Act one Scene 1
If Arik Airline is owned by a Nigerian military despot and operating under a totalitarian regime, I would not have bothered. We have had democracy since 1999. A child born at that period is no longer a baby.
Go with me: Now, I have had agonizing stories from Nigerians at the Airport. Last week Thursday, it was my turn. My tormentor was Arik Airline.
The nightmare began on Tuesday. Arik had postponed the flight from Lagos to Abuja which had messed up my scheduled appointment in Abuja. At the airport, I boarded three hours behind schedule. This was after riotous encounters with unsolicited ‘corporate thugs’ who would collect the ticket slip, rush to the Arik counter and bring back the boarding pass. Passengers would slip some money into their palms.
We left around 3pm. As the balloon staggered into the sky, I looked down at Lagos from some 10,000 feet above. There were no announcements of safety measure. I even felt as comfortable as one inside a Lagos BRT bus. Just a little difference. Maybe Lagos BRT appears better, unlike Arik, where you need a hand fan, if you must board.
Act 1 Scene 2
Abuja: After encounters with Comrade Femi Falana, NLC President Wabba and an exceptional Assistant Inspector General of Police, (AIG), Ogunwade at the Rockview Hotel where we had a workshop on corruption, I took a walk across the city in the scorching sunlight. I had a deep sleep. I had booked 9am flight for the day of departure. It was the same chaotic scene. Hangers-on, jesters, airline officials flipping their phones as they attended to customers, people jumping the queue, workers sitting in filthy circles to weigh-in travellers bags and then a counter filled with noise makers. I made it to the departure hall some 40 minutes to the dot. Arik announced flight to Lagos, later. We rushed to the line. An official came and said “Not yet. The flight just arrived from Lagos.’ That was after 9am. I was sitting there with others when after about 40 minutes I went back to the Arik counter: “Oh, the flight just left.” He had a stern face as if my probing further would draw a punch in the nose. “What should I do” Him: “Go downstairs” I asked again: “To do What?.” Him: “Just go downstairs” He was already walking away.
Act 2 Scene 1
Downstairs to the Arik counter I proceeded. “Yes. You missed your flight!” He said, shrugging his shoulders. He collected the boarding pass and waved me aside as if dealing with a tiny fly.
“What should I do next?”
Him: “Wait till 6pm.” Yet, my luggage had been dispatched to Lagos.
Before I could utter a word, he was already prattling away with his colleagues, like Eye Ega, the tiny, noisy birds I grew up with in the village. Wait till 6pm. Wait till 6pm. The words hit my head constantly like a hammer. I went to another Arik official, he repeated the same thing:
“That’s the next flight. 6pm.” He dashed out of my sight. I felt lonely, like a rose trampled underfoot, ignored and rejected. Fear and mysticism took over me? Are some spirits from the village playing some pranks? Why me? Two postponements in one day?
I loitered at the airport, shuttling between Mama Angela’s bukateria and the port entrance waiting to see the tickling hands of the clock hit 6pm. When it was 4pm, I checked in again. This time, I glued to the Arik departure aisle. At some minutes after 6pm, a dark, strongly built man began to say in muffled tones:
“Arik, Lagos. Arik, Lagos” He sounded like a bus conductor on the Onitsha-Abalaliki route- or the one from Ikoro to Ijero in Ekiti State.
“Koro-Ijero; Koro-Ujero, lilo lilohin oo: ‘Arik, Lagos; Arik, Lagos.’
I dashed with the crowd. The children also scurried with their parents. There were no preferences for children. No preferences for the aged. No consideration for the physically challenged: “Arik, Lagos; Arik, Lagos.”
Act 2 Scene 2
The gate man took a sly look at my ticket.
“Hey! Which kin thing be this. You no go fly this PULANY OOO.”
Me: “What d’you mean?.”
I felt a dew of anger and rage settled on my nose tip. He shoved me aside:
“You didn’t check on yourself?”
What is the meaning of this: You didn’t check in yourself? What should I do:
Him: “Go downstairs.”
It sounded like asking me to walk into a furnace: Downstairs, the same sentence of guilt in the morning. Now I’m downstairs. The Arik official attending to me was speaking on phone conversing with someone else.
She would look at me and blink like “baby kingsway.” I had to knock her table to startle my presence. She glanced at my boarding pass and again waved me aside. I told her the problem.
“There’s nothing I can do. Wait till 9am tomorrow.” Contempt and hate wrapped her, then a thick air of pomposity. She shifted her gaze to another customer. There was no communication, no information, no logical engagement except some brutish, beastly posture.
Me: “Did you hear me? I have been at this airport since 9am. I didn’t miss my flight. The flight missed me. I was at the airport, at the departure. If I had missed the flight, I expected my name to be announced if I was not seen inside the aircraft.”
She looked at me conspiratorially: “Go and meet the other table.” I dashed to the table nearby. Another combative lady. She looked at me, not uttering a word. She just waved me back to the same lady, the way you would treat your bingo.
The lady said “Go and meet the manager.” There was no indication on who the manager was and where his or office was. A man directed me to a cubicle nearby. Some ladies and men were caged in. The place was a little better than a police barrack. I felt a disgusting, putrid, foul smell. I had to endure.
“You missed your flight? Eh! Go and pay money now.”
I challenged her: “ When you postponed my flight, did you pay me any money?” She shrugged, a kind of gesture that one could write a whole book: What’s my business with that; you can go to hell; what the hell can you do; we have your scrotum in our palms, you can’t do nothing; we are the boss here, you are nobody.
“Next time, ask questions”
Me: If I didn’t ask questions, I did I come here? If I didn’t ask questions, why was I told to come by 6pm for the flight?” She feigned busy, took her phone and began to converse in her dialect.
One arrogant fellow behind beckoned to me: “Yah maney na 11 thaison and 219 naira.”
So I should pay 11,219 naira? At this moment, not missing the 6pm flight was the biggest challenge. I pulled my wallet and paid.
“I don’t have change,” the fellow snapped.
“You must give me my change,” I scowled.
“Let me go and find it.” The crook disappeared into the crowd. He left with my change, less than 100 naira but worth a million naira if the grain of faith in the episode is considered. It was a little thing, but there is always a huge element of faith as big as monument in every distrust. I wanted my change. Arik would not have collected its own money less one naira. This attitude by Arik is nothing but corporate banditry. The workers behave as if the success of the enterprise meant nothing to them. They acted as if Arik had no public image they should preserve of guide jealously. They were full of contempt and irredeemably nasty. I wondered if they never had any training in public relations. I left for the departure hall without my change. The 6pm flight was gone. “Go wait till 10pm” Can you imagine. I stood there, fuming. There was no sense of remorse. I do not know how a country can develop where humans are treated like cockroaches on the sidewalk by profiteers whose wealth depends on our sweat. While waiting for my flight, cancellation of another airline flight was announced. I overheard two victims lamenting as they filed on a line from the departure hall. He was saying aloud: I”d rather stay inside the airport than to be lodged five people in a room.”
We took after later, with the aircraft sounding like an old Bedford lorry. Some passengers already had their hand fans to deal with the indoor heat. The attendant made matters worse when he came to me: “You are sitting at the exit door. In case of emergency, pull the red knob. If you land on water, use the so and so.” I told my inner self: “Go back from me, you devil !!!.”
I didn’t get home until 1.30 am, after 16 hours of torture for a one hour journey. I’m still wondering how a country that hopes to meet (not global standards) West African standards will have airlines who are the country’s first rubbish the nation and even pour faeces on her humanity.