Friday, February 15, 2013

OFILI: It’s A National Crisis When A Nation Can’t Spell Nationality?

I had just checked in, cleared customs and got my baggage tagged. All that was left for me to do was to dump my luggage on the conveyor belt and then head to my departure gate.
But as I move to drop my bag on the belt, I am stopped…as a Nigerian in an International Airport, I am all too familiar with this scenario. It is the random check that happens to randomly check me all the time. I guess nothing scares white people more than a 30-something young male Nigerian travelling alone.

But instead of being greeted by a heavy set customs officer with an aggressive barking dog, I am instead apprehended by a young man at the conveyor belt. He can’t stop staring at my bag and I in turn can’t stop staring at him staring at my bag until I realize that he is not mesmerized by my luggage but rather by the fact that my luggage is leaking oil all over the airport floor.
I immediately open up my box to detect the source of the leak…only to find out that my hair spray (don’t judge me) had somehow managed to uncover itself and mysteriously spray itself inside my box. I suspected that someone from my village must have jazzed my hairspray…but I had no proof! So instead of wasting time cursing the person in the village…I decided to move to the side to fix up my box.
While rearranging my luggage, I observe the guy from the conveyor belt diligently inspecting each bag before they are placed on the conveyor belt.
Now a conveyor belt inspector job…to me is not the greatest job in the world. Nobody gets up in kindergarten or nursery school and yells “I want to be a conveyor belt inspector!” I mean who can blame them, all you do is watch people drop bags over and over again…but this guy was different. He was clearly focused on his job. In the 3 minutes that I spent fixing up my bag, I watched as he alerted an old lady about possible damage to her medical illegal drug containers if placed on the conveyor belt and then how he informed a middle aged man that his baggage had no tags, meaning that there was no way to route his bags to their final destination #lostluggage
In the space of 3 minutes and some seconds, the conveyor belt inspector, prevented my luggage and clothes from arriving over-soaked with hair spray, prevented a lady’s drug package from getting damaged and helped ensure that a man’s luggage did not get lost.
And in those 3 minutes I learned that all jobs are as important as the person doing it. Other people would have just frowned at how sucky being a conveyor belt inspector was…and just let any bag go through. But either from an internal drive or proper explanation of the critical importance of his job…the conveyor belt guy as I would like to call him carried out his job with pride and seriousness.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for our airport workers who for the most part are more interested in finding money in your baggage than finding cocaine or bombs. One can argue that this is a direct result of our poor economic situation, but I beg to differ. It may play a factor, but I believe the main factor is a lack of understanding of the importance of ones job.
I say what I say from a point of experience…I travel more than is healthy enough. I spend more time at the Lagos domestic airport than I spend at home (obvious exaggeration). And from the the moment I enter any of the Murtala Mohammed Airport’s whether domestic or international…the abandonment of worker responsibility begins and the hunt for money dominates.
It starts with the guy weighing your bags, who is not focused on the weight of your bag but rather the weight of your wallet. And then it continues on to the customs officials who act as if they are looking for contraband goods, when all they are looking for are the contrabands of dollars and naira. If you manage to survive their onslaught you will still have to face the guys at the security screening post. These are the ones operating the x-ray machines…half of the time they are looking at you instead of the screen. You can ship a snake in your carry on luggage and they won’t even notice, unless the snake happens to be your snake skin wallet!
Little wonder that after you go through all the security inspection hoop-la for International flights…you are re-screened again at your gate by the Lufthansa’s and KLM’s of the world! Because awon Oyinbo people, just don’t trust that our security people understand the importance of their jobs…and this to me is the most damning. Not the fact that our security can be breached by snakes and bombs, but the fact that there is a prevailing image that Nigerian workers can’t be trusted! And yet management doesn’t see this as a national crisis.
To be honest I doubt they will ever…because management just does not get it. What they don’t get is that people judge a country by their first impression, and unless people are entering our country through spaceships or submarines…chances are that they are entering Nigeria through our airports. So we have to ensure that we deliver a good first impression…but sadly we don’t and we don’t seem to care about the fact that we don’t.
nationallyJust last year when I was entering Nigeria, I was handed an immigration form. Ignoring the fact that the print quality on the immigration paper was not the greatest…I could not but help to notice that the word “NATIONALITY” had been misspelled “NATIONALLY.” That was August of forward to January of 2013 and I am handed the same form with the words “NATIONALITY” misspelled again and in the exact same manner. Now I am sure people are saying what is the big deal…
It goes back to the conveyor belt mentality. Whoever was in charge of printing those cards and putting it on the plane was not aware of the importance of those cards in defining Nigeria’s image. To a foreigner, it shows that Nigeria as a nation is not focused on getting simple things right, and if a nation can’t get the simple things right such as the spelling on a legal document, how can they get the complex things right?
I am sure that millions of Nigerians (some even reading this article) have passed through that airport and seen the exact same error I am talking about and I am quite sure that a couple of them would have pointed this out to the customs officers. I am also sure that even before being notified of this glaring error that some customs officer had already noticed it and informed their bosses about it. I am also quite sure that when the cards were initially printed somebody saw the error and spoke up, but probably was told to shut up and just put the cards on the plane. 
But yet we all travel to other countries, we see the quality of their immigration cards but we can’t get the same quality on a simple piece of paper!
It all boils down to people not understanding the importance of doing a proper print job…I mean let’s gloss over the fact that the immigration card is an actual legal document similar to a passport, or gloss over the fact that if you or I publish a blog with typos that we would get more comments than a naked Rihanna instagram picture…
Let’s gloss over all that and instead focus on the key issue…you see the issue is not that we cannot fix the error on the paper…but rather that we as a nation do not deem the problem important enough to warrant fixing. It is not that we cannot fix our roads or maintain them properly, but rather that we do not deem it important enough to do so. It is not that we cannot fix the entry terminals of our international airport so that it looks beautiful so that foreigners are impressed with our country, but rather that we do not deem it important enough to fix. It is not that our restaurants cannot provide the best in customer service, but rather that they don’t deem customer service important enough to be delivered.
This is and has always been the issue in Nigeria…not that we can’t do shit…but that we don’t have people in charge that consider shit important enough to be fixed. If only we had more people like the conveyor belt boy in power…then maybe…just maybe things will be a little better. Nigeria…the solutions are simple, but the excuses are plenty.


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