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.