That blackout at MMA

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Murtala Mohammed International Airport, in Lagos has been in the news of late for a reason that leaves you wondering when we would start getting things right in this country. By the way, the airport is often in the news- usually for not very edifying reasons.

If someone is not caught trying to smuggle drugs through the airport, you’ll hear of some freak accident that shouldn’t have occurred at all if people had been doing what they were employed to do. It’s in that airport you’ll hear of thieves making away with people’s luggage or animals roaming the runway for whatever reason.

Bird strikes are not uncommon. But the latest issue that has propelled MMA to the front page are the increasing cases of power outage. This really is stale news for the airport at the best of times does not look like a place that enjoys much electricity. Many times the air conditioners don’t seem to be working effectively where they are working at all. When an aircraft enters the MMA at night it’s like entering a dark hole when viewed from air. People get into the place and feel imprisoned by the heaviness in the air.

So that the news, last week, that the airport was enveloped in darkness doesn’t sound like news at all. Perhaps what made that report newsworthy was the bit about passengers and other users of the airport experiencing feelings of suffocation. Given the somewhat enclosed architecture of the airport, it is clear that any prolonged failure in power supply would spell doom.

For the airport to function to any degree expected of a modern facility as airports are supposed to be, a lot depends on the availability of power. But that was the very service denied the MMA over a week ago.

While admitting that the situation that followed the outage which he attributed to a ‘technical fault’ might have been great inconvenience to users of the airport, FAAN spokesperson,  Akin Olukunle, denied the situation was so bad as to have caused suffocation. The spokesperson told anyone who cared to listen that the airport, indeed the 22 airports managed by FAAN across the country, has functional standby generators!

To say that in this age and time of cutting edge technological advancement, all that Nigerian airports, all major gateways into and out of the country- to say that 13 years into the 21st Century all we have to run our airports where aircraft worth hundreds of millions of dollars are stationed are generators is damnable.

What scandal can be greater than this? Mr. Olukunle further said in a report with Vanguard that 11 of Nigeria’s 22 airports are being remodelled ‘in line with President Goodluck Jonathan’s ‘transformational agenda’.

This is foolish talk if ever there was any. Are we to believe that of all matters that could engage the attention of our President it is the matter of remodelling airports that is priority? Of course Mr.Olukunle is only doing his job and, perhaps, he is aware the President has a so-called transformational agenda that focuses on remodelling airports. Such agenda, if it exists, is indicative of how little our leaders prioritise or appreciate the task of managing a country.

One reason President Jonathan gave for not supporting the ousted governor of his home state during the last election was the fact that the man abandoned a hotel project that was apparently important for Bayelsa. Why should issues such as this preoccupy our President? After giving this much attention to matters like this what time does the President have for more serious issues of governance?

If our President spends his time wondering how to supply our few functional airports with electricity or have them remodelled, what would he do if confronted with issues of great magnitude? Who would come to our aid or rally the people to confront whatever challenges they might be faced with in the event of a major disaster?

It was a year ago last week since the North-eastern region of Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami that the country is yet to recover from. Certainly, it would take decades for the country to fully forget the effect of that disaster.

The scale and magnitude of the destruction that followed it daunted even the famously efficient Japanese spirit. Nearly 20,000 people died, while no less than 3000 were declared missing because there were simply no traces of them. Of course, they are presumed dead. But it never rains here- it pours! In the midst of the solemn observance of the first year of the earthquake/tsunami tragedy which occurred on March 11, 2011, Japan was again struck by another earthquake last week.

The fallout from the disaster that hit the Fukushima nuclear reactor and the emission of radioactive chemicals into the atmosphere are grievous issues confronting Japan.

The country continues to do what it has to do to bring things back to normalcy. The effort to reconstruct the parts of Japan devastated by last year’s disaster is for now mainly directed at containing the release of patently dangerous radioactive materials into the environment and reducing the long term effect of this. There can’t be much talk on reconstructing entire communities that were wiped out and from which people had to be relocated.

These are very demanding matters that task the ingenuity of highly effective leaders and societies. In such places leaders don’t waste serious time thinking about powering airports with generators or remodelling them. In the US, powerful storms recently destroyed entire communities, leaving sorrow in their wake. People who have worked all their lives suddenly found themselves destitute in old age.

Each time countries have to confront these types of disasters I wonder what we would do in similar situation. Is it this mentality of not knowing how to provide electricity for our airports that our leaders would bring to the world? Has anybody ever wondered what President Jonathan might do in the event of any of those natural disasters our leaders like to call ‘acts of God’?

A house collapses and for several days people are trapped in it with nobody to rescue them. If there are no cranes to borrow from any of the construction firms around, not even NEMA knows what next to do. An oil rig blows apart offshore and many lives get lost because of our poor response level.

Even ordinary domestic fire incidents become major accidents in which many lives get lost because nobody knows what to do, or the facilities needed to combat such accidents are simply lacking. For how long shall we continue like this, wasting energy on relatively easy tasks that make us, our leaders, appear like confused children in the face of emergencies?

 

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