Simon Ateba/Aviation correspondent
The Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, southwest Nigeria, was thrown into confusion Thursday when a thick smoke was observed at the complex.
Passengers and staff at Nigeria’s biggest airport scampered to safety as smoke enveloped the terminal building and fire raged at a construction site meant to extend the departure and arrival wings of the 33-year old facility.
The fire, which started at about 11.30 a.m. near the ‘D’ wing extension, was caused by welders working at the site, said Mr. Yakubu Dati, Public Affairs Manager at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN.
“The fire did not extend beyond 15 minutes. Men of the fire service department of FAAN acted promptly and everything was brought under control. The response was unprecedented,” Dati said in an interview.
He said there were no casualties and normal activities at the airport were not interrupted by the fire.
“Planes are taking off and landing without hitches,” Dati said, adding: “We remain committed to providing secure, safe and comfortable airport environment as enshrined in the aviation master plan.”
Witnesses said electricity was switched off during the incident and the six-storey terminal building was evacuated.
“People ran helter skelter because of smoke in the building,” an airline staff said.
The construction company, Iron Products Industries, IPI, was not available for comment.
Some witnesses alleged safety measures might not have been followed by the IPI staff.
There has been controversy over the criteria used by the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, in choosing the companies remodelling 11 airports in the country.
“In the spirit of transparency, accountability and due process of the present administration, the process of contract tenders and award ought to have been made open and available to stakeholders for monitoring purposes,” said Aviation Round Table, ART, at a press conference today.
ART said the remodelling of the airports is a welcome development when viewed against the dilapidation and rot of facilities at most Nigerian airports, but added that a Public Private Partnership initiative would have reduce government spending on the project.
“N700 million per terminal is a huge deployment of funds,” ART said in a statement jointly signed by its President, Captain Dele Ore and Secretary General, Sam Akerele.