Immanuel James: Lagos International Airport and the audacity of shame (Y! FrontPage)

by Immanuel James

About four years ago, President Goodluck Jonathan, during his electioneering in Lagos, had promised to reconstruct the road that leads to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, the MMIA. He is likely going to repeat that promise next year, aware that we are a nation of short memories. In a country where shame is audacious, items like water, road, and power, taken for granted in serious-minded nations, are serious governmental ambitions. Serious ambitions, in the sense that citizens have been so starved of elementary amenities of life that they glorify such default public entitlements.

For a first-time foreign visitor, that road constitutes an open syllabus on what to expect in Nigeria – that is, if the inside of that Airport had not done the right induction. We shall return to the inside of the Airport later.

It is not about a few potholes shoddily patched up here and there – sometimes totally ignored so they can mature into massive ditches and become meaningful work for some government contractor. Of course the road is not good enough, and one would have liked a well-paved, properly marked alternative, befitting the status of Africa’s largest economy. But such an aspiration is only within the province of dreams, dangled sadistically by campaign speakers at four-year intervals.

On part one of the syllabus is an actuality that can present itself any time, to a first-time foreign visitor in Nigeria. The spectacle is that of a traffic warden at a crossroads before the Airport. He waves vehicles on Road A to a stop, and gestures motorists on Road B to move. With absolutely no enthusiasm for his work, he saunters back into the cubicle at the centre of the road, and is soon engrossed in an idle talk with his lazy colleague already waiting. The halted motorists have been patient for the police talk to end so they can have their own right to passage. The gossip persists. They begin hooting in protest but are ignored. Then they go defiant and drive through the crossroads, as their counterparts from the others roads follow suit, and soon a gridlock is created. Only then does the traffic warden jump into the scene wielding a baton, shouting here, gesturing there.


Within the Airport complex are different categories of shame: halls with very poor air-conditioning; announcement speakers that go static whenever they like; dirty floors; unsanitary toilets; unending construction projects, etc.

In Nigeria, work is ignored until it becomes an emergency; and people are ever likely to take the laws into their hands, especially when no one is watching. The traffic warden also typifies the Nigerian public work ethic.

Next is the nuisance of tanker drivers who drive against traffic, what we call ‘one-way’, as that is the shorter route to the truck park situated along the road. That is, if they had driven past that park to go discharge product somewhere, or are coming to the park from the local airport axis. The road was designed in such a way that truck drivers who want to do the right thing will have to pay dearly for it: they’ll have to go completely out of Airport Road to be able to turn around, either at an intersection along the road to Palm Avenue through Oshodi, at Anthony, or at Isolo. Considering the possibility of meeting traffic jam on these routes, they could spend not less than an hour.

In Nigeria, the nature of many things is such that breaking the law is often the ‘reasonable’ alternative. Ignore the menace of unruly danfo drivers who drop off and pick up passengers anywhere on the road; let us go into the lounges of that Airport, a foreigner’s first encounter with Nigeria.

Within the Airport complex are different categories of shame: halls with very poor air-conditioning; announcement speakers that go static whenever they like; dirty floors; unsanitary toilets; unending construction projects, etc. Forget immigration officers who openly demand tips. Walk out of the complex through the arrival lounge, and see how Nigerians who are waiting to receive loved ones who have just arrived from overseas, conduct themselves. They overreach the improvised space earmarked for them and virtually want to burst into the arrival lounge. The pushing and shoving, the raised name tags, the hissing, occasional shouting, and other forms of motor-park ambience that attract police discipline. You marvel at the sheer childishness of such adult humans.

Walk past them into the ready harassment of money changers and recharge card hawkers. Taxi drivers are the most annoying. They tug at clothes, drag luggage, engage each other in mock fights trying to stave off their kind from cornering a customer over whom they already claim entitlement. Perhaps they all can be excused for the lack of proper structural arrangements for their presence?

The taxi system is just too dangerous in this era of kidnapping. Even in Kotoka Airport in Accra, Ghana, taxi drivers are properly identified with the airport authorities, through their transport companies, for a measure of passenger safety. The taxis at the MM1 are registered with the airport authority, but if a taxi driver robs or kidnaps a foreign passenger, it will be difficult tracing the culprit, since not all the taxis operate through transport companies.

Government officials often pass through the VIP lounge, but they probably cannot claim ignorance of this general shoddiness. Perhaps Nigeria is so truthful a nation unwilling to deceive its visitors with cosmetic airport fineries, aware that a complete shambles reigns out there in the nation. It would be unfair to have superb airport hospitality contradicted just a few meters away from the complex.

Every project dedicated to laundering Nigeria; grand coinages like ‘transformation agenda’, ‘foreign investment drive,’ ‘tourism potential’, etc., meet their Waterloo in this airport. The whole place is too depressing and shameful. It takes the audacity of shame to have leaders who gloat about this nation in the face of such primary failures.

One of the busiest airports in Nigeria, the MMIA generates massive revenues that should indict the rustiness on display. From huge car park receipts to daily toll-collection harvests, aside revenues from airlines, service companies, etc., that airport rakes in enough funds for the attainment of sterling infrastructure. The President could set aside protocol, go through the public lounge unannounced, see things for himself, and put an end to this shame of a nation. That way also, he could unearth pointers to corruption possibly shrouded in false government agency reports that purport a gleaning airport dripping technology and class.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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