By Eriye Onagoruwa
I got to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Abuja International Airport at 12:10pm for an Air Peace flight scheduled to take off at 1:30pm. Travelling out of this airport has become a nightmare and a tragi-comedy all rolled into one. Only that this is no drama laced with different scenes but real life absurdity at its best.
Before getting to the airport gate, you encounter fierce-looking armed men that cause a lot of traffic trying to fish out the Boko Haram terrorists that want to bomb the airport by asking you to wind down your vehicle’s windows for inspection. There must be something these trained officials spot by this technique that ordinary unarmed citizens cannot discover.
Once you scale this first hurdle, you snake through the traffic inside the airport environs which can take upwards of forty to forty-five minutes. The real tragi-comedy is yet to unfold.
Now I had to collect my boarding pass from Air Peace which is in the first building on the right inside the airport. Recently, in a bid to forestall terrorists attack and prevent unscrupulous elements from causing mayhem at the airport, the airport authorities in their “wisdom” have provided only one entry and one corresponding exit door for the hundreds if not thousands of passengers travelling and the numerous ‘protocol’ personnel who also need to access the building. What is befuddling is the fact that there are at least five or more doors that are just permanently closed. So passengers line up under the scorching sun with the queue sometimes stretching farther and farther away from the building. Suitcases are screened through the entry door with only one screening machine that is designed for carry-on luggage and light-weight travel stuff. I am sweating profusely and lamenting to my friend about the sheer absurdity of this exercise. He turned to me and said jocularly, “If it is not difficult, it is not Nigeria”.
I reflected on the statement and realised how apt it was. Things in Nigeria are just designed to take you one step forward and ten steps backward. To amuse us even further, there is a poster of suspected and wanted persons hanging on one of the shut doors. Oh, did I mention that the screening machine is on top of a table that is supported by a stone as legs?
The screening machine itself is obsolete and worthy of a museum relic. Does it occur to these inane officials that a suicide bomber can actually detonate a bomb either by just coming casually to the front of the building or opening a suitcase laden with dynamites? Does it occur to these officials if there is a fire outbreak or any form of emergency resulting in a stampede the sheer number of fatalities as a result of only one exit door can be mind boggling?
My turn, then I passed my suitcase through the screening machine and finally queued up at the Air Peace counter for my boarding pass. Feat achieved, I come out of the door and walked past the building designated for international departures to the last building on the right which is used for local departures.
Yet another queue and more absurdity. At this stage, one look at the line and the hot sun, I knew that I could not survive another queue. I walked up to one of the airport officials and explained to him that I had been screened at the first building and already had my boarding pass. He explained to me that as this was the only place for boarding passengers, I had to also go join the queue and be screened again. I told him I was not going to do that as I did not understand the rationale. I explained again that I had gone through a rigorous round of screening at the other building and could not contemplate joining the queue. He responded again as if I was hard of hearing “Madam, as this is the only entrance for boarding passengers you have to queue up again because all the other people on the queue have also been screened. I told him flatly that I would not join the queue, coupled with the fact that at this time I was now running late and it simply did not make any sense to me. I asked why even the simplest of things had to look so complex and difficult simply because we are in Nigeria. For goodness sake, our airport is not even ranked among one of the world’s busiest airports and all these out-dated and unintelligent security processes will not tackle the real challenges. I am certain even Brussels in the wake of its recent terrorist attack on its airport would employ less insensible methods. Okay I digress. Back to the long queue and my conversation with the airport official. When he saw how resolute I was on my refusal to join the queue, he escorted me to the door in order to speak with his colleague to allow me to get inside. I still asked him why they could not buy more screening machines or at least open up more doors to ease the process. He replied almost sadly, “Please bear with us madam. In fact, help us talk to government. We are just doing our jobs.”
At this point, I asked myself who is the government? Who should I report to? Is the government, the Minister of Transportation? Is the government the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who would probably be too busy attending to external affairs out of the country or the Vice-President who has also asked that we be patient and bear with this government. Is the government FAAN? Is the government the army officials who dressed in Scottish ensemble to welcome our President some time back? Who do I need to complain to in order to provide a less stressful means of carrying out this screening process?
You have to laugh at the fact that we are forever jostling for foreign investors and if our airports are the first indications of what to expect in the country, you ask yourself if any serious and reasonable investor wants to go through so much discomfort, witness such mediocrity and inefficiency and still want to invest in the country. Doing business in Nigeria is a like being in a war zone on its own. Nigeria with its policies demonstrates a country that is permanently at war with its citizens.
“Please bear with me”. A nauseating phrase that has steadily crept into our national lexicon. It is a phrase that is used for multidimensional types of inefficiencies you can think about that goes on in Nigeria.
We are asked to bear with the airline when you board the aircraft and cooling units are not working due to operational reasons and be patient as once the aircraft takes off, the cooling units will start working (sadly this was my experience with Air peace on Friday).
We are asked to bear with the petroleum scarcity being experienced in the country as it is the handiwork of unscrupulous elements diverting the “barely enough” products to other neighbouring countries. What we cannot fathom or explain is how easy it is for the idle young boys on the road to get fuel in jerry cans to sell to people.
However the average Nigerian and not-so-average Nigerian is terribly frustrated. Recently, while speaking with a reporter, a visibly irate driver said in Yoruba “Gbogbo woôn yẹ ki o kan kú. Ani ara mi, plus awọn Aare, gbogbo eniyan ni Nigeria yẹ ki o kan ku “(All Nigerians should just die. Even myself, plus the president, everyone in Nigeria should just die”.)
He had been at the NNPC filling station for two days to get fuel but was unsuccessful. He tried another filling station and was still unlucky.
Perhaps nothing quite captures the present state of the average Nigerian citizen like the image posted on social media of a skeleton relaxed on a couch and waiting for “change and things to get better”.
“If it is not difficult, it is not Nigeria”. Said light-heartedly but so trite and perfectly encapsulates the daily struggles of living in Nigeria.
The social media has become a place to vent anger, to infuse humour into our pain as a nation bereft of visionary and purposeful leaders.
Please bear with us, as we have to first plunge the entire nation into darkness while we try to figure out how to power Nigeria. The Nigerian coat of arms has been humorously redesigned to include the “I-better-pass-my-neighbour” generator perched on the eagle. As we continue to bear with the government for the black-out being experienced, someone posted on social media that he is waiting to see the bill PHCN will bring at the end of the month, so he knows if he is now paying for sunlight.
Please bear with us, as we struggle to put together a blue print that provides some tangible policy direction as to where we are going as a Nation and how we intend to get there.
Please bear with us, as the international airlines hike their airfares because of the difficulty in repatriating their monies.
It is this strange “resilience culture” that has gotten us to where we are as a Nation and as a people. We “pity” our leaders, proffering excuses that Nigeria is a tough place to rule; we sympathize with failure and mediocrity stating that our hands are tied. We celebrate what ordinarily should be standard governance when a Governor completes a block of classrooms (read sub-standard here) for public use.
In any event, please bear with me. I need to figure out who will improve the basic travelling experience at the Abuja airport. Hopefully, this simple request should not be tied to the budget (which thankfully has now been passed with the promise to immediately inject N 350 billion Naira into the economy, whatever that means) but just be seen as the need to be more creative in providing solutions that lessens the stress we have to go through in an already over-stressed environment.