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Nigerian Airports: Beggars beggars everywhere!


It happens everywhere in Nigeria. And all the time.You reach the airport. And you have to use the toilet. You reach the toilet. And there are some young men loitering there. They welcome you with effusive greetings. The sort of greetings you know you may have to pay for in Nigeria. They hang around with rolls of tissue paper in their hands. You think nothing of their gaze that lingered on you. You jump into the toilet. There is no tissue paper there.

So you swallow your pride and come out. You hadn’t wanted anyone to know your actual mission. But the boys have seen many like you. They meet you at the door and cut you a slice of tissue before you ask. You go back into the toilet without dignity. They remain at the door, welcoming other patrons. And waiting for you. Now you are aware they are aware. You try to keep everything soundless. But those intestinal emergencies are often raucous. You wonder how much of the rogue noises that slipped out they have heard. You will have to keep straight face.

You are done. You are comporting yourself, trying to find the right bearing. Rather than keep their gazes down, they pour their eyes into your eyes. They do not understand that people need their privacy in toilets. And the airport management taught them nothing. They should be outside, somewhere else doing something, and coming in occasionally, to tidy the toilets.

They turn on the tap for you. And spill liquid soap into your open palms. You try to hide your embarrassment as much as you can. Before you finish your hand wringing, they roll out tissue paper large enough for ten people. They want you to clean your hands with it. That is their idea of customer service, and perhaps generosity. You point to the electric hand dryer. Hand dryers are more hygienic. They shake their heads. They don’t work. They never work. You clean your hands in an abundance of tissue paper. If you waste time or wince, they roll out more tissue for you.

While you are cleaning your hands they draw closer. That is their time. Their time to tell ‘Daddy’ that ‘they are loyal.’ Their time to say “….uncle we are at your service sir. Anything sir. Anything for your boys.” You take a moment to wonder if you should perpetuate the ugly culture by giving them alms. Or if you should frown and walk away and be deemed an ingrate by a bunch of underemployed fellow Nigerians.

In one moment at the airport you are accosted by a dozen of the ills that plague the Giant of Africa.

The airport toilets are shabbily constructed. They often look like structures they were not in the original design. Three tight toilets for an airport hall that has seats for a thousand. So many times flights come in, people queue behind others at the urinals. There you are forced to witness all kinds of micturition problems bedeviling aging men.

The airports have hand dryers. But no one bothers to keep them functional. So the airport management buys rolls of tissue papers that are used lavishly and wasted.

The airports hire workers but they don’t train them well. There is zero re-orientation away from the culture at motor parks. So they come to the jobs at the airports to serve clients with ‘area boy’ attitudes. The nosing and begging that happen in the toilets are very uncomfortable. But they do not threaten safety of passengers. The begging that happens at scanning points are dangerous. They are a danger to aviation security.

If the airport authorities kept an eye on their staff they would have long discovered the nuisance they constituted at the toilets and everywhere else. When the scanners fail, and they fail rampantly, you can check in a bag without a search, for a small tip. You don’t have to worry about how you will initiate the discussion. The airport security men will initiate it with their eyes. Everyone is either begging or indignantly expecting one tip or the other.

I don’t know if it solves the problem of joblessness that is ailing the society. We hire too many people for too little work. Their redundancy births more nuisance. Three toilets for a thousand passengers will have four grown men loitering in them clutching onto tissue papers. The use of traditional conveniences become very inconvenient. At the scan point there will be a community of people trying to carve out opportunities to beg for money. One functional scanner but 5-6 idling people. At the luggage section, the bags come onto the carousels late and come in trickles. The luggage trucks are small and few. But the luggage department is filled to the brim with workers.

It’s only in Nigeria that people loiter in toilets in airports asking stupid questions and serving tissue paper.

The airports do not audit their processes. And they do not seek client feedback. If they did they would have discovered the culture of begging that has permeated all processes at the airports.

Written by — UGOJI EBUJO

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