How The Lagos Airport Explains Poverty in Nigeria – Japheth J, Omojuwa

If you travel through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, you will pass through about 13 stages before you board your flight out of Nigeria. Your first stage is the point where you fill the Ebola form and also have your temperature checked via infrared thermometre. When you are done with this point, you step forward to the men in private uniform who attach a “security seal” to your passport. After that, you open your luggage for custom officers to search through. After which you go ahead to collect your boarding pass. At this point, you had already gone through 4 stages– the highest for most other airports around the world.

On your way to board, you meet a security man who looks to see if you really have a passport and a boarding pass. Once this person confirms same, you join the “Ebola Control” line again. At this point, you submit the Ebola form you filled at your very first point of call and also have your boarding pass stamped. When you cross the Ebola line, the State Security Service checks your passport, then right after that at the same end of the airport the immigration folks stamp you out of Nigeria.

God help you if it is your first time; it is likely to be tougher for you to pass through them than it was for you to get your visa. If you survive immigration, you head to the scanner to have your hand luggage and your body scanned. From here you go left to meet with the people from the National Drug Law and Enforcement Administration (NDLEA) then you head to the money-laundering unit. That ends the end of the 2nd stage.

When your flight gets called, there are people waiting to see your passport and boarding pass. When you pass through that point, your luggage, which was already manually searched at point 3, and scanned at stage 9 then gets searched again. After that, you are ready to board. Note that most of these stages involve one “wetin you bring for us?” to “oga wet the ground” “bless us on Sunday” interruptions that have absolutely nothing to do with why you were at the airport in the first place. At least 9 of these are abnormal and absolutely uncalled for.

For a reader who has never traveled from elsewhere to Nigeria or from any other airport apart from Nigeria’s, you would think all of these are normal but they are not. At Heathrow, London, there are three stages: the point where you collect your boarding pass, the scanning stage where your luggage and your body get scanned, the point where you show your boarding pass and passport on your way to board.

At JFK, New York, there are four stages: your boarding pass, and the officer who examines your passport, the scanning stage and the point of boarding. I don’t know of any airport with more than four stages. I do not know of any other airport in the world where a luggage you are checking in gets opened and manually searched by security officials. It just does not happen and I have been to countries whose daily existence depends on preventing terror attacks. Hang luggage may be manually searched if something in your luggage like a computer you forgot to take out of your bag, a perfume bottle or some other stuff trips the scanner.

How does this explain poverty in Nigeria? We are not poor because we don’t have lots of money; we are poor because we waste time. People who waste time everyday like we do in this country will always be poor. No government policy can change that universal law; you waste time, you end up poor.

Why should a process that ought to take a maximum of four stages take 13 stages in Nigeria? Are Nigerians such criminals that the scanners cannot find the things we smuggle abroad? If the scanners cannot find such things, why don’t we just do away with them and stick to manual searching? And what is the sense of having the same luggage searched at least twice?

It is good enough that we are trying to keep Ebola in check, but what is the sense in having 2 stages for Ebola? What happened to getting all Ebola related control issues done on one spot? Who are the people behind these processes? Do they go through the same arduous procedure? Does it matter to them that theirs is the only country in the world where time wasting has been consciously built into the travel experience?

We can complain about infrastructure at the airport, like my November 2013 Punch piece did – and I should say there has been some telling improvement since that article – but on issues like the above, we don’t even need to spend a dime to get the right thing done. This must be done quickly.

There are about 19,000 passengers that use the Lagos airport daily. If we waste one hour of each person’s time, that’s 19,000 man-hours wasted. That’s almost 800 days wasted everyday at the Lagos airport alone. When you understand time in terms of value, the Lagos airport, a microcosm of our country’s time-wasting phenomenon, offers you a very good reason why we are a poor country. Will this change?