Ebuka Obi-Uchendu: “Dear Princess Stella Oduah… ” (YNaija Frontpage)

Immediately I walked out of the immigration point into the baggage claim area, the stench hit me. For all I cared, I might as well have been standing right inside a giant diaper while I got peed on! I honestly do not remember the last time I smelt urine so bad. The smell seemed just a little more pungent everywhere I walked to. I decided to suck it up and stop being an ‘aje butter’; consoling that it would be over soon as our luggage arrived.

One minute became 10; and 10 became 40 and there was no sign of anybody’s luggage attempting to roll out. People were starting to get apprehensive: asking anyone who looked like they had answers, for the whereabouts of our luggage. All we kept getting in reply was: “It’s coming. Just exercise patience.”

As the hour mark approached, it became obvious that patience had burnt enough calories and could not be exercised anymore. Where the hell were our bags?

Suddenly, people started running out the front door of the terminal with their trolleys. I asked where everyone was headed and one of my fellow passengers said that our bags were at the baggage claim hall at the other end of the airport. It seemed strange at first that our luggage would be sent elsewhere when everyone knew where we had landed, but I tried to contain my shock and nicely ran along.

As we walked into the second baggage claim area, the sight that greeted us was next to heart breaking. Bags were all over the floor, boxes had been thrown off the baggage tracks and just a few were still left on the tracks that had stopped moving. Chaos ensued as people started running round trying to identify their bags. A few people found theirs but a lot of us did not. At first, I thought they had been stolen with nobody there to claim them for over an hour. But the number of people who had not seen theirs made me assume that not all the bags were out. Yes, I was stuck with assuming since there was no single official there to let us know what was really going on. Those of us still without bags were in the majority, so we just stood around the tracks hoping our luggage would come out at some point.

Some 10 minutes later, the tracks jerked a little and started moving. People, half soaked in sweat at this point, managed to crack little smiles as the first bag rolled out, and people began to pick up. It seemed like the worst was over and we were about to finally leave the airport after spending what could easily be the flight time between Lagos and Dakar. But we were wrong. It must have been just over 5 minutes after the luggage started coming out, that salt was added to injury.

The hall suddenly went dark, and silent, and the tracks stopped moving. PHCN had decided that the international airport had enjoyed enough power for one day. A male voice shouted: “NEPA says welcome to Nigeria” and general laughter followed.

But someone was not laughing. A Caucasian lady, who I later found out was in Nigeria for the first time, was sobbing right behind me. She held on to her little boy with her right hand as she tried to make the sound of her crying a little less audible with her left. I looked back at her, and she caught my eyes and tried to look away. Then I asked if she was okay.

She did not answer immediately. She reached for her handbag and got out a face towel and dabbed on her teary eyes. Then she said with a forced smile; “Yes I am fine. I’m just a little overwhelmed by everything.” As simple as those words were, they turned out to be the saddest part of my arrival ordeal. Here was a first timer in Nigeria, who had probably come into the country after being told tales of woe about how unsafe the country is. Still, she decided to come for whatever reason and in just over 2 hours of being in the country, she had already had enough.

I lied and told her that this was unusual even for me as a Nigerian, since I had not witnessed this sort of drama before. I promised her that she would be fine. As we were talking, power was restored and the many Nigerians, who had not been to the country in a while, took a lot of joy in shouting “Up NEPA”. Thankfully, her luggage came out before mine and she seemed just a little relaxed again as she waved me goodbye.

Living the above experience at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos and then hearing that the aviation minister thinks upper class tickets are too high, leaves me confused. For most other Nigerians, my airport story is a relatable story for air travelers in Nigeria. Expensive business and first class tickets are not the priority. Add to that the fact that the airport’s IT system recently shut down, leaving passengers unable to check in simply because Maevis’ contract was terminated without a proper backup plan.

Threats should be issued to the airport management who have let the rot to continue, not international airlines who have a right to fix prices based on demand. It would be nice for once to see that our government is more concerned with Nigerians, and not how they are perceived internationally.

Some bragging rights are better earned when there’s actually something to brag about; else they just become noise. These unending threats from the aviation minister are starting to sound like just noise.

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Comments (29)

  1. Did you read the article and understand what it is all about please?

    Or did you just see high price and focus on that?

    Na wa

  2. It's great that the Minister is proving to be one that values the voices of people. We do appreciate the fact that this infamous airport was inherited in bad shape, and thus a significant amount of work is required to restore it.

    However, this is not the point. The point is that focusing ministerial energies on frivolities (for this is what luxury tickets are), while the skeleton remains lifeless is almost absurd. When looking back at achievements, a refurbished and better functioning airport is a much more measurable and gratifying achievement than tickets which 99.9999% of us (myself included) will NEVER buy.

    Granted, refurbishment is difficult and arduous. However, we cannot create the country we want our children to live in by taking the path of least resistance. We have trod this path since 1976 as a nation, and look at where we are now. Can I suggest that continuing along this same path will not take us out of the disgraceful, contemptible situation we are in.

    Here is how you can leave your children a legacy to be proud of (even after you die).

    1. Extend the ground floor of the airport towards the greens to cope with the surge in traffic.

    2. Increase the number of check in desks to reduce queues and promote ease of passage.

    3. Invest in the staff. Especially the customs officials – enrol them in customer service and communication courses. (Please see: http://www.mactayconsulting.com/services/lds/comm
    4. Invest in infrastructure : More Arrival/Departure boards, more air-conditioners, more seating areas, more parking spaces, a trolley path and trolley stall between the car park and the airport building, and also buggies for the sick and elderly going to seek treatment abroad due to lack of competent hospitals.

  3. Dear Ebuka,

    Thank you for the piece. My attention was drawn to the article by a group of readers on the YNaija!

    While your feedback is duly noted, for years the airports have lacked any investment or major upgrades; real lasting infrastructural change takes time and that process has begun.

    We inherited these airports in very bad shape; with prolonged neglect and no improvements over time. Besides the remodeling project, that will be actualized soon; we are now putting in place the systems and processes that will ensure that this infrastructural decay doesn't happen again in the future.

    Finally, I will like to remain focused on the price disparity on certain international routes that have given way for a regional fare imbalance, significantly higher business and first class fares and over reporting of the Passenger Fuel Surchage.

    The airlines have been found guilty of illegal fare hikes and collision and offered a reduction in business and first class tickets during our meeting a few months back. My mandate is that the reduction is implemented within the time frame specified.

    You will soon begin to see the results of the remodeling project. I encourage you to be supportive, patient and realize that lasting, deep change takes time and requires sacrifices.

    Signed,

    Princess Stella Oduah

    Minister of Aviation, FGN

    Tweeted from her account: @stellaoduah

    NB

    Ebuka tweeted back: "@stellaoduah Thanks a lot for the response and feedback… Good luck with everything!"

    YNaija, thanks for making this happen! We are making progress.

  4. @Erobosa Negbenebor: You know what? What you just displayed is stand semi-literate fare. When you called out on your foolishness, which is not often in the Nigerian space, you dig into the dictionary throw up 'specialised' words and cobble it with insults – because as usual semi-literate persons also tend to be uncouth, brutish, and products of failed parental upbringing – and send it out. Then, you create a fictitious anonymous supporter for your filthy ignorant commentary aka @Atinuke.

    Somehow, this charade entertains your uneducated mind and for a moment takes your mind off your inadequacies which shamefully includes inability to do 4th grade English comprehension as an adult. I don't blame you. I blame IBB who destroyed the educational system in Nigeria. You are IBB's creation and sadly there's an army of you roaming this country, destroying everything in your path.

    It's not a contest of wits. People like you can't make it into my work place (you can't pass the simple logic test) nor my social circles nor my academic circles. From your comments, I can picture you in real life – timid and insecure. You've made your silly point, which is actually no point. Move on!

  5. Please is it not possible for madam minister to do both????why all these derogatory writing???Ebuka nice piece but you didnt need to add the pricing cos thats downright wrong.That woman is working and you'll better just stop these unnecessary criticism.I can bet you that monies are voted for the maintenance of the airports by madam minister but NIGERIANS who are soooooooo corrupt would rather divert the funds than to use it judiciously for its purpose.So who is at fault???we have refused as a people to change and then we expect government to be different??We've got to be Kidding!!!!

  6. Nice 1 Ebuka, but I see this everyday. I try to write about stuff like this in my free time too. Our politicians are too selfish to get their priorities right. Take time out to read myairportstories.blogspot.com u'll be dazed at some of my stories.

  7. Valid piece and how anyone can question the need for the writer to express an experience is shocking.

    It's a shame how those in position of leadership continue to get the basic issues wrong. Put your airports in order, revamp the aviation industry to encourage local participation,and then see how foreign participants will adapt low cost and other value added incentives to the consumers in other to stay relevant in the market…

  8. Finally, some Nigerians with sense! We praise mediocrity at home too much. The international wing of the airport is a disgrace to the Nigerian nation (2nd worst airport in the world) and she is busy talking about BA and VS charging high prices. It's simply a smear campaign to drive ignorant Nigerians to fly Arik (which are most times more expensive than their 'competition'! Why aren't they being threatened too?) which provides extremely subpar services. If you want the biggest airline in your country to compete with the big 'world' players, adequate infrastructure has to be in place if not there can never be progress. I keep wondering how people in general get fooled by her whining and think it's in their best interest. BA and VS are not the only airlines that fly to LOS and are basing their fares on demand, competition and the heavy taxes and landing fees the Nigerian government incurs onto them. I am glad I found this post. Well done!

  9. @Erobosa: Madam Agnes has no idea what brown nosing is, you need to keep it really simple as she clearly struggles to communicate in simple english.

    @Agnes: You are lacking in functioning grey cells or you are boldly trying to defend a really poor act by madam aviation minister. A country's national airport is the first port of call for foreigners and should be functional and welcoming. That is more important that the cost of business class tickets.

  10. Nigerian politicians love Escapism so much ! They easily find a way of distracting people from the real issues. The yellow card of south africa is a typical example just like BA airticket matter. They know that majority of us will even in poverty will be happy enough that we are still dubed the GIANT of africa and are not ready to trade that for anything even when we know that we are decieving our selves. Let them use Airnigeria or Aric airways and BA will crash thier prices the moment they dont see customers. This guys should be adviced to focus on the real issues. There is nuffing international about that airport !

  11. I like Ebuka, which is why i must protest him being an armchair quarterback. First off, no matter the state of MMIA, the scenes he painted at the beginning of his piece are not the norm. Yes they occur but that is not the usual condition.Secondly his piece displays a certain almost delightful naivete. Market forces rarely fix prices anymore. Singapore airlines and South African Airlines were recently fined by South African authorities for price fixing on the Joburg/Singapore route.. Thirdly the piece was the normal whiny populist op-ed that passes for journalism in Nigeria, long on complaints, short on solutions. it would also be naive to assume that real issues do not exist but they are a microcosm of the larger society. Give the woman credit..there are major renovations/reconstruction going on in over 15 airports nationwide, cmon, lets find something else to gripe about…

  12. Very interesting post indeed, and that's an international airport, so what should we expect from our domestic airports? I agree with the price of the tickets being reasonable.

  13. The grammatical errors and oh so obvious brown nosing in your 3 comments render them a joke. I can't even believe you just spoke about "…Nigerian writing is filled with so many errors…" LOL Have a nice evening.

  14. Ebuka, this is a wonderful piece. I don't know if u heard about the BA flight that had to hover in the abuja airspace because there was no light on the runway. Personally, I have had even worse experiences @ the international wings of both the Abuja and Lagos airports. Aside the discomfort I feel on arrival to my own country, the shame when foreigners whisper obviously derrogatory things about our airports is just immeasureable. We need to prioritize properly and swiftly, air fares are secondary..If you can get to the minister, please talk some sense to her.

  15. @Erobosa Negbenebor: Here we go again with an fast-typing ignorant person who can't even comprehend – simple English comprehension. He reads a post, misses the point of it, but uses it to launch an online sermon. Tired and sick of Nigerian commentators.

  16. @Bhuki: People like you, who don't read, are the reason Nigerian writing is filled with so many errors and nobody cares to correct themselves, because it's assumed that the dullards whom they service don't even notice.

  17. You actually said it all but you mustn't fail to realise that Nigeria is now perceived as a dummy nation so any fee, charge or embargo placed on us is not queried. Inasmuch as she may have misplaced her priorities i think addressing such unfair treatment to Nigerians is right. See south africa with their rubbish yellow card, ghana with expensive business permit for Nigerians. our continent seems to be against us and they've perceived our lackluster attitude towards defending our national character. So for that little gesture we mustn't just throw tantrums at the honourable minister but pat her on the back, tell her thank you and direct her mind to the more important ones. We must begin to earn our respect, even kunkulu countries are beginning to insult us.. @olis123kel

  18. @ Agnes what's the difference between your gbagaun version and corrected version. You seem to have a problem passing your message as opposed to the writer of this piece. Between Ticket rate and Airport maintenance, which is more important? we always get our priorities wrong as a Nation. Shame.

  19. I quite agree with this post. Very recently, an expatriate's wife shut down her blog, a very interesting and entertaining blog, if i might add, after she got some very disturbing comments on a post she'd written about the putrid smell of Lagos. What baffled me the most was the fact that most of the commenters who attacked this woman's blogpost are Nigerians living in Nigeria. Is it a hidden fact that Lagos smells? Do they not know that Lagos smells? These "patriotic" citizens decided to rain curses and threats on this innocent woman whose only crime was her wonderful writing and delivery.

    Which brings me to talk about the fact that some Nigerians have this fake patriotism thing on lock. At times when they should stand up and speak with one voice, most of them are AWOL. But at other times, their screams are loudest. Empty barrels, anyone?

    In relation to this post, I recently searched flight fares on BA.com from Accra to Heathrow and laughed out loud when i found out that a business class ticket at $576 cost more than a Premium Economy ticket on the Lagos to Heathrow route at $625. Alarm bells rang loud in my head until i cut myself short. Without even looking for details to dissect, British Airways do not have to buy petrol or diesel to run their Accra offices, as well as other costs which i do not know about but am sure exist. If we're still battling simple issues like electricity, then sorry Madam aviation minister, everything is going to be expensive!

    Mrs Oduah, before you talk about Business and First class fares, ensure that your airports are even conducive enough to have people fly through them. Ensure you have a functional system. Stop screaming about the meat pie not being ready when you havent bought flour for the dough. Let's ignore the fact that you didn't even speak about the economy fares, we know you don't fly on that level. That is our business. Yes?

    Nice post, Ebuka. Well done.

  20. Corrected Version:

    Ebuka, give the Aviation Minister some credit. She can focus on more things than one at the same time. She can check exploitation by foreign airlines and also fix the airports, among other pressing issues she may also be attending to.

    These Nigerian critics sef. At some point, you must disintegrate into the ridiculous and spoil your argument.

    1. What sort of credit do you speak of? How can she talk about exploitation? Are the airports up to standard? Do the foreign airlines run their businesses on water and saliva as opposed to the fuel we are all forced to run on? Have you arrived at the International airport in Ikeja on a hot day? The heat tears at your skin. No air conditioning until about a month ago. The conveyor belt at baggage claim stops at will. Disgraceful! We need to put some fire on her ass so she'll do the same to her bosses. Apart from her duties as an aviation minister, what other "pressing duties" should she have? When you accept public office, you should be ready to give your all and sacrifice! It is a pity this isn't the case in Nigeria. And as for Nigerians, most of them are fully content and ready to "manage" because "E go better". It is a pity!

  21. Ebuka, give the Aviation Minister. She can focus on more things than one at the same time. She can check exploitation by foreign airlines and also fix the airports, among other pressing issues she may also be attending to.

    These Nigerian critics sef. At some point, you must disintegrate into the ridiculous and spoil your argument.

  22. I Feel This Government and Its So Called clowns are Just sending The wrong Message and burying the Serious Issues which Need too Be Tackled… I Mean our this is meant to be an international Airport. Failure too MEet International Standard is absolutely unacceptable.. Heads Shouldn't Only roll but People should be made too face the Consequences for their incompetence.. But Then Again this Is Nigeria.. Pathetic

  23. I could not have put this better.

    A fantastic piece on priorities, infrastructure deficiencies and free markets.

    Can we share with Princess Oduah's team?

  24. Oh my Gosh…I was having this feeling of disgust and embarrassment reading this story, that poor lady! I'm so ashamed!

    This reminds me of the time I came into the country for the first time, I was thoroughly disappointed and ashamed, Nigeria needs to do better. Smh

  25. I'll admit that this question comes from a place of ignorance. Is BA the only airline that flies that route into Nigeria? If not, what does it matter how high their business class tickets cost? They are a business and it's their perogative to charge what they want for their tickets. Take another airline.

    If they are the only airline that flies this route, it still doesn't mean our aviation minister gets to threaten a private company with diplomatic action because they choose to run their business a certain way. Are they breaking the law? No. Like someone else has mentioned elsewhere, Aviation minister didn't complain about economy class tickets, but about the ones which probably affects her and her fellow traveling politicians.

    You'll hardly hear of this kind of thing elsewhere, because politicians in other places, no matter how selfish they are, will think twice about openly showing that selfishness. I'm not saying only politicians fly business class, but madam Aviation minister should have more important things to focus on.

  26. We can have reasonably priced tickets and still fix our airports.

  27. Its sad. I spoke about this a few days ago. The stench, the filth at our 'International Airport' is unbelievable. I've always advocated for a tax-force rather than a minister of aviation to immediately revamp that ministry

  28. Ebuka, as much as it pains me anytime countries and foreign airlines feel they can trample on us without any serious consequence, Nigeria leaves so much to be desired and it's like opening our 'behind' open and vulnerable to attacks. The ordeal you recounted is not helping matters at all. What do you think we can do?

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail