By Tope Fasua
A blast of 'bad toilet' welcomed you as you got through the walkway leading from the aircraft. Someone had left the toilets unattended or it was just standard policy. In Accra, you had noticed how the cleaners were working round the clock, sweeping every other five minutes, to keep the Kotoka airport squeaky clean.
Welcome to Nigeria. We had launched a new initiative to attract tourists, just a week ago. The initiative was titled FASCINATING NIGERIA. But Nigeria is more than merely fascinating. Nigeria is shocking! Just how low we have sunk is better understood when one begins to visit smaller countries whom we usually look down upon. One will begin to see just how lost we are as a people, and wonder just what is wrong with us. Accra buzzes with people from all works of life. Perhaps 25% of the population of that city is made up of foreigners, who, no matter how tightfisted they may be, spend money - in the hotels, the bars, the places of interest, and so on.
'I fit keep my shoe here?', shouted one airport official. He had an Identity Card hanging from a rope around his neck.
Nigerians usually shout - some say we are assertive. But this culture is often jarring to visitors.
'Yes now', answered his colleague.
'I no want make person carry my shoe o'... said the first guy. Passengers were walking by, but all the same being treated to a first hand confirmation that this country had a problem with criminality, right inside the airport.
The terrazzo on the ground was worn. The cement was jagged. Though further up, the minister was making many cosmetic changes, but those changes had not reached the very entrance into the country, in the busiest airport in Nigeria, where upwards of 30 international flights land and take off every day. We would exercise patience. At least the woman is making an effort. What about those before her? What did they do?
But one wonders why everything has to collapse before we spend a fortune for total overhaul in Nigeria. There are tricks to development, which I will write about on another day. One of them is that citizens must take note of their environment and do everything to correct problems AS THEY OCCUR. Because systems are not perfect. It would actually be better to anticipate problems and prepare beforehand. This we have not done in Nigeria till date. Mere mistakes become disasters right under our noses. Wear and tear becomes calamity. The Murtala Muhammed International Airport had all but collapsed.
The queue at Immigration moved fairly quickly. There were four points attending to passengers and they were quite professional - they did not engage in idle talk or demand for money. But they were not as smart-looking as the guys in Accra. After Immigration one proceeded to the baggage collection area. But there is an office on the right hand side, just before one descends the short flight of stairs. The walls were so black with dirt, it reminds you of those old village houses. Uniforms and other clothing hung all over the office - like Maiguards would do if you gave them a place to stay. This is Nigeria, we would shock you!
The conveyor belt moaned back to life after 30 minutes. And oh, was it tired! It crawled along, inch by inch. It couldn't be clearer to a visitor that the country was tired. Even those who care to make a change, are tired. I am tired, so why not the poor conveyor belt? Another 15 minutes later, one picks up his small luggage and proceeds to where another set of Customs men hung around. There are also signs of new construction and renovation. That area was eventless. I see that the Customs is trying to make a change. But how long it will last, no one knows.
Hungry and hard looking boys and men, hung haphazardly all along the newly-renovatedarrival hall. Six of them on the right hand side, somehow clung to the walls like bed bugs would cling to a bed. They had that lost look on their faces, like they were looking for some sort of salvation. What they sought was money. From anywhere and anyone. In Nigeria, most people think that those coming in are loaded with cash, and a few people have been unlucky to be trailed to their houses, and shot. One wondered whether anything could be done to sanitize our airports, to get rid of charlatans, to enforce a strict code of conduct on anyone who has official business to do there. Lagos airport is a big disgrace to Nigeria. Infrastructure apart, the human beings who go there are the worst we can put up. One would think that Nigerians are the poorest and hungriest in the world, but we are not.
You stepped out of the airport proper and were assailed by ten men.
'Sir you want taxi?'.
'Sir taxi here sir'
'No I don't want taxi'
This continues up to ten times with ten different people. In fact everybody you passed was 'hustling' you. And the look on their faces! Desperate.. You begin to ignore them. But after clearing the entire area, they still accosted you, to the point you had to start wondering what was wrong with these people.
'Una no get association? Which one be dis one wey everybody dey hustle for here?' you asked in exasperation.
Even in Uganda, and Liberia, there was order in the airport taxi rank. The taxis that took you out of the airport was clearly marked as 'airport taxi'. But Nigeria, the land of desperation, had nothing like that. Add that to our reputation for crime, and a tourist could end up in the forests of Ijebu Ode, as a candidate for money rituals, if he braved entering one of the Toyota Camry 'big for nothing'. In fact, a week after this event, a Briton was kidnapped straight from the airport.
'No be our fault o, oga. We get union, but we plenty pass the work. When you carry only one turn for two weeks nobody go tell you before you stand for road dey hustle'. It was an old man just beside me, with a voice that reminded me of Orlando Owoh, the Kenery man.
A friend had magnanimously sent his driver to pick me up. As i put my luggage in the booth of the car, a stocky, light skinned and hard-looking MOPOL, appeared from nowhere, a kalashnikov rifle hanging loosely from his shoulder.
'Chairman welcome sir! Wetin you bring for your boys na? No be that shirt wey you wear sef. No fall your own hand o. Haha?'.
I become quite depressed at this country whose passport I carry. I wonder if splitting the bloody thing up will really cause a change. I wonder if truly the solution is another costly civil war. Will that reset our brains? Why and how did we become like this? The world is moving on, even small countries are shaping up. There are new morals and etiquettes that have eluded us. There are new standards which have escaped us. There is a new humanity that has distanced itself.
Nigeria is an orphan. An abandoned orphan. Or worse, an orphan that is subjected to all forms of abuse. In the meantime, welcome to Nigeria. Come, let us shock you a little!