This is the beginning of a series capturing my trip to Edo State to monitor elections via social media. Trip was made under the auspices of Enough is Enough Nigeria, and funded by the World Bank. I’ll capture the trip to, the events in Benin, and the trip back. Ready?
Right. The date for the trip? Friday the 13th, famous for people who believe in superstition. Funnily, I saw a black cat the day before, but I’m sure it doesn’t count. Again, I slept very well the night before (very unusual if you know how I get before trips).
I had a few things to sort out that morning, and my flight was for 1pm; was worried because apart from waking up late, the ache in my lower back that started on Wednesday was manifesting with an intensity that was scary. I collected the ekpang nkwukwo (traditional Cross Riverian dish made from cocoyam, pumpkin/green leaves and lots of different meats) I had ordered the day before, went to renew my Starcomms subscription, and then went to play with my nephew.
I hitched a ride to the airport with Mercy Abang, my friend and colleague, and the first sign of trouble was the long queue of cars as we entered the airport; that turned out to be child’s play compared to the people waiting to check in. Let’s digress; I think it is very unfortunate that there is only one airline operating out of the International Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Arik Air. We all know about the disaster with Dana, and Air Nigeria has not only been suspended, four of the planes in their fleet have been repossessed. Again, I think that Arik Air is under a lot of pressure to satisfy customers that have almost trebled with the misfortunes of the other airlines. Have they increased their fleet? No. Employed more staff? No. Instead their pilots are ignoring weather forecast warnings, and putting people in danger!
Our 1pm flight was called at 1.15pm, by which time I was doubled over in pain and trying to convince myself to still go on the trip. We went through the boarding gate (which was a corridor with a guy signing our boarding passes) and then we got in the bus on the tarmac to take us to the plane. Typical cramped six sitting, three hundred standing scenario (yes I’m exaggerating but you get the idea), and now I had sights, sounds, and smells to contend with. I watched a flight wait for one guy; they re-opened the doors when the guy (and his military aide) got to the plane. I miss England…. British Airways wait for you? Try yourself!!
Time check? 1.50pm; we had been standing by the plane for about 20 minutes, under the sun. Then we were told that there was no fuel. What!! Why do we do things that are unheard of everywhere else? I had tears in my eyes. Why take us out of the lounge at all if there was no fuel? We milled into the bus, and ended up in the lounge that barely had space to stand. Plastic bottles of mineral sold for N300. We got some, and then some heavily made up lady, color blocked to the teeth bought a can of Guinness extra smooth, wrapped it in nylon, opened it, and then sipped with a straw. Amused me to no end.
Then we heard, ‘final boarding call for Arik flight xyz to Benin’. What!! Final boarding call? Thought you just told us there was no fuel! We pushed our way through the crowd to the plane, I didn’t even bother with the bus again. Can I say security at the airport is below zero? I boarded the flight with my pack of ekpang, and juice at the bottom of my handbag; the security scanners didn’t pick it. Most importantly, when we went to board the second time, we weren’t checked so ANYONE could have taken ANYTHING on board. You can imagine my exasperation when one of the people who check your boarding pass at the bottom of the plane (never understood their function) saw me drinking my Mountain Dew and said I couldn’t take it on board. Just in case I constructed a liquid bomb with it while walking the flight of stairs into the plane abi? I was too drained to even argue.
Drunk sounding pilot gave a one line apology about the 1 hour 40 minutes delay, said they had ‘fueling issues’; I remember tweeting ‘Jesus take the wheel‘. Then there was the lady sat beside Mercy and I who wouldn’t stop singing above the noise from her already loud earphones.*sigh*
Smooth take off, not ashamed to say I had my heart in my hand throughout, and I’m not looking forward to the trip back.
Part two? Benin. Edo Decides.