EARLY last month, I passed through the Murtala Mohammed International Airport as a passenger on Arik Air from London. Within the comfortable confines of the jet, I had one of the most memorable air travels in my life. The plane was half full. The food was good. What really altered my preconceived notion of Arik Air was the speed and smoothness of the journey. It was a cruising experience all the way. There was no turbulence, no wind and no storm to truncate an otherwise roaring time in the clouds and at 39,000 feet above the ground.
Getting into the Nigerian airspace, my mind began to palpitate. Trust me, I had no fear. I was born, bloodied and bred in Lagos. I possess this easiness of spirit with anybody who crosses my path. As a diasporean, I have had a personal transformation in terms of value, respect and doing the right things right. Travelling back home always offers me great happiness in terms of all the customary and traditional things I will enjoy before I head back to base. Coming to Nigeria offers a temporary bulwark against the bitterness of a third class citizen in Europe. In Nigeria, I am able to switch off the inner raw cry of my exclusion as a black man in Europe.
In Nigeria, I am able to disable the sustaining sense of moral and economic superiority of an average white man. The amused awareness of being watched constantly is gone when I am with my own people. The sense of freedom of being in the midst of my kith and kin flatters my vanity endlessly. Nigeria is a convenient place to feel fully human without being stared at as an object of curiosity. It is my home. It is my hood. It is my source. It is my own.
We landed around 04.15am. A certain distinguishing weakness of Nigerian travellers is impatience. There is a certain masculinity about the Nigerian spirit. We love to test the rules and in the process we end up being caricatures of bad breeding. The pilot announced our landing but asked us to remain seated with the seatbelt on. That announcement was immediately sabotaged by the milling crowd of restless heads who are rearing to escape the aircraft immediately. The urge to ‘escape’ pale in the face of their own safety.
In Nigeria, we still have to exorcise the tyrannies of disobedience that runs from the high to the lowly. We are still stubborn in our spirit and extremely averse to simple instructions. Aircraft instruction is not arbitrary from a stern class teacher but meant to protect and make safe. No worries! As I stepped out of the craft, the smell of Africa whacked me on the face. I had my hit and thank God for our peculiar smell. The elevator was not working. The air conditioner was not working. The clattering, jangling and rumbling noises of drawn hand luggage could be heard all around.
I joined the meandering Immigration queue and got my passport stamped. I made my way to the luggage ramp and awaited my bags and baggage. I stood with my rented baggage trolley and there, a uniform tout approached me and asked if I need any form of assistance. Vice knows she is ugly so she puts on a mask, so it seems. Why would a uniform airport staff asked if I need assistance when I am not disable? I later realised that it is in Nigeria that officials take advantage of decayed infrastructure and extort money as barter for your comfort.
With artless simplicity, I got my bags and baggage and inched my way towards the exit sign. Facing me ahead was the custom post. Men and women in starched, light green uniform clustered together exchanging banter while some were busy foraging bags with clinical efficiency and searching for banned items or whatever might be a ‘bone’ for all the junkyard dogs to feast on. I inched my way forward and deployed some banter to swoon them off to sleep.
“Aghh daddy welcome sir…, a lady custom officer greeted.”
“My sister, how work, Nigeria and the kids, I fired back.” I was asked about the content in my bags and baggage and responded that they were personal items of clothing, shoes, grooming kits, glasses, Bibles, British Evening Standard newspaper, books and watches. There and then I thought that the President Mohamadu Buhari’s bootstrap of integrity, honesty, dedication to work and life without corruption have cascaded down to our uniform personnel at the airport. I was wrong. I was pulled aside and given two options. I feigned cordiality and pretended as if I never heard what was said. The first option is the inconvenience of searching my bags and baggage and causing me a bit of delay. The second is a faster track of paying money and avoid being searched.
This is my chance to test the gold of Buhari’s war against corruption. I changed my free willing spirit into one of contempt. I told the lady beggar that it was vexatious and scandalous to ask money through extortion at the airport when the President is running against time to clean up this mad value of corruption that had damaged us all internationally. I have to reinforced the notion of change and what it meant.
I explained that airport is a window to the soul of the nation and should not be a toll gate to collect bribe just to do what officials are paid to do. The head of the airport customs has a work to do. He or she has to clear all the stationary bandits collecting toll from tired passengers and save this nation a throwback to that bygone era when corruption was so huge at our airports. The confluence of new political development is change and the president has vowed to see Nigerians as a changed nation for the pride and joy of all.