In the next couple of weeks, thousands of Nigerians who travelled home to celebrate the holidays with their friends and families will be returning back to the United States, Europe, Asia and everywhere in-between.
Anyone who has travelled internationally in and out of Lagos Murtala Mohammed Airport (MMA) will agree with me that sometimes it could be very challenging to deal with the Nigerian Custom officials. I have gone through the hullaballoo experience every year in the last seven years and have a fair share of the tumultuous and disdainful encounter.
By the way, last year, I celebrated my third year of consciously and decidedly not giving any form of bribe to Nigerian Custom officials. Before then, I have had to give money to them to check-in my luggage that contain “allowable African Food” products like ground Pepper, Melon, Egusi, Crayfish. To them, I needed to “pay” to carry those items in the checked-in luggage.
As a frequent flyer, I am all too familiar with prohibited items on commercial international flights for carry-on and checked-in luggage’s. The rules for carry-on items of liquid and gel, food, guns and firearms, incendiary devices, checked baggage, sporting equipment, sharp objects are publically available either on the airline’s website or the Nigeria Customs Service’s site.
Knowing all the tricks the customs officials used to extort money from unsuspecting and naïve travelers, I made the decision in 2009, that I will not give money as a form of “bribe” to any Nigerian Custom official going forward. That, I thought, will be my two cents contribution toward not perpetuating bribery and corruption in Nigeria.
So, for the first time, I paid the bribe-free drive price in 2010. After five custom officials at the Lufthansa Airline desk have gone through a gruesome search of my luggage (only God knows why such a search requires five men. I think it is a waste of man power and time anyway!), they wanted me to “give them something” because one of the items was not “labeled”. I asked if I can label it right there since I have a pen on me. They indicated they have no time for that. I can either throw it away or give them “something” to carry it.
Bluntly, I told them I will prefer to throw it away because I have nothing to give to them to carry the item. My relative who was watching started pleading with me to give them something so I can “carry my thing go”. I refused and took out the product and gave it to my relative to take it back even though I spent so much money to buy the items.
That was my first bribe-free sacrifice and a promise that I have kept in the last three years even though some friends and relatives think I am crazy.
This is also the call I want to make to all Nigerian Diasporas travelling back from their vacation this year and going forward. We, as a people, cannot be clamoring to end bribery and corruption in Nigeria while we are perpetuating it ourselves by this seemingly little things. It is a simple concept: If you have no will to change it, then you have no right to criticize it! So Diasporas please STOP GIVING AIRPORT CUSTOM OFFICIALS BRIBES!
To facilitate this, I will provide some strategies I have adopted to avoid offering bribe to Nigeria Custom officials at the MMA:
1. Ensure you do not carry prohibited items. Read your airline baggage and carry-on policies or go to Nigeria Custom Service site for prohibited items and rules.
2. Arrive at the airport very early to check-in your luggage so you have time to go through the dehumanizing encounter with the custom officials. When they know you are running late, they will use delay tactics to extort you. Sometimes, they will say “we need to send you upstairs to see our boss for further processing. It will take you another 30 minutes or 1 hour for that processing; otherwise just settle us here”. So watch out when they want to play that game.
3. Make sure you label any item you carry. If necessary, use transparent plastic to wrap your items.
4. If you have a relative with you at the airport, let them stick around until you have checked in. If for any reason the custom officials come up with the game of throwing away something, simply give it to your relative to take back home.
5. Control your emotions when they speak to you unprofessionally, impolitely and condescendingly. Some lack professional training and others do it just to stir up an opportunity to get you agitated for extortion.
6. Respond with “yes sir or yes m’am” when they instruct you or ask you a question. They tend to treat you with more restrain when you display some form of sophistication and civility that is eccentric to them.
We must all pay the price to make Nigeria a better place. This requires telling the inconvenient truth and taking the pains that goes with it. Let me know of your experience with Nigeria Custom officials at MMA that you would like to share!
I wish all Nigerians home and abroad a Happy New Year. May God bless Nigerians and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.