I believe in the Nigerian dream. I believe Nigeria is on a restorative journey to greatness. One step at a time. I believe we all have a part to play, and we can clean house one sweep at a time, like my people say, “communal pissing brings up froth”.
My house clean attempt with this write-up, is focused on my experience traveling in and out of Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. Kindly bear with my patriotic rant.
For the past two decades, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, has been my default port of entry and exit out of and within Nigeria; it has been a lifetime since I en-routed Lagos Murtala Mohammed International Airport.
‘Eko for Show’ was an idealism I grew up knowing.
I write as a Nigerian committed to the vision of a great country with good people. Recently, I had reason to travel internationally, twice within a 2-week period. To save on cost and shorten travel time, I opted for a flight that had Lagos as its entry and exit port. I have chosen to share my airport travel experience, hoping that someone, somewhere, sometime soon picks up a broom in response!
The first thing that distinguished my flight experience through Eko for Show, was on arrival. A controlled conflict, experienced internally, my ‘patriotic, optimistic self,’ fought quietly and verbally against the disparaging comments my fellow Nigerians immediately started making as we touched down. The sides of the tarmac were overgrown with grass, littered with debris, enough to make a recycling agency proud, and two fellow travelers immediately started making negative comments. We deplaned to an oppressively warm bubble of unrefreshing mix of odours, from different imaginable human orifices to an escalator not working, to queues and more queues of multiple airport official-traveler interfaces, that I imagined meant well but could have been better managed with less tedium. Another traveler started complaining and I tried, in vain, to make excuses.
To all this then came ‘the experience. The look and language of a good number of the interactions were either ingratiating or reductive, and to end every drawn-out engagement was the demand to “show some love”! Initially, I had found it an endearing pitch of the Nigerian character of ‘one love keep us together, until I realized that every of the numerous interfaces would not be complete without this experience.
On completion of the first series of documentation checks, I got to luggage check by immigration and customs officials and after another round of documentation and ruffling through my box, I was shocked to hear from well-dressed professional officers “madam show us some love…” you no buy anything come for us?”!
Fast forward…bathroom break to pee, after the long hours of standing, and there stands the cleaning lady, holding unto toilet paper (like it was her Nigerian passport), and offering it to me for use, as if she was doing me a favour! Two minutes later, at the faucet hand washing, I suddenly have an enthusiastic crowd of one, the cleaning lady! in my personal space, and after the prelude of customary complements, I hear it again “madam, anything …to show me some love….”
Transiting to the local wing for my connecting flight to the FCT, from the flight porters to the pre-boarding officers, I could now literally predict ‘the experience’-that starts with an ‘eye-touch’ of faux- humility, ‘a pre-request compliment or enthusiastic offer of support, then … the expression, “madam show me some love!
Short of exaggerating this experience, I chose to attribute this Eko-experience to the recent cash crunch. But these were all people, in their professional, employed, and salaried spaces, not beggars on the street!
There is a need to interrogate the national brand implication of how our ‘front-line travel officers at ports of entry and exit’ express themselves. This should be in addition to cleaning up the physical space that is our airport and packaging a cool ambience that literarily says ‘welcome to our beautiful country’!
A couple of days later came my departure through Lagos MMA international airport Terminal 2. Again, the setting in the old departure terminal was reminiscent of the arrival terminal setting- an oppressive stifling heat with air conditioning systems not working well, all round substandard hygiene that is a tad embarrassing for a country of Nigeria’s stature.
Then the issue of staffing at the airport, there were too many, far too many human bodies to interface with, within the pre-travel setting. Poorly equipped/ furnished personnel. For instance, six or more young people were perched on a ledge with nothing that portrays a business outlook, besides the fact that you could not proceed past them, all poring over passports and travel documents and taking pictures on handheld devices that could very well be their personal phones.
Less than a meter away, another set of officials request the same documents, and again pore over same documents! Half a handbreadth away, another official, who has just watched you explain your travel documents and plans, goes over the same page flipping and questioning and then inevitably signaling the end of the process, but not before handing over your documents, out comes the ‘experience package’ that familiar ‘look, smile, the half- hearted compliments and then the request…” mama, show me some love!!!”
By the time I was boarding, my optimistic ego was knocked flat. My patience had worn thin, and I had become the very person I had always preached against, “a pessimistic Nigerian, whose hope for a great country (though not lost), now hung like a mechanic’s old torn and grimy overall… unable to make it to any patriotic-fashion runway. Sweating and frustrated, I let out a wail of discontent, quickly echoed by multiple other travelers. Why is our system so? Why should travel be ‘swelteringly hot, oppressive, and spiced with badgering and professional begging?
I understand that we are the most populous black nation in the world, but do we have to announce that in our Lagos international and local airports, with so many people doing the same thing at an insanely embarrassing level? Can professional cleaners be engaged and some deliberateness given to rebrand our airports and maintain them?
I believe we can! I believe that we can rebrand the Eko-experience and recreate an authentic and memorable ‘Eko for show’, that truly shows love!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Anastasia E. Ugwuanyi is a medical educator, who believes in the vision of Nigeria – a great country with good people