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, Johnson Babalola for affording me the opportunity early this year to fulfil 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 travellers 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.
Friendly Customer Service Attitude
I believe there is a difference between friendliness and impeccable customer service. When you experience a combination of friendliness and impeccable customer service, it is delightful. My personal opinion is that most British service providers emphasise and diligently work towards impeccable customer service while most of their staff tend to be unfriendly. Most Canadian service providers possess friendly staff but lack customer service orientation. Nigerian service providers? They completely lack both. As I forewarned, this is my personal opinion.
In Montego Bay, it was a sublime experience. My very good friend, Andy Azike with whom I shared a room and spent most of my time throughout the trip does not suffer fools gladly. Like two kids having an adventure of a time with some bit of mischievousness, our numerous attempts to rattle the courteous temperament of the Jamaicans that attended to us during the trip were unsuccessful. At the end of our trip, we could not but give a very high score to the impeccable friendly customer service we got throughout our stay.
As a traveller, a migrant and a student of international politics with special interest in migration and the African Diaspora, I know that every race, ethnic group and nation has its own pocket of “ugliness”. However, for a large number of people, hasty generalisations about a country or/and its people are more often than not drawn from just a single encounter with this pocket of ugliness, more so against the background of stereotyping by most Western press.
Quite a few people in our holiday group expected a certain level of insecurity in Jamaica based on the “little” they have heard about the country as well as their “Nigerian experiences”. I cannot fully judge this expectation on the basis of a few days. However, as we went on sightseeing driving through some of the Jamaican parishes and going to shop, I did not see buildings with high fences, massively intimidating security gates, or terrorising security wires.
Our hotel rooms (just like any decent hotel rooms anywhere in the world) had provisions for a safe to lock away items, but they could only take small items like jewelleries, payment cards, currencies, and traveling documents. In any case, I have never seen the need for making use of them simply because: my cash and card always fit perfectly in my wallet, my card holds the barest minimum credit thus limiting my loss in case it gets into the wrong hand; and practically, I always carry my travel documents on me in case there is a need to “take flight” (not because of anything sinister on my part) at any point in time.
Throughout our stay, we had no cause to be worried about our personal safety or the security of our possessions. Most of us had too much technology that we could not practically lug about every minute and these were left in the hotel room. It was not strange to find in a single room at least two laptops, two cameras, an iPad if not two or more, many smartphones, etc. all lying around with the occupants away. Yet, no one complained of losing anything. Even, when a member of our group decided to give one of the hotel maids an item she had bought which did not meet her need, the hotel maid refused to accept the gift unless the giver signed a document to show that the item was freely given and not stolen. The children had a time of their lives doing their own thing with practically little adult supervision and no parental cause to worry about abduction, molestation, etc.
The only blight for me (and I guess for everyone on the Jamaican trip) happened some minutes before we left Montego Bay. In between clearing security and the boarding gate of our flight, JB’s wife lost her iPad. Since a number of us in the group were Apple junkies carrying a combination of iPhones, iPods, iPads and Macs, the first question I asked when I was told of the loss was if she had “Find My iPad” set up on the gadget so that we could locate the item whilst in the airport. Unfortunately, she did not.
In spite of all frantic efforts, we could not find the iPad. Although, glad of our holiday experience and already resolved to work very hard to save and go back, we left Jamaica a little bit on a sour note because of the lost iPad.
Guess what my dear friends? 13 days after our return from Montego Bay, I received an email from JB that his wife’s iPad has returned home breathing in the freezing cold air of Canada. Montego Bay airport security staff found and returned the iPad by FEDEX. I know Nigeria still has good, honest, trustworthy and sincere people as Pius Adesanmi as well as Azuka Onwuka attested to. But in a nation where it seems pockets of honest citizens have been greatly overwhelmed by a large retinue of evil minded human beings, would that iPad ever see Canadian daylight again if it was lost in Nigeria, more so not being found on the spot and the owner already departed from the shores of the country from which they were both parted? Your guess is as good as mine.
Jamaica and Montego Bay in my mind
In as much as over 40% of the Jamaican population are of African descent, and specifically of Nigerian Igbo origin, I felt naturally at home especially in the midst of people who knew more than I about Nollywood, its actors and actresses. I cannot but laugh when I remember the scene where AA and I were thought to be part of the Nigerian movie industry because he looked like one of the Igbo actors and I was carrying around a telephoto camera.
However, as a Nigerian, I was ashamed the day we got into Montego Bay (and as we got into the coach taking us to our hotel) when the young Jamaican chap who was giving us guidance boasted that at least 95% of the island’s residents had treated pipe borne water, and that we do not need to worry about diarrhoea, wasting our money on bottled water because the Jamaican tap water is safe and drinkable.
The little road network I saw in Montego Bay was not fanciful – mostly paved single lane carriageways with no pot holes. Our tour guide had warned us of CJ’s, not Chief Justice in Nigerian parlance but Crazy Jamaicans [drivers] who execute dangerous driving manoeuvres in unexpected places. After highlighting three of such experiences, I laughed to myself that the Jamaicans were just students in the art of crazy driving who are in need of visiting Nigeria to learn from the Masters.
Overall, what did Montego Bay reminded and still reminds me of?
Montego Bay of 2013 reminded me of Nigeria in the early 1970s – paved and well maintained roads, uninterrupted electric supply, ever flowing treated pipe borne water, houses with no or low fences, and a naturally endowed serene and beautiful environment. Above all, it reminded me of a friendly and courteous people engaged in their labour providing goods/services with smile, dignity and pride.
Jamaica reminds me of a country with no vast mineral endowment (unlike Nigeria) but natural beauty and tourist endowments (like Nigeria). It showed me how a nation without oil and other mineral deposits can thrive and be economically viable on the basis of developing its tourism and arts industry as foreign exchange earners (unlike Nigeria where our tourism potentials – Yankari Games Reserve, Ikogosi Warm Water Spring, Olumo Rocks, etc – have been deliberately killed). Until now when the Ministry of Tourism is promoting investment in our tourism sector, and in Ikogosi’s case, Dr Kayode Fayemi’s government saw the importance of the warm spring as an effective means of employing the teeming masses of Ekiti Youths whilst boosting the internally generated revenue (IGR) of the state.
My Jamaican trip taught me a lesson in management. That a business is dead-from-the-start the moment you employ managers who do not have a sense of prioritising tasks that would enable the enterprise to grow and achieve its objectives. That when a country has at the helms of affairs managers who can only identify schemes that will run the nation’s finances aground (whilst benefiting a few), that country is in the fast lane on a highway headed for doom.
Jamaica highlights to me the bliss Nigeria and Nigerians should be enjoying had it been we managed well all the natural, mineral, cultural as well as human resources God endowed us with.
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