(first published on facebook, circa November 2011)
Travelling internationally, even on the best of days, is stressful. It is much more so from the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos. The travel agents do their magic on the computers, combinations and permutations, to whip out the “best” fares. The internet slows down your on-line checking but at last you get the 2nd best seat on your scale of preference (the one by the emergency exit with loads of leg-room is NEVER available online). You meticulously check that your baggage isn’t over-weight and that you haven’t forgotten your passport at home and then, you set out.
Getting to the airport is fairly easy. There’s the customary traffic at Oshodi and now, there’s that massive crater in road just before you turn off the Oshodi-Apapa expressway so you (or your driver) need to be alert to all the random swerving that happens there. You pass the overgrown bushes and shrubbery in the median on the final approach to the airport and the occasional pothole here and there. You get to the airport and usually spend 10 minutes trying to get dropped off due to traffic on the departures lane. Finally, you’re out, you say no (or yes, perhaps) to the porter “offering” to carry your luggage and the person trying to sell you padlocks, walk to the terminal entrance….and then IT STARTS.
There’s a policeman at the door armed with a machine gun along with an airport security person with a baton as his own regulation weapon. If you’re wheeling your own luggage in, you should get past without incident. If it appears that you’re merely accompanying someone into the terminal or you arrive in non-conventional travel wear (e.g. shorts and a basketball singlet), you will be asked for your passport and ticket (yes, ticket, in this day and age when most arrive with boarding passes). Once it’s been ascertained that your documentation is complete, just before it’s handed back to you, they will ask you, “What do you have for us?”
You walk towards the flight desk and (again to surprise, mostly) they write your name down on a piece of paper (even though, uhm, you arrived with your boarding pass, which is only available after you’ve checked in online!). Then they do that “wash-wash” friendliness, asking you where you’re from and throwing the only word they know in your dialect at you, trying to slick you over. Then, just before they hand back your passport and ticket/e-ticket/boarding pass, they will ask you, “What do you have for us?”
Then, your baggage needs to be hand-searched by the Customs people. They try to intimidate you. “What is this?”, as she squeezes your transparent bag of garri or has he holds up what is obviously a tuber of yam wrapped thinly in old newspaper. “Is this allowed where you’re going?” (YOU tell me, punk!) And finally, as she indicates that you can begin to re-pack your luggage, she will ask you “What do you have for us?” In the abridged version of this segment, right before you unzip your bag, you may get asked “Wetin you get for your broda? Jus’ give us something make we ‘roger’ you.”
At last, you get to the baggage drop counter. More “washing”, asked where you’re from and why do you have a middle name from a different tribe (duh-uh), your bag gets tagged and then, the double whammy…. “What do you have for us?” from both the porter who tags your bag and the agent who printed the tag (why are they separate, I hear you ask?).
Passport control. However, there are two policemen at the entrance to passport control who check that you have a boarding pass before letting you in. Of course, after a cursory glance at the probably now wrinkled pass (from all the retrieving and putting back in your pocket or purse), they also will ask you “What do you have for us?” The immigration guys who stamp your passport will ask “What do you have for us?” The guys standing on the duty-free side after the x-ray machines and the metal detectors, who I only just recently learned were Drug Enforcement Agents (NDLEA – the same guys who made Baba Suwe’s bowel movements a subject of international interest) will ask you “What do you have for us?” Even at the final search of your person and your hand-luggage just before you board the aircraft, the friskers ask you “What do you have for us?”
What do you have for us?
Nothing, you plonkers!! I have decided not to part with a single penny at the airport ever again (unless I’m purchasing refreshments, of course). There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I refuse to contribute to laughable security conditions that “having something for them” would (or already) lead to. Secondly, as, even if I was minded to give “something”, there is no way I could give at all the points of demand and, as each demander is as stupid and hopelessly misguided as the next, it would be most unfair to the ones who received nothing from me if I gave to any of them. Simples.