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