The Homecoming, By Wale Bakare

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The flight from Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, to Lagos was about a third of the way in when I got up and walked to the back to stretch my legs. This was a habit I had developed over years of frequent flying over long distances and I seriously recommend it to other travellers that have to make long, international flights. That was where  I met ‘Barry’ and we exchanged pleasantries. When he introduced himself as Barry, I immediately noticed the wrestling match going on between his Oluyole Ibadan accent and his Brooklyn, New York affectation. I smiled again. We got talking and I asked his opinion on my observation that all the Cabin Crew seemed to have an average age of 55. Very pleasant and courteous ladies, but they did not in any way look like the ones the Airline puts in the media advertising its services. In fact, they did not look like the ones on the Heathrow to Schipol leg of our journey. Was this a deliberate policy? Did the airline decide that they needed ‘extra mature’ cabin crew to handle those difficult Nigerians? I thought of asking one of them but before I could do so, Barry (whom I suspected his real name was a little more ‘traditional’ for some reason) dropped something on me that left me totally bewildered.                                               

After ascertaining that I was of Yoruba extraction, Barry explained to me that he didn’t really understand Yoruba that well but he could speak It fluently. This was in-between regaling me with how he had decided to do Nigeria a favour by coming back home to personally oversee his estate since the only person he could trust, his father, had passed on, and how Nigeria was such a terrible country. I was used to people like him returning from Mexico, Malaysia, and other far-flung outstations slagging off the country and I would normally have walked off but what he had said about not understanding Yoruba but being able to speak it fluently kept bouncing around in my head and was threatening to give me a headache. “You mean you understand the language but cant speak it fluently?” “No” he replied stubbornly. “I can speak fluently but cannot understand when people speak to me” Aside from the fact that what he was saying made no kind of sense whatsoever, his Oluyole accent made a mockery of his attempts to be posh. I looked him straight in the eye and asked if he had considered seeing a doctor for his condition.

As we came into Lagos airspace and commenced our descent, I could hear Barry and ‘Chuks from Indonesia’ two rows down announcing gleefully that Lagos was in darkness while cackling like inebriated hyenas. We touched down and the nice lady on the microphone advised us to remain seated until the seat belt lights were switched off. I have often wondered why Nigerians who have just completed 6-10 hour journeys find it difficult to sit for 10 minutes for the plane to come to a final stop and for the lights to come on before they jump on their feet and start popping open the overhead cabins. Does it have to do with the fact that a lot of us were bred on the culture of jumping down from moving ‘molues’ or could it be that we missed Nigeria much more than we care to admit? Anyway, whatever might be their motivation, Barry and Chuks totally ignored the announcement that the plane was waiting to be towed to its final parking location and insisted on continuing to retrieve their hand luggage. Finally, the Pilot had to take over the announcement and in clearly angry tones, pronounced what I suspected were Dutch curses on whoever refused to sit down. This had the desired result and Barry and Chuks returned to their seats.

I love Nigeria and I’m eager to come back home every time I am privileged to travel outside the country. I however hate the experience of coming in to Nigeria through the Murtala Muhammad Airport in Lagos. There is nothing that announces to the first time visitor (or anyone for that matter) that you have just arrived in a third world country than the experience of getting off a plane and going through the immigration process in Lagos. I have never used the Abuja airport for international travel but my friend Jamie has and he speaks quite highly of it. He compares it favourably with any around the world. What then is the reason why the Lagos Airport, which is the primary gateway to the country for international travellers remain a travellers nightmare? After a 10 hour flight, your immigration experience in Lagos is sure to make the wear and stress of your journey catch up with you very quickly. The chaotic bottleneck at the first point of entry for the needless Covid registration is your first encounter with the mindless bureaucracy that seems designed to frustrate you. What is the value of the forms that travellers are made to fill before passing through to where they will have their Passports processed? Covid protocols have been eased all over the world. Why are travellers being made to huddle together unnecessarily at the point of entry to fill pointless forms and get harassed by beggarly health officials who will ask you “what did you bring for your Sister?” I still wonder why she seemed confused when I asked her to be specific as I had several sisters and wasn’t sure which of them asked her to find out from me what I brought since she couldn’t wait until I got home to find out.

I have been to over ten other African countries and from Tripoli to Johannesbourg and from Accra to Addis Ababa, there is nowhere else I have seen where you have to join multiple queues to be processed. I asked the fellow at the first booth who asked for my address and phone number why he needed the information again since I provided it to them at the same location at least 6 times in 2022. My address had not changed. What had they done with it the last 6 times I provided it? The poor guy looked sheepishly at me and tried to explain that it wasn’t his fault. That was the process that was provided for them to work with and he didn’t make policy. I told him I understood. The people who should do something about it didn’t experience it. They didn’t get off the airplane after a 6 hour flight and end up in a stinking, stiflingly hot hall, exchanging air and possibly bodily fluids with 240 other frustrated humans. No! They go through VIP Lounges and ‘Protocol’ handles the things that require contact with the mess they either created or condone. After you are done with the official that takes your details (imagine having to spell my street address to the fellow who had no idea what I was saying), you then go join another queue to get your passport stamped. As supremely annoying as this might be, neglecting or refusing to do it might cost you very dearly on your next trip. Costs of course being cold hard cash or stress like you never imagined you could experience without requiring attention by a mental health professional.

Finally, you make it through, pick up your luggage, and as you head out you are confronted with a long table manned by a multitude of uniforms and others dressed in civilian clothes and looking like the barely educated clerk of the NURTW, Oshodi Branch. Customs, NDLEA, Quarantine, and God knows what else. All more interested in whatever they can get you to part with nicely if they have nothing to hold against you. Someone is always greeting you too familiarly until he finds a reason to cause you grief. And it has gone on like this for years. It is even worse on your way out. It does not have to be so. Foreigners coming into the country should not be made to form a negative impression right from the get-go. And Nigerians like Barry and Chuks who have decided to ‘honour’ us with their presence should not have to be made to go through hell for the privilege.

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