October 29, 2022

Nigerian Airport toilets and the ease of doing business

Nigerian Airport toilets and the ease of doing business

By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo

A man in a colourful suit arrives at the airport for an early flight. Because he left home early, he couldn’t observe his morning rituals. Then the flight scheduled for 6.30 am is delayed for aviation fuel reasons, and his bowels notify him that the time has come.

He picks up his bag and looks for the signs, hoping to find relief in peace. The bathrooms are washed but wet. His skin itches. He chooses the furthermost in a row of four cubicles and shuts the door briskly. He feels lucky. Nobody noticed him.  

The door looks like something designed for a kindergarten. But there is no room for negotiations when nature is impatient. So, he forgets the intentions of the maker of the door and tries to latch it. The hook is missing. Consequently, he must keep one hand extended to prevent an intruder.

His posture is awkward. He tries to relieve himself of his bag, but there is no provision for hooks or platforms for bags even though the airport management insists airport users must take carry-on bags to the bathrooms. Again, he considers the wet floor, but goose pimples sweep his body. He squats and places his bag on his thighs.

His protruding tummy means he is nearly suffocating. Then he remembers and looks over his shoulder. There is no tissue paper in that cubicle. Just when he thought he had conquered the odds. Now, he must look for the cleaners and declare his manifesto to them. Where is the ease of doing shit business?

He pulls up his trousers, adjusts his mien and steps out. The bowels had been ready to let go, but now they must hang on. Yet nothing rankles the bowels more than such near-start and stops. The man knows his time is running out. The starry-eyed cleaner is chatting with his mates by the corridor.

The cleaner, who should be a little sober in the morning, is bowing and smiling like he has seen his uncle. The travelling man whispers for tissue paper. The cleaner asks, “Sir, you want tissue?” The restroom cleaner is almost screaming. He could as well be broadcasting, “Come clean, sir. This isn’t a dirty business.”

To his superfluous question, the man nods. The cleaner pulls out a giant roll under his work coat and unfurls it. He cuts a generous piece for the man. It reminds the man of holy communions in a certain happy church in Ogudu, where Agege bread is used instead of a eucharist wafer. Folks get half a loaf as the body of Christ. 

The man in a suit, who is running out of time, takes the paper and hurries back in. But he is late. The cubicles are now occupied. A bantering horde, talking to themselves across the partitions, has invaded the bathroom.

The veins on the pressed man’s temple begin to pulsate. His phone is ringing. It must be his wife, perhaps calling to find out if he has arrived at his destination. He can’t pick up the call. That will aggravate his quarrelling bowels. Just then, a cubicle is free, and the man in a suit runs in. But as he does, his bowels kick in.

They have had it. He has seconds to start the rites. He can’t help but marvel at the doors again. The space above and beneath the doors is sacrilegious. What happened to his fundamental right to privacy? No sound is protected. So he must mind it; there must be no explosion. Before he remembers to keep a hand for intruders, somebody barges in, and he pushes the door back with all his strength. 

A moment later, he is done, but the flusher is limp. It doesn’t work. He would have liked to erase his mess. Because no other eye should witness it. But what can he do with the broken system? There is a plate lying somewhere. He wonders what it is for and how a naked hand can’t touch it. He chooses to throw more tissue paper into the bowl in defence of his dignity and sneak out.

But the cleaners are now at the door of his cubicle discussing the rising cost of foodstuff. He wishes they knew what privacy was all about. He wishes they were in their office reading newspapers. Once he emerges, he is given an unsettling heroic welcome. They are gaping at him.

The shame is his. He lowers his gaze. An obsequious cleaner literally nudges him towards a wash hand basin and hands him liquid soap, which he could have easily picked up himself. He opens his palm and receives the offering. But just before he begins handwashing, another cleaner reminds him that his boys are loyal.

Washing both hands with the bag slung over his shoulder turns him into a contortionist. The cleaner notices and, without ceremony, takes the bag and holds it with tenderness. The man exhales, wondering how badly contaminated his bag has become. But he has no options. He washes his hand and starts for the hand drier.

The smiling cleaner stops him and unfurls another ungodly quantity of tissue paper, and hands it to him. He should have known. The electric hand drier looks dusty. While he dries his hand with the poor-quality paper, he notices another cleaner handing another client another prodigious slice of tissue paper. Why the cleaners must become tissue paper dispensers in the bathrooms is not such a mystery. The culture allows panhandling without shame. But why must they dole out tissue as if they were assigned to waste it? 

The man is done. The restless cleaners are now rendering sonorous eulogies. They sing as the man in a suit heads for the door. The importuning cleaners are a menace. The man feels compelled and opens his wallet. Everybody peers in. The cleaners bow and pocket their kill. The dynamics of the Nigerian economy.

The man returns to the lounge, wondering if ladies go through the same ordeal. What story will a foreigner tell when he gets home? An African giant without basic manners? But even the reemergence of the man in a suit doesn’t happen quietly. A bookseller dashes across him with some books about Jupiter and earthworms. Because of the bookseller, heads turn in his direction. An attention he can do without. He needs a rest. But a lady is beckoning him to come for a neck massage. It’s hectic at the airports.

 This is Nigeria. Nigeria is the host of the 2022 world Toilet Summit.