Travelogue: Mission to Ghana and echoes of Reforms at Nigeria’s International Airport , by Folu Olamiti

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Just last year, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) took its fight against corruption to a new level.

It turned its eyes on the International airports with an avowed zeal to halt the disposition of the men and women in service to corruption.

In Nigeria, a familiar and obsequious greeting from airport officials to air travelers is a signal for extortion. They often try to be subtle about it when they greet; “Happy weekend… or we are loyal, etc.

Such had caused users of Nigerian airports, most especially foreign air travelers, moments of embarrassment. That reason impelled ICPC to look in the direction of the Federal Ministry of Aviation (FMA) to forge a synergy for executing the onerous task.

The synergy had crystallized in the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on December 9, 2014 aimed towards outlawing the habit of extortion by airport staff and other lower grade workers.

While the implementation of the MOU with the Ministry of Aviation is at the implementation level, I had thought that the desire of ICPC and the ministry to sanitise the Nigerian International Airports will be more effective with much cooperation from Nigerians.

The MOU will work as designed if air travelers could join in the crusade by avoiding the practice of giving tips to those who are paid to serve them. The general desire to re-build the image of Nigeria and prune down the vices of corruption ordinarily begins from a collective desire to do so in the country.

On this, Nigeria needs to take a cue from the neighbouring Ghana where the citizens appear to have been properly schooled on how to submit to the rules and authorities guiding human conduct, most especially in public places.

The trip I made to Ghana on 12 March, 2015 gave me this conviction.

My visit to Ghana, a country that has been struggling to reconcile its chequered past with the hope of a better tomorrow, was to last just a week. But then, the notes I took from my deliberate intent to explore the world of the Ghanaians gave a feeling I spent almost a year.

First, orderliness has made Ghana to be a fascinating country. The peace and tranquillity of Ghana are visible right from the entry port; the Kotoka International Airport, Accra.

I immediately found it compelling to compare what I saw at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and the Kotoka International Airport. The flight from Abuja to Accra took exactly one hour, 45 minutes.

The flight aboard Arik Air Dash 8-400 was smooth from take-off. Flying at 36,000 feet above sea level, it offered me another opportunity to relax and prepare to have a world view of what Ghana had to offer.

However, the journey got bumpy as the aircraft approached Accra. Looking out of the window, I saw a pall of dark cloud hanging thick over Accra as we approached the airport.

The cloud was so thick that the pilot had to navigate desperately or close to 15 minutes to avoid putting stress on us before landing.

At this point, some passengers became visibly frightened. To say the truth, I felt some cramps in my belly too. But I got a huge relief when I heard the screeching of tires, signalling that the aircraft had touched down, though violently.

As the aircraft taxied to a stop, a bus was already waiting. It drove us to the local terminal. Time in Accra was about 7.30 pm. There were few airport officials around at this hour. Those left behind at the arrival lounge buried themselves diligently in their jobs.

Checking out of the Airport from the Ebola Screening Gate through to the Immigration and baggage sections took not more than ten minutes. This was against what I experienced at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, few hours earlier, where hordes of immigration and customs officers usually milled round, creating nauseating confusion as they attend to travellers.

In Nigeria, it is common place that Immigration officials loaf around owing to job duplication which unnecessarily prolongs the period of screening of passengers.

Ideally, security clearance of passengers could be done with fewer hands. Even those attending to passengers wasted valuable time asking irrelevant questions. This is another reason I applaud the directive by the Minister of Aviation, few weeks ago, that all activities at the nation’s international airports should be automated within a month.

To me, this will help stop the national embarrassment that the perceived, cunning and corrupt officers perpetrate every day.

However, three things continued to gladden my heart at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport Abuja. First, touting has been drastically reduced. Secondly, order has been fully restored outside the airport as uniformed men are now in charge at the expense of touts. All the same, there seems to be no open demand for bribe, as was the practice before.

In succinct terms, there was order at the Kotoka International Airport, Accra.

At the airport, I was not accosted by touts, either within or outside the airport. There is a designated park for airport taxis while those in private vehicles are offered a separate park where families and friends gather.

I saw how two taxi drivers who strayed to the out-of-bound area, had their cabs impounded and towed away. I had little to worry about using the commercial cabs because my brother and good friend of many years, Shola Oshunkeye, the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Publishing Ghana Limited was already waiting to drive me out.

Life In Accra
I had a better view of Accra the next day, Saturday March 14 2015 with the help of my host, Oshunkeye who drove me round the city’s business areas and several posh private districts of the Capital of Ghana.

It was amazing how Accra has transformed in two short decades into such an alluring city. This transformation, I understood, came with the Jerry John Rawlings dictatorship, and later, his Presidency.

Here is a country, which, before Rawlings, was battered by poor leadership and only relied on gold export, which never earned enough revenue to cater for the wellbeing of Ghanians.

But the country had a major turn-around for good in the early 1990s when she liberalized her economy and enticed multinational companies to flourish with generous land and tax reforms. The country’s economy got buoyant with foreign donors’ support for Ghana’s transformation agenda.

Today, Accra is a model city, where discipline and order are firmly entrenched in the citizenry. If you take a panoramic view of Accra, you will discover that the city’s planners never compromised the planning edict as the town is neatly compartmentalized into sections – Residential and Commercial.

Of interest is an area named SPINTEX where megastores of different shapes – electronic firms, automobile factories/showrooms, furniture and textile factories are located.

One place you would like to visit while in Accra is TRASSACO VALLEY ESTATE a haven for the rich. It is an equivalent of our own Victoria Garden City (VGC) in Lagos. The difference; while VGC has compromised all known standards and laid down building regulations, the TRASSACO strictly ensures compliance with approved building plans. Most of the structures in the estate have exquisite taste of elegance.

The driveway into the estate is lined with Palm trees, adding a touch of nature to the beautiful landscape. TRASSACO is home for Ghana’s noveau riche and I understood that some Nigerian big boys are giving Ghanaians a run for their money in terms of home ownership on the exquisite estate.

On Sunday, March 15, 2015, Oshunkeye and I went to worship at the Royal House Chapel, one of the biggest Pentecostal churches in Accra. It is led by the enigmatic and charismatic Reverend Sam Korankye Ankrah. I met Nana Richmond Kojo Aggrey, one of the most influential persons not only in Ghana but also here in Nigeria.

A philanthropist and entrepreneur, a friend of Shola Oshunkeye, is reputed to have pioneered mobile telephony in Ghana, and Nigeria. He has the singular honour of being the man who introduced Mobile Telephony System (MTS) to the then Nigerian Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida.

An entrepreneur of uncommon hue, Nana Richmond Aggrey’s businesses is spread across the world. He is into oil and gas, telecommunications, hospitality, to mention just a few. Richmond-Aggrey has a palatial mansion at Trassaco Valley. He is not just into hospitality as a business, he is hospitality personified as I experienced at a dinner he hosted for Oshunkeye and I at his four-star Granada Hotel, during which he spoke glowingly about his Nigerian friends including the Senate President David Mark.

But there is an emergent downside to Ghana’s success story. Yes, with Ghana striking oil and joining the league of oil-producing countries of the world, she was able to dramatically transform her economy.

However, oil wealth has led to donor freeze. I was told, the donor countries began to withdraw their financial support, thereby significantly reducing the country’s revenue base, a situation compounded with the sharp drop in the price of oil in the international market. The impact has been traumatic. The down-turn has taken its toll on her infrastructure

The first blow began manifesting, months ago, when Ghanaians started experiencing power outages. What was initially thought to be a rare occurrence that would quickly be remedied has turned a new, but reality for Ghanaians.

Generators which were alien to the people are now like second nature to homes and business concerns. This is a big blow to Ghana, a country that once celebrated 10 years of uninterrupted power supply.

Now, both Ghanaians and foreign entrepreneurs are not comfortable with this development. They are afraid that Ghana may be losing the gains of her rapid economic development if she fails to fix this power problem, urgently.

Olamiti is the Consultant Media and and publicity to ICPC

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