I wrote this piece while waiting for my flight on Saturday June 2, 2012. I had to stand for about five hours, and I was too angry to even smile. Little did I know that a tragedy was due to grace our country the next day...May the victims' souls rest in peace....
I am so angry right now. My anger surpasses the physical, because it is not about my present issues, but about the whole country in general.
I booked a return flight to Lagos from Abuja from a popular airline here in Nigeria, some weeks ago. A day before the flight, I got a message that the time had been postponed to about two hours later, so we set out for the airport an hour later than planned. We are one of those people that love getting to the airport and checking in exactly when the airlines say - two hours before.
We spent the better part of the first hour in traffic. We got so frustrated that I came down from the car and began walking towards the toll gate. Now those who are familiar with Abuja airport road should be able to guage how far I walked - from just after the Naval Airforce Base. In Lagos, that's like from Chinatown to Berger bridge, or even farther. I might have taken it as much-needed exercise if I hadnt been wearing 4-inch heels.
And of course, entering the toll gate is just the beginning of the journey. I paired up with a lady I met as I was walking and together we flagged a car down. Yes, entering strange cars is dangerous I know, but this one couldnt be helped. We paid the driver 100 naira each after he dropped us at the boarding terminal.
And do you want to know what I found at the toll gate that was the cause of the traffic? A checkpoint. Yes, you read right. A checkpoint. Apparently the police had gotten information that our resident bombers were planning to visit the airport.
So what measures did our security personnel take? They decided to stop every car at the tollgate, insist the driver/occupant come down, open the bonnet, open each car door, empty the car for inspection, open the boot, and open each luggage for inspection. Every car. The two-lane road became four lanes, yet only one police officer was doing all the checking. Oh, I forgot about under the car - another officer was doing that.
As I collected my boarding pass 20 minutes to boarding time Vicky hadn't moved an inch in the traffic, and I was faced with two choices. Either I travel without my luggage and Vicky sends it via bus travel the following day, or I miss my flight. I tried getting a cab so I could meet up with Vicky from the other side, but I was told it was impossible.
Then the flight was postponed. Then forty-five minutes later, Vicky was able to come in and we cleared the luggage - apparently some big shot at the back of the traffic jam did not find it funny that he was in danger of missing his flight because of the checkpoint, so he sent word to the front to clear the road.
Then I spent three hours waiting for the flight. Eventually I got to Lagos around ten p.m.
Now today is the return leg of the trip. I got two text messages this time, one cancelling the flight outrightly, the other postponing it till three hours later.
Knowing I might miss the flight if I didnt get to the airport on time due to Lagos traffic, I decided to get to the airport, and make sure my flight details were correct long before checkin time. So I got to the airport at ten thirty. I am just able to check in five hours later.
Reason? Well, first it was the long long queue. Then I found out that their servers were down. Then after one hour I was told to go to another desk to make my inquiries. Then I spent two hours there, before I was told to wait till 3pm to check in. The airline's servers were still 'down' o! So I had to stand and wait for two more hours before I could check in. Then I was told that without a ticket printout, my boarding pass would not be issued.
That is when I lost it.
I just barged to the counter and demanded a printout. I didn’t mind that there were people on the queue. I simply explained that I had spent two hours on the very same queue and just wanted my printout. The airport official that wanted to send me back to the end of the queue could not: I looked him in the face and reminded him we had spoken earlier. He couldn't say a word after that - I'm guessing my red eyes did the trick.
I later realized that he probably didn’t want a riot to start on his watch, as there had been tales of angry passengers in Abuja from yesterday and this morning, for at least two airlines. One airline was not even active at all - they were on strike so all their flights were cancelled, immediately and indefinitely.
I finally checked in then went in search of food. I guess what kept giving me energy was the anger that I could sense like a second skin, within me.
My anger is towards the Standards Organization of Nigeria. What exactly is your job description? What are you doing exactly?
Should airlines cancel flights at any second and expect passengers to conform? I am tired of hearing 'we are extremely sorry for any inconvenience' - show it to me! Prove how sorry you are by making things easier for me instead of complicating my life!
Standards are not just for NAFDAC to insist on, but for everything in operation in the country!
Restaurants should shiver with fear every time an inspector shows up on their doorstep!
Airlines should be scared of multiple lawsuits and heavy fines from S.O.N for any law they break or any flight they cancel!
Companies should feel the heavy hand of the law for missing their taxes!
Food companies should adhere strictly to all health policies or be closed down immediately!
Every service provider - from shoemakers to network providers, should have to answer to S.O.N one way or another. It’s because there is no repercussion that Nigerians are treated like dirt by their own people.
Why do you think we are treated with contempt outside? Its because they know we do not value our own laws. They expect the worst from us, all the time!
And the average Nigerian doesn’t even know his/her rights! We do not teach it in our schools (sorry, I forgot about the non-functional education system, but that is a rant for another day), nor do we teach our history. How do you expect the country to become more bound together as one if the history of how we came together isn’t taught to the next generation?
As someone I met during my long wait said, Nigeria is like a man with three wives, with each wife having her own kids. Each mother is telling her kids to aim for the top so they can rule over the others. Ruling means oppression over the others, surely. Everyone is out for his/her own gain and to satisfy their greed. If we don’t let go of our individuality as tribes and embrace being Nigerians, division will still continue to grow and fester in the country.
Back to my angst, why should being cheated, conned, deprived of our rights, be the norm in our motherland? We didn't migrate here o - we are ALL indigenes regardless of religion or tribe. So why should we continue to be oppressed and take it like that?
People think it’s because of the name change of UNILAG that the present students are rioting, but it’s not true. I believe those children realize that Nigeria should be older than this by now (and by 'this' I mean the announcement of empty promises and stupid landmark creations). MKO died over a decade ago in 1998, yet all the good things he promised the youth then are nowhere to be seen. In fact Nigeria is worse off than how it was back then. The children realize that their present has been robbed off of them, and nothing brings it to the fore more than the school name change.
They are tired of the cycle of deceit, looting and broken promises And unlike us, they are not willing to take it lightly or silently 'obey'.
They may not be able to fight the government on the way politics is being handled, but the little that is within their power, they are willing to stand up for it. The name is something they are proud of, an identity they can hold onto anywhere in the world.
Wait sef, Has anybody sat to think how much will be spent on this singular change? All the rebranding costs? Even the school gate emblem has to be replaced! All because of someone's whim to 'honor a fallen hero'?
Whatever happened to all the valid issues at the President's table at the moment? Should the cuisine at Aso rock even enter the Presidential Speech on Independence Day?
Did anybody stop to think about how this singular act shows that, like in Animal Farm, President Jonathan has now proved that 'some animals are more equal than others'?
I am tired of praying, of expecting the government to make the change. The cure for Nigeria is not instant - it will take more than eight good years to cleanse the system of corruption, negligence, ignorance, greed, selfishness and unqualified buffoons at key posts in the country.
I just pray that a war does not become the only option we have really soon.