Nigeria and poverty of values, by Ken Ugbechie
My passage from Lagos through Dubai to Bangkok, Thailand this past week is a passage from the dread of darkness to the luxuriant illumination of light. It also indexed in rather cruel but pedantic manner why some nations and their people are poor while other nations and their people bask in the majesty of riches and enduring wealth.
First, you are confronted at the so-called international airport in Lagos, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), by the shadow of hell. MMIA stinks in the most unhealthy proportion. It is hot like an overheated catacomb. And you just wonder, where is the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN)? Why can’t the agency in charge of airport maintenance and management in Nigeria perform the simple duty of keeping the airport clean and neat? By Jove, they do not require special sophisticated technology to do this; all they need is the right work ethic and value system among the FAAN staff to treat the national monument the same manner they would treat their own property.
The MMIA is a major gateway to the nation. It is the first port of call for the foreign investors that Nigerian leaders scour the surface of the earth chasing after and inviting to Nigeria to invest. Yet, the same airport just like its counterpart in Abuja, Port Harcourt and elsewhere is in decrepit, hot as hell with toiletries in short supply. With dirty toilets emitting the most noxious stench and some poorly kitted ‘toilet attendants’ snuggling around you with bits of tissue papers for your hygiene Nigerian airports have become transit camps for a horde of outgoing Nigerians looking for fresh air in other climes and incoming foreigners who are soon initiated into a culture that depicts life as a mere existential experience.
Aside the poor condition of the airport and the deliberate plot of its managers never to move it from the umbra of darkness and squalor to the shimmering radiance of splendour, there is the other matter of anticipatory and patronising security traits being exhibited by the amalgam of security personnel at the airport. The manner the potpourri of security personnel at the airport screen passengers with patronising and gratifying mien leaves much to the imagination and casts real smudge at their claim to professionalism. It is no surprise that despite the multiple layers of security checks (NDLEA, Immigration, Customs, Department of State Service – DSS – police, quarantine and airline officials, etc) some unscrupulous persons still jet in and jet out as drug couriers and money launderers without being caught. Sometimes, they are caught in other climes on behalf of Nigeria. It is a shame!
Security personnel at Nigerian airports should be more professional than they appear to be. Using patronising phrases as they screen passengers grossly corrodes their value and honour. They should copy from the style book of their counterparts in Dubai, Bangkok and other ports of entry around the world where airport security personnel do not attempt to establish more than professional rapport with passengers. They handle more volume of passengers yet they are brisk about it.
But, do you really blame our security personnel? They simply reflect our collective values which seek instant gratification, self-glorification and a proclivity to be rewarded for doing what is right and expected of us. In a sane society, the leadership of FAAN would never be spared for plunging the airports into suffocating ovens. There is no reason auspicious enough to justify why the air conditioners at the Lagos international airport are not functional and effective when the ones in the cars and homes of FAAN officials are coolants of the highest grade.
Thailand, just like Nigeria, is a developing nation. It has its fair share of the poor and the wretched, including the homeless. Within three years, it has hosted the ITU Telecom World, a global annual telecom festival organised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) twice, in 2013 and this year. No African nation has ever hosted the ITU telecom feast of such global dimension; not even Nigeria which commands the highest telecom market on the continent and one of the largest in the world, especially in mobile telephony.
The Asian country is smaller than Nigeria by far and it is not even as naturally endowed as Africa’s most populous nation but it has a different value system, and that makes the difference. Thailand has a massive airport compared to all the international airports in Nigeria put together. Yet, facilities at this airport work. The security personnel, and they are many, are courteous and professional. They recognise the place of tourism in the life of a nation and they are primed to promote it not by self-serving patronage of their visitors or by overbearing, in-your-face belligerence towards any visitor but by strict adherence to professional work ethic. Every Thai on duty dignifies his or her job. The toilets in the airports as with those at the Impact Arena, venue of this year’s ITU Telecom World are clean and decent. The air-conditioners at the airport, event venue and everywhere are working.
The leadership of Thailand is responsive and disciplined. At the opening ceremony of this year’s ITU show with global chief executive officers, regulators and the top hierarchy of the ITU in attendance, Thailand taught the rest of the world, particularly Africans, a lesson in time management. The programme brochure advertised the arrival and departure times of the Princess of Thailand, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who was to declare the event open following the death of their monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Princess arrived at the advertised time and dropped the microphone at 11.00am which was the exact time announced for her to exit the hall. Every step of the programme was managed to precision. The resource of time was respected and well-managed.
Were this programme to hold in Nigeria, the special guest of honour in the person of the President or the Vice President would keep the audience waiting. First, a super advance team would be sent to assess the audience, followed by an advance team which would give situation report to the protocol team and subsequently bid the special guest to begin the journey to the venue after both teams had ascertained that the hall was full enough to merit the majestic presence of the special guest.
In Thailand, it is not so. Janitors did their job with dignity; the leadership was at all times guided by the pristine values of respect for the other party; treating time as an irredeemable resource and abiding by laid down rules and etiquettes. At the end of the day, it’s about the values you keep and preserve. A nation is only poor if it does not double its effort to redeem the time; if it does not abide by law and order and if it sacrifices the supremacy of institutions for the enthronement of the supremacy of individuals.
Some Nigerians and Nigerian institutions are desecrating the land and embarrassing the citizenry. FAAN is one of such institutions. It has always behaved in the most irresponsible manner and it is down to the poverty of values inherent in the leadership of the behemoth agency bequeathed with the responsibility of managing the nation’s airports. FAAN must turn the corner and learn to start keeping our airports clean and healthy enough to receive the right investors.
Culled from Sunday Sun, November 20, 2016