at night.
Weeks after a banquet was held at Aso Rock, the seat of government in Abuja to unveil a new tourism brand identity tagged Fascinating Nigeria, there is absolutely nothing fascinating about the nation’s window to the world, the first five minutes from the Lagos international airport.
To anyone visiting Nigeria, either for the first time or as a returnee, coming in through the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos is the top choice ahead of Abuja and Port-Harcourt. Whether going to a five-star hotel in Ikoyi or wherever in Lagos metropolis, you can’t avoid passing through this eyesore of a road.
This is definitely not how other countries in Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean and Africa welcome visitors. The road to and from Nigeria’s busiest international airport, accounting for more than half of her foreign flights and the first point of contact with the country’s road infrastructure by any visitor, is reflective of the shamelessness of the country’s leaders and their lack of pride in the Nigeria Project.
This is more disturbing when one draws a parallel with one’s home. No matter how unpleasant, dirty, poor or untidy one’s home might be, for most people with any self-worth, the sitting room or “parlour”, which visitors and guests see, is usually tidied up, arranged pristinely and presented nicely to give a good impression. This is notwithstanding the state of the rest of the house.
Successive governments have lost all sense of shame that they cannot see the eyesore that this stretch of less than five kilometres of road has become. Airport roads, in even the very poor countries, are well tarred, pothole-free, lined with trees and well lit with functional streetlamps. The Lagos airport road is anything but all of the above.
This, unfortunately, is another symptom of the cantankerous relationship between the federal and state governments. The Lagos government was keen and willing to carry out the necessary repair works on the road to enable the state showcase the nation’s crown jewel, but because of seemingly rigid federal laws, the state is grossly disempowered to take any action.
The state governor, Babatunde Fashola, in a recent chat with newsmen, blamed the deplorable state of the airport road on politics. According to him, both the road and the airport belong to the Federal Government.
He said the state government’s failure to either rehabilitate or reconstruct the road was due to issues that had been politicized. The governor regretted his decision not to modernise the 4.2km road when the idea first struck him, recalling that his plan was to expand it, provide service lanes and introduce tolls for motorists who opted to use the fast lanes.
It is not only Fashola, who is bemoaning the shame that is the airport road. Former Cross Rivers State Governor, Donald Duke and a group of local and foreign businessmen have also added their voice to the lamentation. They spoke at the Nigerian Tourism Investors Forum held in Lagos.
Duke said it would be difficult for Nigeria as a country to attract foreign investors and tourists if nothing was done about the poor state of the Lagos airport. “The first thing that hits anyone who comes to Nigeria is the airport. The airports are in a very bad state. After leaving the airport, the next thing is the traffic gridlock, and then the environment. So if we as a nation want to improve the tourism sector, we have to touch everything, including the airport.
“We are not asking for a Dubai-type of airport in Lagos. All we want is a clean and decent environment. Nigerians are the most welcoming and most friendly people in the world, but the unpleasant sight of petrol tankers, garages, police checkpoints, potholes and uncultivated trees and bushes cast us in bad light.”