Ebele Okoye is the general manager Servicom Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) . In this interview, the consumer protection expert speaks on the efforts FAAN is making through Servicom to protect the rights of customers and also to serve the better. Excerpts:
Tell us some of the things Servicom is doing to ensure that customers are satisfied at the Nigerian airports?
I resumed here in the Servicom department on the first of January 2015 after I was posted from Port Harcourt where I was working. I came in here at a time Servicom in FAAN was just like it was not existing. The aim of Servcom is to assist passengers and their complaints, difficulties when the need arises. To start with, we began to search the internet to see how it is done. We also liased with American customers’ services and we started talking with them and a lot of things started happening. The first thing I did was the sensitization and awareness programme which I took to all the airports in Nigeria. I had the approval of the MD who was emphatically for us to allow all the agencies, both military and paramilitary to appreciate the need and realise the fact that every customer at the airport is a king and therefore deserves to be served right. As at that time, there were reports in the media that Nigeria airport was the worst airport in the world. That assumption was because of services. As a matter of fact, FAAN has reasonable facilities then because the very time Stella Odua was remodeling the airport. In spite of these efforts, it was not appreciated because customers were not served well. Again at the international level, Paris was also rated along that line not because they don’t have facilities but because they speak French and any typical French person is not friendly with anybody who does not speak French. So we realized the fact is not facilities but about serving customers. Before Servicom came into existence, in 2004 by the then President Obasanjo, the obvious was that government agencies were not doing what they are supposed to do. That was what prompted Servicom in the first place because the services were inaccessible, there were not customer centric and they were not meeting the needs of the people. So government noticed they were not serving the public. Servicom indeed is an acronym for Service Compact for all Nigerians. Servicom is about an agreement between Federal Government with its agencies and the Nigerian people. With that commitment of the Federal Government to improve services and to ensure that Nigerians are served better. That was what prompted the issue of proliferation of phones in Nigeria because you can’t make any call freely then but now, you can stay anywhere and make calls; all you need is to recharge your phon. It was a path or an agreement that government most especially that time, hat there were no private individuals, PPP. Basically, everything was government; then, when you go to the hospitals or public places, you find out that the environments are not customer centric.
What are you doing to ensure that passengers are comfortable with the facilities on ground?
Most times, we are talking about facilities like air conditioners, toilets facilities, screening machines. In Nigeria we have good screening machines, detectors to ensure that one’s life is not at stake when you want to use the airport. Before now, there is a central air-conditioning system and we have tried to revatalise it in 2012. Then, I was still the GM, Budget but it was supposed to be a Federal Government budget. However, at the end of the day, they preferred to do others and the fund for that was veered for other assignments like the airfield lightening during the Njeze’s regime. So we couldn’t do that. I am also aware that the air conditioning systems in all the airports are everywhere. We should also understand that we live in the tropics. Most times, people who complain badly are those that come from very cold places. So it is like two extremes. Even though, it is cooling those in Nigeria, it may not be cooling those from cold places because they came from a chilly environment. The management of FAAN with assistance of the Minister of Aviation, the place is wonderful and it is not business as usual. With ease of doing business, it has really done a lot. Another thing that has to do with facility which people are complaining is the search table we have at MMA. People are not happy with that search table. With the ease of doing business, the table has been thrown away. That search table, I tell you was not really for people to do their work the way it should be done. It was for people to find a way to exploit and extort from Nigerians. I don’t see reasons why. If I am travelling abroad with a small packet of fish to cook, you will tell me it is contraband. Everybody knows contraband things’ it is not contraband. However, when the ease of doing business came on board, they now say no. I am a member of ease of doing business and we are targeting to see whether that thing will continue, but at least, the slaughter table is no longer there for now. These are some of the things that are making people to feel bad because everybody have paid for the services and are expected to enjoy it. We all know how it is done abroad. Although, it is structured the same way here but it is not applicable in Nigeria because every Nigeria wants to be important. Again, our people need to be careful. Before anybody can serve you, it is important passengers request for the person’s identity card so you know who you are dealing and not make a mistake. Most Nigerians are always in a hurry most times. For instance, if you are arriving Washington; as soon as you arrive, the first person you meet is immigration, he determines whether Customs will look at your box or not. But here, it is different. The truth is that we are building synergy at the airports and therefore we should be able to trust ourselves. The government agencies should be able to build trust amongst themselves. It is so sad if they don’t trust themselves. If immigration should determine whether Customs will search your box over there, why can’t we do it here in Nigeria? Immigration does not trust Customs and Customs does not trust immigration. The issue of on-duty cards should equally be taken seriously. It is clear; if you are not on duty the on-duty card will not pass you. I thank God for the ease of doing business and we must learn how to ensure that customers are well taken care of, Nigerians are very good people but a few amongst us are trying to destroy the system with their personal interests.
What about some thieves that loom around the airports who work for passengers to ensure that they have seamless facilitations. What are your reactions on their activities?
Some of these thieves actually are available in some of the airports but in case of enquiries, customers are advised to go to the nearest customer service centre to get the necessary information. We bought big desks for the centres recently and put them in good shape with computers for them to work. You need to buy your tickets at the airline’s check-in counters. It is important and passengers should not patronize touts because the touts buy tickets and keep it and the airlines in conjunction will tell you that the flight is full and somebody will stop at the junction telling you that the ticket they supposed to get for N24, 000 is now N50, 000. And because you are desperate to travel, you pay for N50, 000. Now, when you get into the flight, you find out others paid N24, 000. Nigerians must be wise and travelers have to be wise too. Online tickets are everywhere; if you plan to travel, go online and buy your ticket and pay there so that you don’t get at the hands of these touts. There are everywhere, even in the developed world. Nigerians have the right to be served and if somebody does not serve you well. You have the right to lodge a complaint. Passengers should not leave their luggage unattended to at the airport. Any luggage left unattended may be confiscated or destroyed. Passengers have the right to also challenge any bad service whenever there is any. They should not close your mouth, as this is their right. Customers as a kings, also demands courtesy while dealing with service providers. They should not carry their grief from outside to our staff. Customers should be cautious too when they want to talk to our people. They also have an obligation to obey airport rules. These are some of the things that will help customers. On no account, a service provider should be abused in any form. This will attract the full course of the law. Customers don’t need to abuse anybody while trying to do all these because the law will be followed. Sometimes, the way you present your case may make somebody to assist you.
I know we have the Consumer Protection Directorate of the NCAA, which are also carrying out the responsibilities you carry out. Is there any synergy between the Servicom of FAAN and the CPD of NCAA?
Even the NCAA has Servicom on their own. We work together. If there are things FAAN cannot handle, we can as well make the complaint but we work hand in hand. The director is somebody who work with us here and we work as one. The bottom line is to ensure that our services are well provided. Quality service delivery is what everybody is talking about.
How can you describe the relationship between Servicom and passengers at the airport?
The relationship is wonderful because the customer service will facilitate and ensure that everything the passenger needs would be there and timely. Par adventure they feel cheated, the passenger should also return to the desk to make their complaints. So we work with them and we are always there to protect them. For the car hires, they have their union but sometimes people come from outside to give us complaints. Anytime we see unfriendly discussions, we move in to see what is going on. Passengers should be careful at the airports. As much as the security department are working to see that customers are safe; we also have to be at alert and smart. Customers should allow people to identify themselves before they serve them.
Car hires play key role at the airports. How would you describe their services?
Operators of car hire were at our last stakeholders’ meeting and they applauded FAAN. They were happy with us. Their worry however, is that they are too many at the airports. But you know we keep telling them that competition is good because when there is competition, operators tend to sit up. But we discover that some of the car hires have issues. For example, mannerism is one of their major challenge. Some of the care hires don’t know how to handle their clients. They don’t know how to read their passengers whether they want to talk or nt. They are supposed to be our eyes however.
What are your major challenges?
My greatest challenge is that a lot of people are yet to understand the Servicom department. Servicom came in in 2004, whereas, it has been the in thing in some other parts of the world. Coincidentally, when you look at the mission statement of FAAN, you will see to develop and profitably manage a customer centric. In other words, the people that drew that mission of FAAN were customer centric but even amongst us, we are still struggling to see the importance of customer service and management is trying their best but we need fund because with that, we can do more. Another thing is that stakeholders we talk to don’t always comply because you go back and still find them doing the same thing you complained about previously. I want Nigerians and passengers to begin to change and do the right things.
Can you tell us more about the Common –User Telephone System?
The idea of Common user telephone was conceived for customers to be able to reach us. We applied to the FAAN Managing Director to provide the telephone system which he did. The system is a 24 hour functional system which is a free phone for any one that is using it. They are positioned in some airports in Nigeria. When you come there, you check the number and find out what you want to. At the headquarters like my office now, if you think you are not treated well and you want to call head of Servicom, you can call. At the headquarter level, we have a number like 09056767550 and 09051767551. At the MMA, we have 09051767552 and 09051767553. On domestic terminal 1 (GAT), we have 09051767558 and 09051767559-63. In Kano, we have 09051767564-8; Kaduna is 09051767569-11. In Port Harcourt, we have 09051765572 and Enugu 090051769577-9