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LAGOS, ILORIN, ABUJA: NIGERIANS, NOT NIGERIA, GIVE ME HOPE - MOSES OCHONU


In Lagos, as I was waiting to board my flight to Ilorin, I decided to window-shop in the electronic store in the departure lounge. A pair of premium headphones caught my attention and the price was great. When I was about to pay, the lady said their POS device was broken and was being fixed. I didn't have enough cash to pay the N25,000 price tag. She advised that I go back out (I had already checked in to the secure area) to use the ATM in the general departures area. I told her I wasn't going to go through the check-in procedure again. Besides, if the flight was on time, we were close to boarding. She tried to get a POS from a neighboring store but that didn’t work out. The wifi/network was extremely weak so transfer from my phone was out of the question. Meanwhile, boarding had started and I was the only passenger still in the lounge. I told her to forget it. To my utmost shock she packed the headphones for me and wrote down her business account number, saying that I should do the transfer when I got to Ilorin. I couldn't believe it. I had to make sure she was doing what I thought she was doing. I asked her if she really wanted me, a total stranger whose identity she did not know, to go with the Headphones. I couldn’t even give her my phone number since my phone died in the middle of our discussion and I didn’t know my Nigerian phone number by heart. What if I didn't do the transfer, I asked her. She said "no problem, I know you will." In the age of chronic distrust and trust deficit, this Nigerian shop clerk at the departure lounge of MMA shows that there is still some honor left in Nigeria. Of course, as soon as I got to Ilorin and connected to the hotel wifi and turned on my roaming, I promptly did the transfer on my phone app.

In Ilorin, I was at Shoprite to pick up a few items of convenience. It was a busy day and the line was long. I only had two items but I waited my turn as other shoppers with full carts paid for their items ahead of me. Then this expatriate man walked right past everyone in line to the cashier/clerk and demanded that he be checked out since he was only purchasing three items. I didn't say anything and waited for the clerk to respond. To my pleasant surprise, the lady not only emphatically declined to let him jump the line, she also gave him a humiliating tongue-lashing with a firm, insightful commentary on how he was trying to leverage his racial capital to intimidate her, a black woman, and how that would not work and how this is Nigeria and he needed to respect the local people who were in line ahead of him. Wow! How inspiring. That lady filled me with pride. She deserves a medal. Unfortunately, I didn't get her name from her name tag, but I could not stop thinking about this heroic African amazon who would not succumb to "white" privilege and intimidation in her own country. As someone who recently published an essay about the ubiquity of unacknowledged and rarely discussed white privilege in Nigeria/Africa, I was humbled by this experience. By the way, the line-cutter was Asian.

In Abuja, the best staff I have ever encountered at the international wing of the airport is a lady called Latifat (maybe it’s Lateefat). I've never seen a Nigerian airport worker take more delight in doing her job, nor have I seen one render exceptional service like her. My first encounter with her was earlier this year in March, when I was in Nigeria. We all know how stressful check-in procedures can be in Nigerian airports. This lady, a staff of FAAN, made the process so breezy for me. She was polite, courteous, professional, and incredibly friendly. My stress melted away as she attended to me without me even asking her. She helped me with my carry-on and led me to a very comfortable lounge to await my flight. And she never asked for money or expected money as is the case with most other airport workers in Nigeria.

Latifat was simply doing her job and with a smile. As she left me in the lounge, I was effusive in praising her professionalism and people skills. She thanked me and left to attend to other passengers. This was the best service I had ever received from a Nigerian airport staff at any airport in Nigeria, period. When I arrived at my base in the US, I wanted to write about her but I could not remember her name. It ate me up, and I resolved that the next time I was at the international departure wing I would look out for her. Lo and behold, as I made my way out of security screening today, here she was attending to an elderly passenger on wheelchair. I did not recognize her but she apparently recognized me. Since this is a new terminal and I was using it for the first time, I didn't know where to go after screening. She didn't introduce herself but professionally, kindly gave me directions. But there was a note of familiarity about the professionalism and excellent service, and she also spoke to me as though she knew me. When I took a closer look at her, I immediately remembered her as the lady whose outstanding customer service from my March visit I had never forgotten. I said "are you not the lady who attended excellently to me in March?" and she nodded with a smile, as if to say finally you've recognized me. She told me she was working the Lufthansa flight today, not the Delta one.

What a pleasant coincidence or providential arrangement. This time I made sure to note her name and she confirmed it: Latifat. She's dark complexioned, has a cheerful demeanor, takes delight in her job, and is the friendliest, most helpful, and most professional airport staff I have encountered in Nigeria. As I waited in the lounge for boarding, I saw Latifat come in with several more passengers, and I noticed the incredible professionalism and courtesy she accorded them. On one such trip she came and greeted me again, wondering why there was no table in front of my chair. I told her that it was by choice; I sat on the chair facing the TV because I was watching the Nigeria-Tunisia match.

If anyone in the FAAN top hierarchy is reading this, please reward and possibly promote Latifat. She is an exceptional and exemplary staff of your organization, which is notorious for having staff that harass, intimidate, and give passengers a hard time in order to extort them. Latifat should be training her colleagues on how to render exceptional, professional service to passengers. Travel is already a stressful undertaking, so any time one encounters someone who eases the stress, it is memorable. Latifat is an exemplary Nigerian.



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