No visitor to the nation’s major international airport will miss the seeming rowdiness in the lobby of the departure lounge, but travellers who have used the place time and time again are probably already used to it.
Pulling over outside a few minutes earlier, it is hard not to make a fast comparison. The Lambert Airport in St. Louis (MO) can easily compare, at least in size if not in anything else. The difference in design of the arrival and departure areas however are stark. Having driven to the St. Louis airport now for more times than I can count, I immediately picture pulling over outside the departure lounge at the exact name of the airline with which the traveller is flying. It could be American Airline, or Delta, or United. They are all listed there.
In Lagos, there is nothing outside.
There is just the road, and a throng of people loitering around the exits, waiting for their loved ones to give them a call from inside that they are free to return home. Yes, unlike the airport in St. Louis, the new rules at the Lagos airport is that only the traveller is allowed into the lounge. Whether this rule is recent, or written down, is arguable. There are also a number of people out and about trying to sell you something or the other. This “rule”, as I later found, isn’t enforced either, but right at the entrance were about six armed policemen, each of them carrying heavy arms.
They ask, and I tell them that I am not the passenger. “You stay out,” they said.
“Are you travelling?” he asks again, and I get the message.
The lady isn’t pleased.
“Okay,” one of the officers speaks again. “Take care of us, and we’ll let you in.”
It is 12 in the afternoon.
“Don’t worry about it,” we both chorus, and I step back.
She looks back at me, and whispers, enough for anyone to hear, “I love you,” and heads inside.
“I love you too,” I reply, and waved.
Somewhere within those two seconds, the policemen heard us, and probably got a sting on their conscience. One of them – the most senior – looked remorseful, and waves me in. “G0. Follow her.”
There are many things wrong with the airport, but much of them, like the exchange I described, illustrate what is wrong with the country at large. I have mulled many of these questions in my head since I returned here, especially about the state of security, and well-being in the country, especially the role of the police.
- Why do policemen carry AK-47 rifles openly?
- Why do we have so many policemen at the entrance of the airport?
- If the answer to #2 is that “So as to prevent terrorists or any other criminals from coming in”, then why do they give people a pass to go in only after giving them “something” or after “taking care” of them?
- Why are there instead no metal detectors at the door of the departure lounge so that criminal elements are immediately accosted at entry, rather than law-abiding people coming to say goodbye to their loved ones?
- Why haven’t we made more use of technology in this way, including the use of surveillance cameras, undercover law enforcement officers, and sniffer dogs?
- Is this the best we can do?
Many new things are noticeable within the lobby itself, an impressive one of which is the installation of new equipments somewhere farther into the premises, where travellers would have to pass before getting into the plane. Word in town is that the government is spending an enormous amount of money to turn the airport into a world class facility. Admirable. This would not happen, however, until the human element of the facility is greatly improved. The last time I flew through this place, somewhere on my way to the plane, the custom officers who asked how much foreign currency I had on me, also managed to quip that it might help if I “helped” them out with some of it. I remember also that the last two times I arrived via this airport, there was no electricity, and we had to sweat through the rigorous checks that ushered us back into Lagos.
This is a terrible way to manage an image already terribly battered.