I am standing behind a departing foreign visitor who is being subjected to indignities. Where did she get the Nigerian newspapers she was travelling with? To which she calmly replied that she bought them off the street. They then engaged her on the importance of not discussing Nigeria in bad light, how they see she was a journalist, and how they were going to seize the papers to prevent her from doing so. I watched in amazement as airport officials from different organisations tried to embarrass her in order to make her uncomfortable, probably as a soliciting strategy. It was a ridiculous spectacle and utterly meaningless because newspapers are public documents which you can take with you if you so wish. I know, as did the official, that there is no law against travelling with Nigerian newspapers. The flight was an international one.
Our airports are the first image registers about Nigeria and the moral compass in this place of beauty, travel and meetings in other parts of the world has been compromised in most of our international airports. It is about ‘Aunty what did you bring for us?’ and ‘Aunty anything for your boys?’ and such other inane comments that drive me completely spare. We live in a world where people are on their way to Nigeria for several reasons, from investment to education and tourism. Who wants to visit a country where corruption begins from the entry point where begging and coercion and extortion seem to be the order?
I am so ashamed when I hear a young man or woman who is scanning my bag for any dangerous items begin to whisper, ‘Madam, we are loyal’ or ‘Aunty do us weekend now’. What on earth does this mean? I usually play dumb or I mutter, ‘I beg your pardon’, and walk past them in anger. These are persons with responsibility to process travel documents, check for security infringements and catch illegal immigrants. It is sad that the way some of them are going, Nigeria will definitely be populated with illegal immigrants and our security is not iron-cast when we travel. This is quite obvious considering that anyone who receives any gift, be it cash or otherwise, for whatever reason has already compromised national security. In times like this when security should be everyone’s business, it is quite shameful that some Nigerians are putting the flying population at high risk by soliciting at airport areas. Those of us who travel know how seriously they take security in other parts of the world. Going through Frankfurt airport or Heathrow tells you people in those climes mean business. They check you so thoroughly it is as if you are going to a war zone. Recently going through Frankfurt, a young fashionable lady was brought to a halt because she was wearing the latest boots with metal spikes all over it. Not only did they stop her, they had her remove them and check them in because it was considered a weapon if she were to board with it. She was Nigerian. Back home, not only would it not have been noticed, perhaps she would have fluttered her eyelashes and, if that did not work, offer a little something if she was asked to take it off.
I believe there are bodies charged with checking corrupt officers and making examples of them. We cannot afford to have people whose responsibility it is to give the right impression of Nigeria to foreigners get behaving like pirates on the high seas. It is shameful, it is condemnable, and it is tragic. Men, women, some persons in uniform and some people in mufti, it is across board and nearly endemic. Very few of them allow you to enjoy your journey through an airport without soliciting. The airport is considered a hustling ground and it’s like a motor park full of touts. It is not too late to redeem our national image and condemn in very strong terms those who do it and enforce the policy of zero tolerance for corruption.
While we are cleaning up our airports of common touts, can we please have decent trolleys at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport? What we have now should not be seen at the airport of the poorest local government area in Nigeria. Harried, disjointed, dirty and disgraceful. And there are not even enough of them. Each time I return home and trolleys are being touted and fights ensue over who can get one or not, I become deeply ashamed. Image is everything and those trolleys make us look like a banana republic. Our visitors look at us with derision and say behind our backs, ‘See who is claiming to be Africa’s leader and the black man’s pride.’ People are sniggering and we can’t blame them. It is such things that erode our integrity; and begging too, which is almost becoming a norm. Let those who have responsibility to stop it at our airports please bring it to a halt.