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In the spirit of ‘just like that’

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Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja

The assertive ‘just like that’ or the question form: ‘just like that?’ is a form of phrasal expression that we are widely familiar with in our beloved country. Just like that has an underlying spirit, the spirit of ‘doing things anyhow,’ to break it down in pidgin English. It sounds conversational, ordinary and harmless. But it carries deep connotations. For example, when a man says ‘he died while waiting for the doctor’s attention in the emergency section;’ ‘Just like that? the other participant in the conversation would ask. And the first information giver would respond: ‘Yes, just like that’. There is a sense in which ‘just like that’ means impunity. ‘The only senator representing Urhobo people was suspended just like that.’ ‘Just like that? the response would be! ‘His house suffered arson attack and nothing came of it.’ ‘Just like that? Yes ooo, just like that! Or, ‘Nnamdi Kanu disappeared from public view after the Nigeria Army invaded Umuahia’. Just like that? ‘Yes; no one knows his whereabouts; just like that ooo’!

Just like that! We do things just like that. One Nigerian musician once sang about ‘Nigeria scatter scatter!! Everything jagajaga.’ Definitely, everything is not jagajaga, as then President Obasanjo pointed out to him, at least not everything is jagajaga. While some things are straightforward, other things are jagajaga. Traffic in Lagos could be jagajaga just like the highway to Benin from Sagamu is often jagajaga during festive periods. ‘Just like that’ is a form of jagajaga. It refers to anomie, indiscipline, corruption, exploitation, sexploitation, herdsmen attack, collusion between security forces and herdsmen (as General Danjuma has eloquently said) and lack of respect for established behaviour, convention or codes. In fact, Baba Danjuma said Nigeria Army is jagajaga in the fight against herdsmen in Taraba because they look the other way ‘just like that!

In the days when there were no direct flights from the US to and from Nigeria, on one of my trips, I traveled through Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam in the company of many Nigerians from Atlanta. I couldn’t believe the degree of comportment which reigned among us while we were in the U.S. We all somehow headed for the check-in counter of Lufthansa, the carrier that would take us into Lagos. At the Swissair counter which was next to Lufthansa’s, there was a high population of Ghanaians. The counter was quiet, with the often slight murmuring sound from an assembly of people. At Lufthansa’s the noise was something else. The harassed staff managed to board us and the plane taxied off. The spirit of Nigeria, the spirit of ‘just like that’ immediately entered the plane. Were these the well comported men and women who flew Delta into Schiphol? What held them in check for the eight hours that we remained inside that giant bird all the time and all the way? There is indeed something about the social environment we have found ourselves. I know that when Nigerians queue up to get the American visa in Lagos or Abuja nobody behaves just like that!

As the flight gradually left the airspace of the European continent, the spirit of ‘just like that’ grew out of hand. A passenger with a heavy South Eastern accent actually insulted one of the hostesses, leering at her, and making all kinds of rude remarks. I was definitely ashamed of the spirit of ‘just like that’ on that day. But the spirit was also infectious. Nobody, not one of us was able to stop, or made any attempt to stop the loose-cannon that was the leering trader-passenger. Indeed quite a number had a good laugh and the entire cabin became a house of commotion. It got worse as the pilot announced we were going to land in Lagos. I am sure the crew must have felt relieved to see us go. I am also sure that but for the huge revenue which the route gives those European airlines, we would have been blacklisted!

There was once a Nigeria Airways which we ran aground just like that. It flew both domestic and international routes. It had capable pilots, some of the best on the continent. But the national pastime of ‘just like that’ crept into the bowels of the carrier and boom! It went burst. As we write there are pensioners from that airline who are still waiting to be paid their pensions. In the last years of the national carrier it was fashionable to have two hundred passengers jostling for 180 seats. In other words we could have 200 passengers with boarding passes whereas the seats were just 180. Officials flew without paying the fare- just like that. It was just a question of time for the airline to go under just like that.

What has baffled me is that we have not in the spirit of ‘just like that’ revived a national carrier. Each time I travel outside the country and is the the national carriers of other nations, less endowed nations, I remember the spirit of just like that. It is very possible for the spirit of just like that to revive the national carrier. If we could have a Dangote then a National carrier is possible. And that is the direction the Nigerian government should think, should look. Picture yourself as a Nigerian taking off from Johannesburg or London or Atlanta or Dubai on a Nigerian airline which flies the Nigerian flag. Why is it not a priority? Is it because we are uncertain about the very survival of the Nigerian State? Apart from the pride of the carrier, it will bring revenue and all the huge sums which the arrogant foreign airlines rake in from us would come back home. Or at least there would be some competition with the airlines who charge Nigerian passengers arbitrary fares.

Time was when it was not ‘just like that! I remember going to the Post Office to receive postal orders (money) sent to me at school by my father. (I can bet that our kids in Nigeria, the millennials have no idea what a Post Office is). I remember going to borrow and return books from a Mobile library run by Midwest State Government. I remember sleeping over at a Police Station in Sokoto when I arrived in that city late in the night as Youth Corps man. I remember Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN, the forerunner of NEPA) announcing to a town or city that there would be power failure between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. The spirit of ‘just like that’ has to be killed. Perhaps when we restructure the country the spirit will be revived because it was the unitary form of federalism that we inherited that caused the chaos.


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