I have decided to write this short, reflective travel blog or article against the background of 3 key Nigerian issues which were highlighted recently by write-ups from Okey Ndibe, Pius Adesanmi and Simon Kolawole. These include: the state of Nigerian airports, the unprofessional and sometimes utterly unfriendly attitude of Nigerian service providers, and the insecurity of lives as well as properties.
Beyond being hooked on reggae music like a number of people with whom I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, my years of sojourn in the United Kingdom afforded me the opportunity to forge an enduring relationship with folks from some of the Caribbean Islands. Over the years, these friends have tried unsuccessfully to get me on the plane to visit their beautiful countries with them. The result of such failures on my part are yet to be drunk bottles and bottles of rum/gin in my bags in the UK.
In view of the above, I am grateful to God and to my dear friend as well as brother, JB for affording me the opportunity early this year to fulfill a decade old desire to put my feet on Jamaican soil.
Montego Bay Airport
Even from the air, as your plane is descending from the sky and the pilot is aligning the big bird for landing, Sangster International Airport looked small, orderly, maintained and clean in comparison to Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos. This first impression is reinforced on your entrance into an effectively cooled and well lit terminal. The cleanliness of the terminal interior as well as the conveniences effectively competes with the standard you will expect from any international airport worth its salt.
As we approached the immigration desks, we were met with friendly professional officers telling us what we needed to do to get through immigration quickly. Landing forms were checked to ensure they had been filled as required and mistakes were highlighted for correction as appropriate. There were more than 6 (six) staffed desks each with an individual to check traveling and landing documents in comparison to Nigeria’s usual two/three desks staffed with two officials inefficiently passing your documents between themselves with endless waiting in a very hot and humid airport devoid of any effective cooling system.
Passing through immigration at Sangster was like a breeze for us, but given our large group, we waited for others to clear immigration before heading to the luggage area to collect our checked-in items. Well placed directions guided us to the luggage collection area where I sighted at least two working conveyor belts. As I approached the one designated for our flight and discovered that it was practically empty of any bag more than 45 minutes after we had landed, alarm bells started ringing in my head.
I did not need to worry. Airport staff at the luggage area, tired of waiting for our group of travelers to show up and collect their personal effects, had taken all our bags and suitcases off the conveyor belt.
Apart from taking them off the belt, the bags were carefully put aside and grouped together where they could match surnames and flight origin. Furthermore, in a number of cases, such grouped bags where already put on trolleys waiting for the family members to appear and whisk their items out of the airport.
Beyond those officials that needed to attend to us as part of our entrance into Jamaica, not once did any other person approach us to talk less of harassment or being asked “Oga, wetin you bring for us”. We did not have to pay for a trolley, there was no Jamaican with his/her eyes “extra-bright” waiting to ruffle through your bags to see if he/she could extort some dollars from you, and definitely no loiters or touts within and outside the terminal buildings.
For a black nation, one that is not classified as “developed”, the closest I have experienced in terms of such a dutiful, friendly courteous and effective airport service was during my trip to Ghana a few years back.
(To be continued next week in Part II)
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