Perhaps it was because of the sombre state of the nation that the Board, Management and Staff of Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL) did not roll out the drums when recently their poster child, the MMA2 terminal at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos clocked 15 years.
Save for a few congratulatory adverts in the newspapers and online buzz, the day almost went announced.
This has, however, not slowed down MMA2 in giving those who travel through the terminal value for their money and Nigerians something to proudly point at whenever there is a discourse on what a modern airport should look like.
Since it came on board 15 years ago, MMA2, operated by BASL, has changed the face of the Nigerian aviation sector through innovative approach to airport operation and management. It has also clinched many laurels that acknowledged it as the best airport terminal in the country.
Paradoxically, when the terminal was conceived, the government of the day wanted just ‘a shed’ where passengers would just buy tickets, move to the tarmac and fly. It is to the credit of the chief promoter of the MMA2 terminal, Dr. Wale Babalakin SAN, who insisted that the initial drawing should be changed, that Nigeria now has one of the best airport terminals in Africa.
The Federal Government, then under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, eventually agreed to the upgrading since all the costs would be borne by the concessionaire.
Critics of Babalakin have often accused him of being one of the private sector favourites of the Obasanjo regime. Such criticism however ignored the fact that his company was not the preferred bidder in the MMA2 Design-Build-Operate –Transfer (DBOT) arrangement for the terminal.
The winner was Sanderton Ventures Limited (SVL), but BASL was called up from the reserve bench, to borrow a phrase from sports enthusiasts, when SVL could not meet up with the challenges.
The story of MMA2 has been an interesting one, which began in 2000 when the Federal Government launched a process of reforms in the national economy, including the aviation sector.
The old domestic terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) had been gutted by fire and government wanted a brand new one to replace it without any financial obligation on its part.
It then advertised for a DBOT bid, and as stated earlier, SVL came tops and was awarded the concession. Months after however, the project remained in limbo as SVL failed to commence work.
The mantle thereafter fell on the reserve bidder, BASL, which, in 2003, was awarded the concession by the Federal Government to develop, finance, manage and operate the terminal and ancillary assets under a Design-Build-Operate-Transfer (DBOT) arrangement. The project description included the airport terminal building, a multi-storey car park, an apron, a four-star hotel and a conference centre.
MMA2 was the first major DBOT project of such magnitude in Nigeria by Nigerians. Many were skeptical about the project coming into fruition, but Babalakin and his team immediately set to work, raising funds and assembling experts to beat the deadline.
Their dreams came to fruition on April 7, 2007 when an ecstatic President Obasanjo (as he then was) inaugurated the terminal while operations began there on April 7, 2007.
In a reminiscence years after, Babalakin said, “For Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2 (MMA2) in Lagos, there was a well-advertised bid for the airport and there were responses. At the end of the day, some companies emerged as the winner and we emerged as the reserved bidder.
“A year later, the Minister of Aviation called us and said the preferred bidder had not delivered on their commitment and told us to come in as the reserved bidder. When we came in, the design we were given by the authority was just a shed; we were told to build a shed for Nigerians as their Airport.
“I had gone to South Africa for a meeting and South Africa was then completing its domestic airport. When I looked at it, I cried that we were going to build a shed in 2003, when South Africa had just completed a domestic terminal that looked like something out of this world in 2003.
“So, I came back and told the then minister, Mrs Kema Chikwe, what I saw. She looked at it and was amazed. She advised me to make a presentation. We went through the whole process and our design was approved. That is the MMA2 you see today. To actualise it, we brought in South African architects and supported them with Nigerian architects.
“That is why 13 years after it was completed, there is no airport terminal in Nigeria that has the flow of MMA2 because it was well-thought out and designed.”
The MMA2 efforts have not gone unappreciated by many stakeholders. The terminal has many awards in its kitty. These included, but not limited to: The Most COVID-19 Compliant Terminal (awarded by League of Airports and Aviation Correspondents’ (LAAC) in 2021); Nigerian Airport of the Year 2017 (awarded by WorldStage Limited); Best Domestic Terminal of the Year 2021 (by Nigeria Aviation Award -NIGAV) and The Most Functional Airport Terminal in Nigeria for 2016 (at the 22nd Business Travels Award in United Kingdom).
An aviation stakeholder and former Assistant Secretary General of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Alhaji Muhammed Tukur, has also described the terminal as world-class.
He stressed that the facility is the only one in Nigeria that boasts of self-service kiosks in the country that makes airport facilitation faster aside other facilities. Tukur said MMA2 had grown in leaps and bounds, pointing out that there had been a tremendous expansion in all aspects of business, from aeronautical services to space and premises, cargo operations, car park, security, safety and marketing at the terminal. As one wishes the terminal a happy anniversary, it is hoped that the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Aviation, will speed up the ongoing concession of the international airports it has called and received bids for. Nigeria deserves similar top rate airports obtainable in advanced and modern nations of the world and MMA2 is a living proof that the goal is attainable by us.
• Kamal Ololade Ahmed, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Kaduna.