Sometime ago in 2012, a colleague and I needed to make a business trip from Lagos to Port Harcourt, and after considering all the travel options, we decided to go by air, with one of the more popular airlines. As is the norm these days, I decided to book the tickets 2 days in advance, and so I went online for what I thought would be a 10-minute exercise.
The tickets cost just under N17,000 each but I wasn’t able to make the payment on the airline’s website despite the fact that I had what I considered to be a fairly reliable Internet connection. I would get to the payment page and instead of seeing the payment options, the site would just display a blank page with a cursor circling endlessly in the center of the page.
By the next day when I was still experiencing the same blank page with the circling cursor on the airline’s website, my brother suggested that we should go to the airport and make the payment at the counter of the airline. By this time, the ticket price had gone up to slightly over N18,000 each and I was miffed that I had lost some money because the airline’s website was ‘sticky’.
Anyway, we went through some nasty Ikeja go-slow, and eventually got to the MM2 airport. Slightly destabilised from the heavy traffic, I got to the counter of the airline and requested to know the price of a ticket to Port Harcourt.
‘N25,000’ the lady behind the counter said in an expressionless voice.
‘N25,000??’ I asked amazed. ‘But it’s about N18,000 on your website.
‘The counter price is N25,000 Sir. That is how we sell it here. If you want to pay less than that, you could have booked it on our website.’
‘But I have been trying on your website for 2 days!’ I said, raising my voice slightly. ‘I didn’t want to come to the airport. Your site wasn’t functioning properly and that is why I came here. Am I being penalised because your site wasn’t working well?’
‘Sir, other people have been making bookings on our site’ she said, showing me some small pieces of paper containing what appeared to be booking references. ‘If you want to buy the ticket here, the price is N25,000.’ At this point, she looked past me as if to say ‘na you sabi, if you want to buy ticket, you buy; if you don’t want to buy, abeg…’
Exasperated, I tried to connect to their site again from my phone. My mobile service provider was at its best and so it didn’t happen. I then decided to call my brother in UK.
‘Dotun, please I need to you to go onto this airline’s website and book 2 tickets from Lagos to Port Harcourt. Once you do that, please send me the booking references by sms.’
‘It’s N22,000 each’ he said after a while.
‘N22,000?? Haaa?! Okay, just go ahead and book them.’
And that’s what he did. He booked them online in less than 5 minutes and I approached the counter lady again. This time, there was a queue. As I waited for my turn, I noticed that some other ladies also behind the counter were counting quite a lot of cash using an automatic note counting machine. It suddenly dawned on me that my card might not be accepted, so I leaned forward and asked them if I could pay with my card.
‘We only accept cash’ the poker-faced lady said in a monotone.
As God would have it, there was a Zenith Bank ATM close by so I went and drew the cash. When it got to my turn, the lady collected the money for the two tickets, and then she said to me ‘Oga, we charge N1,000 cash handling charge.’
‘Cash handling charge?’ I asked in disbelief.
‘Yes, it is N1,000 per ticket.’
I couldn’t believe it, ‘I didn’t want to pay cash’ I said, ‘this is …’
‘Robbery!’ interjected an angry customer who had been attended to before me, fire flashing from her eyes. ‘Is this a country?’ she asked. Nobody answered. Me, I was just tired but grateful to have finally bought the tickets. There was so much I had wanted to say but I guess that I felt it would be futile. The lady behind the counter gave me my tickets and gave the next customer a dull look. She was used to it; dealing with Nigerians.
We had a fruitful trip to Port Harcourt and were on the way back to Lagos a few days later. We got to the Port Harcourt airport and struggled to get boarding passes. There were only about 12 of us on the queue for boarding passes and I couldn’t understand why there was such a mad struggle. The scene at the airline’s check-in desk was like school children crowding round a seller of hot akara and dundun. From time to time some important-looking official would approach the desk and shout, ‘Hey, leave dat place!’ People simply ignored him; they were used to people like him.
Some foreigners – ‘white people’ were also on the queue. They stood at the back and exchanged knowing looks and wry smiles with each other. I felt so uncomfortable because they were comfortable with our unruly behaviour. It was as if they were saying, ‘this is your level, Nigerians. With all your airs and appearances, this is who you really are; Base, at the very best.’ It upset me because I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to successfully argue to the contrary.
My business partner, a correct Waffi guy and a Pastor disappeared into the mix at the check-in counter. He emerged 20 minutes later and said ‘my guy, let’s go’. How he got the boarding passes still remains a mystery to me.
We eventually got to the waiting lounge at about 8pm and sat down to relax, since our flight was scheduled for 9pm. I decided to use the rest room which is something I rarely do outside of my home if I can help it, so I excused myself and joined a short queue outside the entrance to the rest room. I was quickly taken aback by the fact that there were ladies and men on the same queue, waiting to enter the same rest room.
Whilst waiting on the queue which wasn’t moving, a junior official came out of a side door, and through the open door, we could see that there was another rest room on the other side. The lady in front of me was quick to respond.
‘Look, open that door for us! We are pressed!’ she shouted.
‘No!’ the man retorted, ‘this is for international.’
‘Ah ah, open it for us now…’ she insisted.
I was still wondering who the ‘us’ was, considering the fact that we were both male and female on the queue.
‘Oya, enter’ the man said magnanimously, and we all quickly entered the rest room, two ladies and three men. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what to expect in the rest room. Who was it really meant for, I wondered.
We got inside the rest room and to our immediate left was a row of sinks. Opposite the sinks was a wall and so we had to walk past this wall to get to the individual toilet cubicles. As soon as we walked past the wall (that is, on the other side of the wall) on our immediate left was a long urinal, for men to ease themselves in. And then directly opposite the urinal were 6 doors, alternately labelled Male and Female, so you had one female cubicle, and then a male cubicle and then a female cubicle, and then a male one, and so on. The arrangement was such that anybody coming out of any of the cubicles would be facing the long urinal, and anybody using it. Unbelievable.
Whilst I was still trying to analyse the decency of the situation, the lady in front of me entered the nearest open cubicle in front of her and locked the door. It was labelled ‘Male’. The Nigerian in me quickly kicked in and I entered the nearest empty cubicle, which was labelled ‘Female’. I finished and went to the row of sinks to wash my hands, standing uneasily beside my fellow Nigerian lady who earlier on had been ‘pressed’. She didn’t seem perturbed; I guess she was used to it, our Nigerian way of doing things. When I returned to the lounge, I narrated my experience to my colleague. ‘En hen?’ he enquired as if to say ‘so what?’ I just rested the matter.
At about 8:45pm, they made a boarding announcement for a 9pm flight to Abuja. My colleague said to me ‘you see that plane going to Abuja, that is the plane that is coming back to pick us to Lagos.’ ‘Ah ah’, I said, ‘our flight is 9pm now’, hoping that my speaking it aloud would somehow over-rule his matter-of-fact disposition. ‘Wait and see’ he said casually.
He was right. The plane came back for us at 11pm. As soon as the boarding announcement was made, there was a mad scramble to the tarmac. This time, the foreigners joined in the scramble. I said to myself that there must be something that they knew. I said to my colleague, ‘I wonder why people are rushing, all the seats are numbered and we have our boarding passes. There is no need to rush. Why can’t Nigerians queue? Shebi all of us are going. Honestly, God needs to help us o…’
When we entered the aircraft, the reason for the rush became clear when my colleague found someone sitting on his seat. My colleague showed the man his boarding pass which read 22E; the man on the seat showed my colleague his own boarding pass which was also 22E. Whilst they were still on the matter, another person arrived with the third 22E boarding pass. One of the passengers offered his solution. ‘I think you should all lap each other’ he said and we all burst out laughing. Nigerians, we sorted it out; we were used to it. We got to Lagos safely and when I finally settled down at home at 1am in the morning, I heaved a great sigh of relief and thanked God for His mercies.
In reality, I wasn’t used to it any more. Tired of it is more like it. I spent a lot of time asking myself why as Nigerians in Nigeria, we chose and continue to choose to do things wrong. My answer is that it is because we know that we can get away with it in Nigeria because there is no real penalty for falling short of system requirements.
In most developed countries there are integrated systems that govern everything. If you fall short of the system requirements, you will pay dearly for it literarily. If you don’t take the systems seriously, it will only be a matter of time before you either fall in line, or get thrown out. Nigeria is a long way away from being a developed country but we are on the way, and we will get there. I believe that as more and more people commit themselves to excellence, and as more and more integrated systems are put in place, the psyche of Nigerians will continue to change for the better, and we WILL get used to it.
Kayode Fasanya writes from the United Kingdom.