Airports are now like universities, every state in Nigeria wants to own one. Put more appropriately, state governors in Nigeria seemingly believe they wouldn’t have made a mark if they have not spent scarce resources (which could go into some more people oriented programmed) in building an airport…read: a wide area of asphalt in the middle of nowhere and a terminal building that has an arrival and departure hall.
Because the state next door have one and they feel it has somewhat become beneath their status to travel by road, decisions are taken to build an airport no matter how shabby looking and this is of course done to without recourse to the viability of such a project, the potential traffic flow, the availability of the right human resources to operate it and the overall impact on the people of the state on whose behalf the money is being spent in the first place.
I never knew Bauchi had an airport until the recent show of shame that followed the absence of a functional gangway for the disembarkation of passengers and the eventual resort to a ladder. Images from the incident with passengers in their flowing attires climbing down an aluminum ladder were as comical as they were worrrying. My initial thought was that it was a meme, a concocted handiwork of some youngster designed to provoke large scale laughter. But it was not. Lo and behold, these were Nigerian elites, the ones who can afford to fly, climbing down an airplane like palmwine tappers, in the year 2015.
This incident tells the story of all that is wrong with this country and her people more vividly than a million columns, books, tweets and paintings could ever manage. It painted a clear picture of how we live and survive in this place, how we are without shame even for the most embarrassing of events, how much of what we suffer is self inflicted and also reminds us, in case it was not already evident, that our problems are plenty.
The Bauchi story bears a simple summary: a plane (which I understand was chartered by guests to a wedding) lands at an obviously poorly equipped and badly ran airport, which I insist should not exist in the first instance (thumbs up to the pilot who agreed to land there), and its t turns out the gangway was not functional. The pilot whose responsibility it is to ensure the safety of all on board I hear decided it was best they went back. But the passengers, typical of Nigerians got unruly, defied the pilot and sought from the officials on ground, an alternative which resulted in the now infamous ladder.
There are those who see that actions of the passengers as an exhibition of the never-say-die spirit of the Nigerian, but in truth, it was a dance of shame with dangerous consequences. This follow-the-ladder approach to life is encapsulated in the ease with which we reach a compromise with inefficiency and excuse incompetence, it is seen in our willingness to endure whatever is thrown at us — suffering and smiling as Fela put it — and declaring ever so gleefully that we are ‘managing’. It is what drives our penchant to cut corners and resort to ridiculous measures to ‘pancake’ the wrinkles and acne afflicting our system, and it is responsible for how we as a people have come to accept that functioning systems are an exception to the rule, that we don’t deserve them.
How did we react to it? Unofficially, laughter, plenty of it online and some mundane arguement bothering largely on political affiliations. Officially, there was the usual huff and puff that is characteristic of our government when something like this happen. The minister jumps into the fray. He must be seen to be ontop of the situation. A statement is issued complete with the ‘no stone will be left unturned’ promise that all involved would be punished. We go back to our normal lives and wait for the next installment of tragic slapstick. We already know nothing will come out of the said probe, that nothing has come out of previous investigations of equally embarrassing incidences, that that is the way things are.
But then, we must ask ourselves, does it require a ministerial probe for the gangway of an airport to be functional? Who earns salary monthly for being in charge of that airport? Does he/she deserve to still have a job? Must we wait until their is a mishap before we get the very basic things right? I mean, what could be more basic than a gangway in an airport? Should the passengers on that flight have raised hell at the Bauchi state government, the Federal Airports Authority or any whatever agency of government it is that is responsible for the failure rather than simply following the ladder quietly and going their way?
The simple truth is this; if we are in anyway serious about change and advancing as a people, we must do away with the follow-the-ladder mentality as well as the circumstances that result to or are consequent upon them. Otherwise we are just deceiving ourselves.
Happy New Year.
First published here on Jan 5, 2016