Byb Muyiwa Adetiba
Being in the air can be ethereal. There is this incomparable feeling of peace and well-being as the plane glides almost imperceptibly between clouds. It is also the closest to nature one can possibly ever get—whether the plane is passing over the vastness of the oceans, deserts, mountains or just clouds— with the fading sun gliding along side the plane like a compass, a lodestar.
It is in the air that one can see those aspects of life and creation that have not been mastered and polluted by man. They look desolate, almost forlorn but yet defiant, natural and beautiful. One virtually feels he is in heaven—second heaven maybe, or cloud nine if one insists on being literal—especially if one has had a good meal, a good drink and is watching a good movie or nodding one’s head to old school music.
But if one has cumulatively had 28 hours of flying with 11 hours of non-stop flight in between, one begins at some point, to long for terra-firma. Especially if the last stop is home. Such was my experience last month. I, my wife and a few close friends had flown across time-zones as we embarked on a marathon journey from Australia where we had attended the World Congress of Accountants, to Nigeria via Thailand and Turkey.
Add the 11 transit hours in Turkey which allowed us to go to town and see a bit of Istanbul, and the seven hours in Thailand which were spent in the lounge with Wi-Fi, good cognac and my travel weary friends as company, and we would have spent almost 48 hours transiting from Australia to home in Nigeria. It was a tiring but educative experience as it allowed one a taste of different cultures and cuisines.
It was also a sad experience because you could not but compare what you saw with what we have at home. We seem stuck in time while the rest of the world is racing on. The airport I met in Bangkok could not be reconciled with what I saw the last time I was in Bangkok. While in the air, I chatted nostalgically with a Thai hostess about Pataya, a resort near Bangkok which had made quite an impression on me. She asked me when last I was there after which she said almost with pride ‘you will not recognise it again.’
If the stateof a country can be determined by its airport, then what I witnessed in Australia, Thailand and Turkey or Singapore where we stopped over for seven hours on our outward journey to Australia, are light years ahead of any airport in Nigeria. It is not just in aesthetics and functionality but also in service and personnel.
Every visitor to a country, irrespective of what he is there for, spends money and it starts right from the airport. The safety factor; the feel good factor; the wares on display and more importantly, the friendliness and professionalism of his first local contacts all contribute to how tightly he is going to hold on to his purse. Every country is a tourist country if only the people know what to do and its leaders provide the enabling ambience in terms of security, infrastructure and a maintenance culture.
Every Nigerian traveller except our leaders, sees how inadequate our airportsare compared to others. Nigerians who have been travelling for over 40 years to far flung places notice the evolution of these airports with sadness. Those which were at par with us 40 years ago have since digitalised and left us behind. President Buhari has practically lived in the air since his second coming as Head of State. Surely, he passes through airports sometimes.
The pilot announced we were descending and I couldn’t help but smile. It is always good to go home. I lifted the shutters to look out. Sometimes a city welcomes you from the sky with its dazzling lights. But it was as dark as pit. Then as we approached, I saw clusters of lights. I knew what it meant. Some areas had light and some did not.
The story of Nigeria.Lagos has never been pleasing to the eye from the sky. There are too many unkempt buildings, too many narrow, winding roads for that. Unlike some airport cities that display greenery, fine architecture or moored yachts on approach.
And it is depressing when Lagos is dark. We landed without incidence and went to passport control. It surprises no one that we still have two, three people checking every passport. A machine— or two—checked me out of Sydney. One captured my data page while the other captured my photograph. It was all over in minutes.
Ours was the only flight on ground yet it surprised no one that we had to wait for over 30 minutes before our luggage started rolling out and another 30 at least before mine arrived. In many busier airports, you would find the belt rolling by the time you got through passport control or your luggage on the ground should you tarry for any reason at immigration. Every effort is usually made to reduce the inconvenience of weary travellers. In fact, some countries time the waiting period of an average traveller between landing and evacuation.
Speaking of convenience, the road to the car park is long, rough and hazardous. This includes human hazards. There are people who would practically wrench your trolley from you under the guise of helping you. Or currency changers who virtually stand on your path. Surely these are not very convenient for weary travellers. Neither are they convenient for physically- challenged travellers or those with a lot of load.
The waiting time at the car park can also be improved upon. I once told the driver to pay as soon as I landed in order to shorten my waiting time, only to be told that the time between payment and exit was too far apart. I learnt my lesson. I heaved a sigh of relief when I finally exited the airport. Still, I could not help looking behind to see if I was being followed.
It has become habitual. As I headed for Oshodi, I tried not to look at the bumpy, dirt-strewn road with the eye of a visitor. After all, I am not a visitor. Lagos is my home and this is a home coming. Still, it makes you wonder why the main road from the airport to the country’s commercial city has suffered such a massive neglect.
Although it was past eleven, I had no choice but to take the Third Mainland Bridge because Ikorodu Road, the only other option to the island, has been high jacked by trucks and the relevant authorities seem impotent or uncaring. Coming home, it’s like everything had been at a standstill.