As herdsmen, hawkers take over, enjoy field day
By ROMANUS UGWU
Rightly or wrongly, first time visitors form impression of their host country from their contacts at the airport. This is particularly true for those coming by air. Sometimes, this may end up as permanent impression about the host countries judging from the standard and organisation of their airports.
The airport, especially the international wing, serves as the gateway or key indices to empirically assess and measure the infrastructural and development level of the country concerned. This accounts reason governments concentrate so much resource in standardising and making the roads to the airport not only motorable but beautiful just to create the impression of a model city in the minds of the foreign and local visitors.
However, the reverse is fast becoming the situation at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja. The airport has become anything but model.
It is now a common sight to see several petty traders hawking all manners of things. Most prominent among the hawkers are young women, children and men flaunting either groundnuts, cow meat delicacy called kilichi and dubunama, soft drinks, sachet water and others. They do this few metres away from the departure and arrival points of the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) vicinity.
Apart from the unkempt hawkers, passengers are also left at the mercy of illegal rickety commercial vehicle operators that dot every corner of the airport. Nauseatingly, most of the passengers are greeted and disturbed with the competing requests from these various vendors offering one form of patronage or the other.
If you do not hear, “Oga” or “madam, cheap taxi to town”, it will be “buy kilichi, dubunama”, “buy groundnuts”, “buy egg roll and soft drink.” Little children hawking those goods leave foreign and local passengers with the impression that the airport, the FCT and indeed, the country have no respect for decency.
The filthiness of the airport environment is there for everybody to see. Disposed satchets of water, shells of groundnuts, nylons and others litter the airport. In fact, it will not be out of place to conclude that hawkers have turned the Abuja Airport to a motor park where all activities take place.
These are not the only concern of the airport users. There are albeit minimal cases of car vandalism and petty robbery within the airport. In 2013 for example, many players and officials lost their valuables comprising handsets and bags right inside the lobby of the airport to robbers that masqueraded as fans and supporters celebrating with the Super Eagles that won the Africa Nations Cup trophy in South Africa.
As airline passengers break free from the rampaging hawkers and illegal taxi operators soliciting for patronage, a bigger shock will await them as they are forced to wait for minutes in some cases for herds of cows to leave the only exit road out of the airport.
Cows grazing within the airport vicinities along the only exit road, is fast becoming a common occurrence. And that has added to the various threats to the security at the airport. The activities of herdsmen have become so serious that an airport taxi driver joked that if it continued unchecked, cows will board flight at the airport very soon.
‘Hawking at airport tedious, but lucrative’
Some of the hawkers confessed to Daily Sun that hawking at the airport has been lucrative but very tedious. They constantly risk arrests from the airport authorities, but agreed that it is worth the risks.
One of them volunteered: “Hawking at the airport is far different from hawking on traffic, motor parks or elsewhere. Hawking here is not always easy at all. They are always pursuing us around to seize our goods and or arrest us. Somehow, we will still find our way back to this place when we regain freedom because we have to survive.
“Apart from their disturbances, hawking at the airport is rewarding. We have customers who patronise us instead of buying soft drinks, snacks or bottled water at a very high price inside the airport lobby. Many people patronise us because we sell cheaper.
“The officials are partial because they only arrest us leaving those selling kilishi. I want to beg them to take it easy with us because things are very difficult for our families. Some of these little ones selling groundnuts here dropped out schools to survive through hawking. We know that our action is illegal but they should understand that instead of robbing or suffering and starving at home, we must find a way to survive.”
The face-off between taxi operators at the airport, climaxed in February this year when the managing director of Viko Nigeria Group of Companies Limited, Chidi Lucky Kanu, narrowly escaped being lynched from the Abuja Car Hire Association of Nigeria (ACHAN). Viko has a business contractual relationship with the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) for car hire operations.
On that fateful day, the two airport taxi operators had practically turned the international airport into a battleground, engaged in protests, exchanged blows, unleashed dangerous weapons on one another. They were laying claims to the ownership of airport.
With ACHAN members threatening fire and brimstone in what they described as an orchestrated plan to frustrate them from source of livelihood, it only took the intervention of the police authorities at the Force Headquarters to restore temporal sanity between the two bodies.
A security personnel of FAAN at the NAIA who spoke in confidence, said: “We are always after the hawkers but perhaps for our cultural disposition, we will always find one or two of them coming back. When we send them out or arrest as we usually do and send to the police, they will always gain freedom and return to continue with the business.
“I want to probably think that the laws are not enough or that we don’t have the law prohibiting hawking at the airport at all. Many of them have claimed it is hunger bringing them to hawk at the airport but we rather see it as greed to a large extent.
“Some of them are looking well fed except for some of the kid boys and girls selling groundnuts. It seems the hands of the police are tied because they are not even helping matters. We have made several arrests and sent to the police only for the police to release them.
“We cannot kill the kids but the only option left for us is to find a way to make sure we keep them at bay with our men surrounding the areas. We have appealed to parents sending these kids into the airport to help the country. We are making arrests on daily basis and handing them over to the relevant authority since we lack the prosecutorial powers.
“The illegal airport car hire operators are also menace at the airport. We also noticed that there are increasing numbers of touting drivers persuading passengers to drive them to their destination. These are car owners that may have lost their jobs or some unregistered cars that brought somebody from town and may smartly not want to leave the airport empty handed.
“Occasionally, they clash with registered car hire operators paying royalty to the airport authorities. We don’t fold our hands in constantly dealing with them to limit the menace, but I must admit that we have not been able to stop it totally. We cannot also stop them at the tollgate while bringing passengers to the airport because it is also a source of revenue to the airport authorities.
“Truly, vandalism just like stealing is not really common here at this airport. Such incidences are very insignificant. We, however, occasionally receive reports of somebody vandalising somebody’s car but in most cases, they are always those trailed from the town to the airport. The cases of passengers complaining of legal and illegal car operators dispossessing them of his belongings are also very rare at the airport. We have always urged the passengers to patronise the two notable registered airport taxi hire operators.
“Unfortunately, despite the warnings, some Nigerians still prefer to stand along the road where they can get cheap transport fare which has been counterproductive. We will continue to encourage passengers to avoid unregistered taxis for security reasons.
“Ideally, the grazing of cows is highly prohibited but the truth is that the situation is beyond us. The FCT authority has been battling the menace. However, they can only operate at a certain surroundings of the airport because the terminals have perimeter fencing.
“Yes, they occasionally block the exit road; however, our men are all over the place to ensure that there is a limit to what they can do. Don’t forget that Nigerians are very sentimental and will read meanings to every action.”