Garlands For MMA2 At 17, By Steve Omolale ๐ŸŽŠ The Scoper Media

For the past 17 years, the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal Two, popularly referred to as MMA2, an iconic, innovative edifice and the first-ever successful Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project in Nigeria, has been standing like the Rock of Gibraltar in the turbulent aviation industry.

MMA2, against all odds, had defied the predictions and expectations of naysayers, who expressly believed that the project would be a still-birth, or better still, would not survive the first five years of its existence.

The detractors were actually justified in their warped belief because hitherto, public facilities in the country were either rendered comatose or outrightly killed by the very people saddled with the task of keeping them in good shape. Therefore, they thought the efficiently-managed MMA2 would fall in this category at inception. But they were proved wrong by the promoter of the project.

Truth be told, the 17-year snaky journey of MMA2, operated by Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), a member of The Resort Group, under the chairmanship of billionaire businessman, philanthropist and erudite lawyer, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), had been very rough and tough. But, by sheer determination and the strong will to succeed, the terminal building, inaugurated by then President Olusegun Obasanjo on May 7, 2007, has weathered the storm and landed safely to the chagrin of pessimists, narcissists and their ilks who mischievously wrote off BASL because they believed rather wrongly that nothing good could come out of the company.

Today, and to the admiration of lovers of good things, Bi-Courtney has proved that an indigenous firm can also maintain and keep its facility; that lack of maintenance culture is not a Nigerian thing, but the character of some crocked individuals who would want to kill where they get their daily bread from. Succeeding managements of MMA2 since inception, including foreigners, who were painstakingly hired by Babalakin, a man who would not take 99.9 per cent measure, have proved and sustained the facility and made it the best airport terminal in the whole of West African sub-region and one of the best in sub-Saharan Africa.

In fact, in 2014, the Sierra Leonean government sent a powerful delegation of its aviation officials to Lagos to understudy the magic wand BASL was using to keep MMA2 glowing despite the many hurdles put on its path.

Indeed, the journey has been far from being smooth, as the obstacles and thorns put against MMA2 by some powerful individuals who never wanted the ambitious project to succeed nearly asphyxiated it. For instance, several court cases were filed by the government, individuals and groups to frustrate the spirited efforts of Bi-Courtney, but the company kept flooring the interests to the glory of Almighty God. While working at BASL, I have had to go to court multiple times to give evidence in some cases, including those filed by some passengers passing through the terminal.

The concession agreement that birthed MMA2 became so highly disputed to the extent that it nearly crippled the facility. However, in all of this, the rule of law always prevailed as Bi-Courtney won all the cases in court to the extent that the Federal Government was ordered by a Federal High Court to pay the firm the sum of N132 billion in 2012 for breaching the terms of the concession of the terminal. The fine, which remains unpaid till date, had since accumulated to over N200 billion because the General Aviation Terminal (GAT), part of the BASL concession, is still in the hands of the Federal Government, which has been collecting charges from airlines operating there for the past 17 years.

Meanwhile, all the six appeals filed by the government against the Federal High Court judgement were dismissed.
Despite all the shenanigans of the detractors, the last 17 years of MMA2 had witnessed the investment of billions of naira in providing and sustaining uninterrupted power supply, Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras to enhance security, Wi-Fi, staff training and retraining, utility vehicles, sophisticated screening machines, escalators and elevators and other facilities by Babalakin and his company to make travelling through or visiting the terminal an unforgettable experience.

However, the businessman has been struggling to get full returns on his investment due to the escalating costs of all the facilities and items needed to keep the terminal running 24/7. Having worked at the terminal for many years, I can confidently attest to the fact that keeping MMA2 running day and night has been a Herculean task, requiring a lot of patriotism and personal sacrifice by the chief promoter.

Apart from the facilities, which are constantly upgraded to keep their high standards, the meticulousness of succeeding managements has ensured that Nigerians are not let down and that they can proudly see and flaunt MMA2 as part of their national pride. This is why the facility has won the Best Airport Terminal Award back to back in the last eight years.

From the time Chanchagi Airlines Flight 5N BEU with 70 passengers departed MMA2 at its inauguration on May 7, 2007, numerous airlines have seized and are seizing the golden opportunity offered by the terminal to operate their flights in and out of Lagos. As at today, no fewer than 10 airlines, including Ibom Air, Arik Air, Air Peace, Aero Contractors, Dana Airlines, Azman Air, Max Air, Rano Air, Valuejet and United Nigeria Airlines operate from MMA2 daily.

The Acting Chief Executive Officer of BASL, Remi Jibodu, had said during the programmes marking the 17th anniversary of MMA2 recently: “Over the past 17 years, we have consistently pushed the boundaries of innovation, setting new standards for efficiency, safety and customer satisfaction. Our commitment to excellence has not gone unnoticed, as evidenced by the numerous accolades and awards that adorn our walls.”

Sadly, one major snag that has kept aviation stakeholders and other Nigerians perturbed is the inability of MMA2 to operate regional flights despite the availability of all the facilities needed for this purpose at the terminal. In the last few years, Bi-Courtney had invested hugely in the provision of facilities to process passengers travelling to the West African Coast. But all the multi-million naira facilities are just wasting away at a section of the terminal carved out for regional operations. This is very bad for a country that needs private investors to bridge its wide infrastructure gap.

While lamenting the inability of MMA2 to process passengers for regional operations despite the huge investment, Babalakin had said: “We got approval to operate regional flights in 2007, but till date, we are not utilising the facilities. We are ready, willing and able, but domestic airlines that operate regional flights still taxi to the international airport before taking off.” This is very sad and off-putting, indeed.

The journey leading to the monumental edifice called MMA2 today started way back in the year 2000 when an inferno reduced the old domestic terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) to rubble. An advertisement for the building of a new terminal through the Design, Build, Operate and Transfer (DBOT) was pushed out by the Federal Government under Obasanjo. A firm – SVL – came tops in the bids and was awarded the concession, but it did not do anything on the site for more than one year after winning the bid.

This made the government to invite BASL as the reserved bidder to take over the concession. The firm was to develop, finance, manage and operate the terminal and other ancillary assets, including a multi-storey car park, an apron, a four-star hotel and a conference centre through DBOT arrangement.

BASL had redesigned the proposed terminal building to meet international standards after Babalakin’s visit to South Africa, as what the government was eyeing for the site then was more or less like a shed.
This innovative project, designed by a group of Nigerian and South African architects, is the solid and strong edifice called MMA2 today.

Besides offering jobs to thousands of Nigerians and foreigners directly and indirectly, the facility also receives up to 10,000 guests daily, including air travellers, concessionaires, shoppers, stakeholders and many others.

As BASL rolled out the drums and blew the trumpets to celebrate the 17 years of excellence of MMA2, here is wishing them many more years of fruitful and efficient service delivery to Nigerians and foreigners alike who throng the terminal daily to either travel or transact other businesses.

*Omolale,ย  Lagos.*