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Not a good day to travel

By Patrick Dele Cole
07 May 2019   |   3:55 am
I was booked for a 6pm flight on Arik to Port Harcourt. We passed the nearly completed beautiful road to the International Airport...

Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP

I was booked for a 6pm flight on Arik to Port Harcourt. We passed the nearly completed beautiful road to the International Airport and then paid the toll gate on the way to the domestic terminal. Soon after Sahara Energy airport offices, I saw street vendors, the first telltale sign of traffic jam on the road to the local terminal. Three weeks earlier, I had also crossed the toll gate for a 6:45pm flight to Abuja. I passed the gate at about 3:30pm. I arrived Arik terminal at 7:15pm – the plane had left. I returned home. On that first experience, I saw okada (motor-bike) riders on the opposite road which was free, except for the occasional siren whisking VIPs on the wrong side of the road to the airport.

Some smart people hailed the bikes which carried their small carry-on luggage to the terminal. I was stuck. Legions of street sellers told me that if I intended to make that flight I would have to improvise. I took my Ghana- must- go bag and small baggage – hailed an okada which took me to the terminal. He made signs to the numerous police check points which told me he was a policeman or soldier.

My Personal Assistant followed my okada and we arrived at MM2 in six minutes. We were each charged N2, 000. I asked why and he said that he would have to pay N500 to the Police at each of the three check points. My car did not arrive at MM2 till 7pm by which time I had already arrived in Port Harcourt.
My Personal Assistant and driver could not believe I was going to go on an okada. According to them, I looked like a fat old elephant weighed down by baggage on a bike that was shaking with my weight and luggage. The whole of my family was appalled. They said I am a nearly 80 year old man, fat for lack of exercise, obviously demented and on a suicide mission. What would have happened if I fell and broke my bone! I should have had a photograph for this folly. My family had always suspected that I was rather odd. Now they are sure am certifiable!!

There are several observations and lessons from this story. The road from the international Terminal to the Local and its toll gate should be for those travelling by air to various locations. It has now become the “shortcut” for motorists going to several parts of Lagos – Agege and other areas. There should be another road for those going from the international to local wing of the Murtala Mohammed airport that is not encumbered by other road users who have nothing to do at the airports.

I was amazed how quickly Nigerians learn to exploit any situation for money. There is a ban on okada riders in most parts of Lagos – including the airports, Victoria Island, Ikoyi, etc. Our security personnel have learnt to augment their pay by carrying passengers on okada in these areas where okadas are prohibited because they know that no check points would affect them as members of our security agencies. The okada traffic on these auxiliary roads is getting big and it is a well-known fact that on a bad day, the quickest means to the airport, especially if one is travelling light, is a motor-bike. However, the high charges come as a surprise because such a short distance should not cost more than N50 ordinarily. But from N50, to N2, 000 is quite a jump! Traffic jams are good for street sellers. But on this particular road, the fare the policeman okada rider charged me was pure extortion. He gladly told me it was for bribing other policemen or security personnel on that route! No shame!.

On Wednesday, I was going from Port Harcourt to Abuja. President Buhari was coming to commission some unfinished projects by Governor Ambode on that same day. I noticed that Bola Tinubu was not at the commissioning ceremonies.

Travellers are at the mercy of these okada drivers. They would gladly pay N2,000 and fly rather than miss their flights which would cost a lot more – taxi fare back home: charge for no show by the airline when next they fly; the near impossibility of getting a refund for the airfare, the lost meeting opportunity at destination, etc.

I had planned to go to Abuja from Port Harcourt on the first flight leaving at 8:30am for a short meeting in Abuja at 10: 15am and to be back to Lagos by 1:30pm if I caught the 12:15 flight. We left Port Harcourt at 8:40am but could not land in Abuja because of “Presidential movement”. We hovered in the air for one hour before landing. My meeting in Abuja was frustrated, but I managed to change it to 1pm and was back at the airport at 2; 30pm – having confronted a protest march of Shiites in Abuja which completely blocked the road. My driver’s deft maneuvering avoided the worst of the demonstration. I had a meeting planned for Lagos at 1pm by my original plan. I got a ticket to Lagos for 3pm but again the airport was closed due to Presidential movement! I left Abuja eventually at 8pm arriving Lagos about 9pm. My meeting in Lagos could not hold anyway because President Buhari was in town and all of Isolo and environs were cordoned off. Because of his flight and the closure of Lagos and Abuja for his movement, the schedules of all flights were shot to pieces. The airlines run a very tight schedule – some go Lagos – Abuja – Kano; Abuja – PH; Abuja, Enugu, Uyo, etc. If the plane is prevented from keeping its original schedule, it still has to fly that route whenever the restriction caused by the Presidential movement is lifted. That was how my movement from Port Harcourt to Abuja to Lagos took me all of nearly 14 hours. God bless Presidential movement. Did I say bless – well you know better.

Why should the airports and airspace be closed when Mr. President flies? It does not happen in other countries. Can you imagine London, Frankfurt, New York, and Washington airports being closed whenever the President or the Queen, Prime Minister travels?