Welcome back to Nigeria

Casmir Igbokwe

Published on Sunday, 7 Oct. 2007

Musaazi has a way of passing across a mischievous message. When I informed him of my intention to travel back to Nigeria in a Nigerian airline, he giggled and exclaimed, “A Nigerian airline from London to Lagos! The flight must be full of drama.”

This Ugandan journalist, who just finished his Master’s in the UK, was right. Scene one of the drama started from the airport in London. While travellers from other nations checked in quietly, Nigerians moved their heavy luggage up and down. It was as if the weighing scale at the airport was reserved only for them. They queued to weigh their baggage.

As a rule, each traveller is entitled to two bags of 25 kilograms each and one hand luggage not exceeding 10kg. Excess baggage must not exceed 32kg. I came with two heavy bags. I was ready to pay for the excess baggage. But each of my bags weighed over 40kg. Though I paid £50 for the excess luggage, I still had to throw away precious gift items and personal belongings. This was to reduce the weight of each of the bags to 32kg.

Scene two of the Nigerian drama started when we boarded the aircraft. There were loud conversations. One particular boy sitting beside me seemed to have quarrelled with his girlfriend. For more than 30 minutes, this boy was talking angrily on the phone. Among the things he said, I can only remember “You shouldn’t have done this if you truly loved me.”

Tired of listening to this soured-love conversation, I got up to stretch my joints and use the loo. There also, people had queued up. Only one toilet was functional. The second toilet, one of the crewmembers said, could only be used when the aircraft was airborne. When I eventually got in, I found the toilet in a messy condition. I held my breath, urinated as fast as possible and tiptoed out of the place. 

Despite this small problem, I felt proud as a Nigerian that a Nigerian airline, fully manned by Nigerians (I did not see any white person in that aircraft) could take off smoothly from a place like London.

When the plane stabilised in the air, I closed my eyes and started dreaming. My mind wandered from Mrs Patricia Etteh’s scandal to the ambitious first ladies of Adamawa. I dreamt of a future where an aircraft fully built, serviced and manned by Nigerians will fly around the world. I was almost dozing off when I heard a loud shout of “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!” My heart flew away.

There was confusion. The aircraft was moving smoothly. The pilot did not even warn of any danger. Yet the woman who created the scene kept panting and fidgeting as if the plane was about to crash. I searched under my seat for the life jacket should there be an emergency landing in the ocean.

When I moved to the scene of the commotion later, I only found an overweight man lying across three seats. Perhaps, the man was sick and had collapsed for reasons only doctors could say. He regained consciousness when a crewmember wanted to remove his trousers. He held tightly to the flap, saying, “No, no, no. Leave it. I am all right now.”

Every other thing was also all right up until we landed at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos.  For more than 15 minutes, we could not disembark from the plane. The pilot said the authorities in charge of bringing the staircase caused the delay. They eventually brought one staircase. And all passengers were made to come down from the rear exit.

Grumbling, we went in for immigration formalities. From there, I moved to the airport car park together with a relation who had come to take me home. There, we met three young men who claimed to be policemen guarding the premises. They were in mufti. And all they wanted were pounds. I gave them some naira notes. But they were more interested in hard currencies. I ignored them and asked my brother to move on.

It was about 6.30am. We meandered through the rough roads and contended with bus drivers trying to brush us aside. We got to a point on Isolo – Ejigbo Road, and saw between six and eight men who mounted what looked like a roadblock. They all had big guns. They wore no uniform. Some were barefoot. Some wore just bathroom slippers. They blocked the road halfway with their vehicle, which had flat tyre. From the panic in their eyes, we concluded that they must be armed robbers looking for another vehicle to escape. Miraculously, the gunmen asked us to move on. As my wife put it, “That is the handiwork of God.” She said she had some fears about my travel. Hence, she called her prayer warriors and they staged a vigil in my house throughout the night until the morning I arrived.

Anyway, I thanked her and went in to rest. Emma (not real name) came in a few hours after to see me. He said his landlord increased his house rent from N60, 000 to N100, 000 and asked him to pay for two years. Geoffrey has been idling away for months now. He has not been able to pay N15, 000 rent for the small space where he displays his articles of trade at Ikeja. I went out later to have a feel of the old Lagos. On Obafemi Awolowo Way, Ikeja, I met a man selling stickers. One of the stickers reads: “It’s a blessed day. Anything I touch today shall be blessed.”

This sticker is N20. And that is what the man survives on. Distressed by the wretch I have seen, I decided to go back home and rest. But as I drove back home, I ran into a police checkpoint on Idimu Road. They stopped me. One of them peeped into the car and said, “Oga, anything for us?” I discharged them my own way and moved on.

A few days after, I settled down to write. I had hardly written the first paragraph when electricity went out. I was optimistic the Power Holding Company of Nigeria would soon restore power. My optimism stemmed from the fact that since I came back, I have been enjoying regular power supply in my area. I waited for hours, still no electricity. I tried to put on the generator, but it suddenly developed a fault. I picked my biro, scribbled a few words and dozed off.

I had boasted to Musaazi that Nigeria would soon be among the 20 biggest economies in the world. I pray he does not read this and begin to feel that his negative impression about us is right.              

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