Fly With Me

Shokongbelete o!

I did a bit of travelling last December, trying to connect America through England from Nigeria. I got to Murtala Mohammed International on time, but met the longest queue ever, and a busy departure area. It seemed that every person and their dog in Lagos had decided to travel on that particular day.

KLM ‘s line looked like an after-work queue for the BRT bus in CMS; British Airways too resembled a gas station queue during one of NUPENG and PENGASSAN’s off days. Lufthansa did not fare better. I did not even check for Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Nigerian or whatever it is called nowadays.

I got my luggage weighed and failed the test, like any true Nigeria, In our dear country, it seems to be a huge taboo to travel light internationally. Even if you plan to, people just would not let you. Please could you help me deliver chin-chin and ground-nuts for Sister Chop-chop in Kentish Town. Please she will come and meet you at Kentish-Town Tube station on Wednesday. Well, will you pay for my Zone 1-4 Travelcard? Na wa for you o.

Abeg, carry this bale of jacquard lace for Auntie Chinyere in New Jersey. She wants to wear it for her daughter’s graduation ceremony from University of Chicago.

Esco, please no vex. Make you take this Nigerian movie DVDs and CDs for me. My bros go come collect am for your hand, I don give am your number.

In my case, I was carrying a bit of all of the above and more. My mistake was letting some people know I was flying out briefly. One of them had made a late night trip to my house at 11 pm to give me items to help him ferry to long lost relative in Yankee. When I explained to him that his relative lives in Utah which is miles away from anywhere, he refused to take no for an answer. Yankee na Yankee naa! Even if I was going to Rhode Island, he wanted me to take the items and mail them, all 20 pounds of them, to Utah via UPS. At.my.own.expense.of course.

I paid for excess luggage reluctantly as I calculated the number of things I would have to forgo with the $80 charge – fast food, clothes, video games, music. I was not smiling when I got to the Immigration officers who unzip and physically search your boxes.

One of them saw me and his face lit up like a Christmas tree. Pulling the latex gloves on his grubby finger taut, he smoothed the creases on my box, and unzipped it with much speed like someone busting for a pee.

‘Good travel day sir’ he and the others chorused in unison. I thought to myself, good travel day?!

I ignored their verbose greetings, and replied with a grunt like Okoronkwo in ‘Things Fall Apart.’

One of them caressed the neatly packed items in my box, and his greedy eyes fired up as he saw 5 plastic bottles of chin chin and groundnuts. Licking his cracked lips he inquired ‘Why you de travel with all these foodstuffs? So na only you go chop all these items? You de carry chin chin and gra-nut go America? Why na? Food already boku for America.’

I replied curtly ‘ It is for my cousin who has not been in Nigeria for years. He likes Nigerian confectionery.’

The word must have confused him, as he waved me away.

I did not crack a smile when one asked me for a ‘parting fee’. I would have rather given him a parting shot, if I could.

Please I know I have broached this subject before, but why are the airport immigration top brass in Nigeria usually thick set with huge pot-bellies. Wetin full am? Someone once remarked that na egunje money full the belle so. Another person added that that explains why Fashola is trim. Then why isn’t  the slender Buhari our new president then? And maybe it is true, because ill-gotten or easily made money is always spent on thrifty things. I means the immigration man is not likely to use the bribe money to plaster or paint the parlour of the private house he is erecting. It is more likely to end up paying for big stout at a beer parlour.

And the extortion bid did not stop after I had passed the first batch of immigration. In fact, extortion in Nigerian airports begins from the moment your car drops you at the drop off point.  Forex merchants try to convince you to buy CFA even though you are going to Dubai. The trolley-guy tries to coerce you by snatching at your luggage, into renting a 2 wheeled contraption called an airport trolley, which is not free! And if you oblige him, you discover that he is also a part-travel agent. He can move you to the top of the check-in queue, or help you repack your heavy luggage to reduce the weight.

The chaps who man the X-ray machines are the most persuasive extortionists I have ever met, more tenacious than those sea shell and ornament sellers at Alfa beach; these X-ray guys should be political campaign fund-raisers. I cringe for womenfolk when I think about the immigration officers in charge of the X-ray cameras and who views the images. If you are a voluptuous female, then it is happy days.

Then I got to the final officers at the post before the waiting area. These people look through your hand luggage. I was carrying a laptop bag, and once the inspecting officer saw me he smiled. I knew what that meant – he wanted mula.

‘Anything for us sir, we are loyal’ he saluted.

‘Nah mate, sorry. I spent all the naira I had on excess luggage’ I explained

‘Bring any change you have; I am loyal’ he insisted.

‘Ok o, but you would not like it o’ I warned.

‘Make you surprise me’ he dared, closing his eyes.

I reached into my pocket, and out came the only change I had in naira. It was the crummiest, most tattered looking and cello-taped  10 naira you could imagine.

I attempted to squeeze it into his hands discreetly, but as soon as his eyes caught a whiff of the red coloured notes, he suspected that I had given him the ‘wrongest’ denomination.

And he withdrew his hand like I was a leper trying to make contact. ‘Ah! 10 naira, na him you wan take tip me? And you talk say na abroad you de travel. Abeg carry go jor; save journey.’

Na wa o. So this chap is the last line of hospitality between our dear nation and another country? And he is doing security!

These chaps are so focussed on getting tips that I would be surprised if they did their jobs properly.

I can just imagine Mutallab or any other stupid terrorist wanna-be being searched by one of these money hungry security agents.

The agent would open the chap’s bags and say ‘ What are these brown candle sticks with peanut powder inside? You de go celebrate birthday for abroad? Abi NEPA de take light for oyibo land?’

The threat would reply uneasily ‘ No, it is just dynamite. I, em…’

Not listening, the agent would interrupt ‘Leave that thing abeg. Anything for the boys…’

With a sick smile, the bomber would reply ‘Yes, how much do you want…’

Stay tuned next week for part 2 of ‘Fly With Me’. Besides do please share your own experiences in Nigerian or foreign airports.

I don’t land at an airport/

I call it the clearport/

Jay Z (Excuse Me Miss, 2002)

* picture courtesy of http://www.emnnews.com

21 responses

  1. no be small thing o, so i iant been in nigeria for a long time, until last year i was leaving- right from the entrance the soldier man ask for money for the weekend after refusing us entry, then on to the next one- the lady at the free weighing, she kept greeting me, and not understanding my aunt ask me for some money for her, whattttttt forrrr? :she is helping you now” how, iasked well she is allowing you to use the weigh, i don’t know when next i shouted Na her papa get am abi wetin dem put am there for?? my aunt was shocked she searched her bag tip the lady N200

    up next the fat customs, smiling asking my why im taking beans o, anybodi wey wan chop beans make de person come naija, shoo, so he pointed me to fat oga, who just blurted out N4000 sir! i was a bit confused, is it contraband or na so i start this big loud laugh, i dont even laugh out loud normally but the whole thing was too funny, i asked him what for he said he is giving me discount o, i just left my luggage in front of them went away since my flight wasnt ready, na so my naija aunty start looking ofr a way to bargain o, like it seems everyone just accept that they have to drop something, i just told her no way, since i dont know what the payment was for. she didnt have cash on her, the queue was piling up next thing i heard oga abeg come carry ya load. me sef i no be jjc!

    up next, the dude checking the bags in, my load was up by 0.5, na so this young chap started erm you are overweight blah blah i thought he was joking o, he started calling me by my surname, mr S, we need something for the weekend, i was so pissed, my mind shot back to the dude that checked me in at heathrow, i did all online just tag my bag that was over by 2kg without even saying word after enjoy you flight but no, my naija worker wants something for the weekend, dem no dey collect salary, this is not even a pub its an airport!

    up next the dude at the X-ray, oga make you bless me for the weekend, at this point i was just dejected i could almost cry, i proceeded to raise my hand the way christains do the holy trinity on this man’s forehead- in the name of the father the son and the holy spirit- the man himself couldnt stop laughing lol abeg just go he told me, bros na wetin everybody wants money and these are not skimply clad waiters o , uniformed grown men with strong face- very sad

    my arrival was something else i got played for mugu right from the trolley dude, i was shitting myself went i got outside, it was like oshodi got moved to the airport and it was night time…waiting for part 2 o lol

    • Bros, see wetin u don cause. My sides are splitting from the laughter!

      Especially when you said ‘i proceeded to raise my hand the way christains do the holy trinity on this man’s forehead- in the name of the father the son and the holy spirit- the man himself couldnt stop laughing’. Man that is the best come-back I have heard so far.

      Men, the outside of the airports are always like a market. You come outside with ur luggage, and people are trying to pull you, or snatch your bags for one thing or the other – to take acab or offer to carry for bags for a fee. GEJ has to do something about poverty or corruption, and our international airport has to be sorted.

      Nice one bro

  2. Don’t forget the cleaners in d toilets. Last I was there, they handed u the tissue paper in little bits…
    And still wanted u to part wit ur naira! Smh

  3. Interesting experiences. For me, it’s out the car–custom search–check my bags in. I mean, yeah, I’ve heard them ask me to ‘bless’ them, but the look on my face probably tells them that my current thoughts disqualify me from the ranks of those they’d want blessings from. I just wipe my face of any emotion & give them one serious blank stare. The fact that I look really young might help in shaming them too, but I sha know that when they ask, I look through them, my father laughs with them & gives nada, I zip my suitcases up, and keep it moving.

    However, coming into the country is a whole different story. Maybe the baggage cart-lady thought I look like a dindinrin, I don’t know. She tells me it’ll cost N100 to rent a cart, I give her 5 bucks & she gives me N500 as change. I go; if a dollar is N150, $5 is N750, my change should be N650. And then she starts yelling & gesturing…N150 won’t kill me, but you steal my money AND then get mad at me for not being a maga? She must not have recognized that I’m an Ijebu Taurus. Serious combination. Suffice it to say that justice was done.

    • Fiesty! And I laughed when you said ‘Ijebu Taurus’ – no one will get one over you anytime soon.

      I find that the blank stare works because it unnerves them. There seems to be this misconception that anyone travelling is loaded with dollars to give them, and should forfeit any naira on their person. If everybody gave them nada, they would quit.

  4. Pingback: Fly With Me | LITERATI:SATIRES ON NIGERIAN LIFE | Today Headlines

  5. Pingback: Fly With Me | LITERATI:SATIRES ON NIGERIAN LIFE | Today Headlines

  6. As a student the thought of going back home- to my beloved country is always with mixed feelings. Of course, the happy one of re uniting with my family & friends and the other of the life i’d have to live with inadequate/lack of power supply, the battle for water, and the scares on the street, & from the men in Uniform. With these u’d understand why i, like you(lol) havent stopped wondering why the slender general wasnt voted in.

    The airport i decided some time ago is the worst place I have been in Nigeria. There was a time i arrived only to find out that there was no power supply and the heat from our(passengers) sweat could be seen as steam on the glass walls of the airport.This was on arrival.

    Leaving is a nightmare..with all of my “load”- u should understand me packing all the elubo and garri that would be enough for me until am privileged enough to go back home.
    People like me are aware of the rules, the amount of Kg allowed and the amount w’ll be requested to pay. But we’ve been told from the first time we traveled that we could beg saying we’r students,and the airport people would take pity and allow our overload. But i must say that I have never been lucky with this and the least i av had to part with is a 100dols despite all plea.

    Ok, i agree, we were to follow the rules. But i assure you they dont even deliver this money to the airlines.I can remember being issued a receipt different from the normal( the normal would be printed out of a computer) with the claim that their system had gone bad.

    But, what of the customs officers whose only headache is the thought that since your parents were able to afford your bills abroad, it is their right to chop from your money. The indignity with which they do this and the desperation at this extortion make me go overboard some times. A girl i met on a flight told me some of the ladies at check point asked her to give them her jewelery.That is like big time thieving to me..

    • So true, they have unofficial receipts; so i can imagine that sometimes dey over-load the aircraft.
      I thought I had seen it all, until someone had her deodorant spray seized by the Xray people just before the departure lounge, and the immigration person happily put it in her own handbag – wait for this – in front of the passenger!

      BTW, you love the ‘slender general’ too?

      • The hope for change couldnt be more real with the Man. He seems more likely to keep corruption at bay and without corruption, a better Nigeria is a reality.

  7. lol, whenever i travel without the excess, it feels unreal, from naija i have d yams, the beans, garri,knorr cube,oil et co…but this is naija, there’s always a way round paying the fee, travellin with my bro is a joy, the girls just smile at him and he gives them something to keep them happy. saves me loads of money.

    the other day i had the SS stop me and ask all sorts of questions, i just smiled and answered him all the way, when he saw he wasn’t getting any, he let me go.

    and you’re so right about the baggage boys, they always have a way of gettig things done that is second to none, worth the huge tip they recieve

    • Your bros be correct guy jare.
      Those baggage boys know the airports like the back of their hands. And dem dey collect N200 without vexing. Value for money, I say

  8. lol mehn naija international airports are just amazing! I remember this porter helping us with our luggage and i asked him before hand what it wuld cost, he said anything i wanted to give him, got to the car and my mum offered him some money he went on to explain that was not enough! so what happened to ‘anything ma’? And then the immigration people checking your luggage, waiting for a tip.. lol i remember my trip back to London, they asked if i was a student and i said no and they seemed to be more perplexed that i looked young and was working so teee they didnt even ask me for money again, which i wasn’t going to complain about. Then my luggage was too heavy.. as you can expect.. to be honest, it wasnt even that heavy sef, just a couple of kilos over and dude asked me to give him $80 or something like so he would let me go. Get this, this wasnt me paying for excess luggage o.. this money would go into his pocket. I was so mad… just opened my luggage and removed my big bag of garri and gave it to my mum… lol and my luggage was fine. Imagine me paying $80 for garri that i wont get receipt for.. abegi jare! dude was burnt sha.. but oh well i would rather pay the money and get a legit receipt than put it in someone elses pocket at the risk of them asking me to pay the money again!

  9. Just read most of ur posts n they r quite interesting. I’ll definitely be coming back for more. I’m not a fan of the slender general though but that’s a topic for another day. I’ll also look for n ff u on twitter! Enuf said! Kudos!

  10. Strangely, flying thru Abuja airport’s a totally different experience. Maybe it’s because the guys are scared and no sabi who be who. Coupled with the fact that its facilities work and there’s none of that crowd you see in Lagos. The only time I dey go via MMIA na if I dey go South Africa. After all, with BA, KLM, Lufthansa, Ethiopian, Egyptair and Arik doing West Africa, wetin I dey find again?

    • Yeah Abuja is much saner, though the airport isnt as fresh as it used to be some years back. You seem spoilt for choice on the West African route though

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