Travelling out of Nigeria can be herculean. Sometimes, not because you’ve got your documentation wrong, but the silly profiling officials at the airport try to make you go through at every desk. Everyone you meet turns himself into some sort of detective profiling you for drugs or terrorism, or just to strike a conversation upon which you would be asked to tip them. Because travellers are usually pressed for time, one tries to avoid confrontations that would cause delays on any counter. Workers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja are particularly notorious for these, subjecting travellers to annoying profiling.
At the Abuja airport, there is no clear distinction of roles for officials. The attendant who would screen your bag asks you almost the same set of questions as the one who would screen your passport or frisk you before you enter the departure lounge. It appears it is every official’s job to collect information from the traveller.
Here are some of the most common silly questions I have been asked repeatedly, especially in Abuja. Most times, these attendants ask these question with a seriousness that instantly convinces you of the genuineness and the right to know. I really do not see the reason for most of these questions. I am usually amused when I hear some of them.
1. Where are you going to?
I suppose every traveller using the airport has a destination written on their ticket or other travel documents. If the final destination of a traveller has any use for airport attendants, why don’t they just go ahead and ask for tickets or boarding passes?
Sometimes you even get this question after you have handed in your travel documents. The funny thing with this question is that the officials asking do not intend to document the answers in any way; and if a traveller gives the wrong answer, they never bother to crosscheck. Maybe they ask so as to break the ice with you.
2. When are you coming back?
This question usually comes after you have provided a destination. The question makes me feel the asking officials either think I’m running away or are already missing my stay in Nigeria. How does when I am returning from my journey enhance national security or make the airport more efficient? What if I give a date and change my mind later?
3. What is in your bag? Let me see.
There are usually many things in a travellers bag. From clothing to accessories and gadgets. How do I start listing that there is a toothpaste, a bathing soap, a deodorant, cloths, charger, papers etc.? The annoying thing with this question is that after listing all you can remember is stacked in your bag, the asking official goes ahead to say “open it let me see.” Whenever I hear this question, I usually just drop my bag and open it.
Security officials should just cut the chase and demand to see the content of my bag.
4. Are you on leave?
This is the most amusing question I have ever been asked.
Really? How does my being on leave, or not, bother an airport official? I mean, I must say, this is the dumbest. After telling the guy who asked me that question, recently, I was not on leave, I asked to know how the answer helped his job. He instantly grew a stone face, evaded eye contacts and said he wouldn’t have asked if the question wasn’t necessary.
5. Who are you going to see?
Do travellers always have to be going to see someone? Can’t one just travel for fun or business or even to go chill? Sometimes I just want to answer: I am going to see my grandfather’s friend’s daughter’s maid who recently fell from the moon during a vacation.
6. Are you back?
The confusion on my face most times when I get this question from an immigration or customs officer at airports is usually epic. Would the asker have seen me if I wasn’t back? Sometimes I just nod and move on.
7. How much are you travelling with?
This question is particularly asked with mischief in mind. To be clear, only the Customs officials at the airport are entitled to know how much money you have on you. And for that, a form is always provided. First time travellers usually fall victim of this question. An attendant asking this question usually intends to convince the victim it is illegal to travel with the amount declared, with a promise to let it pass if a tip is paid.
Meanwhile, unless you are smuggling cash (and ordinary traveller’s rarely do), most people travel with credit cards. The irony is that the people who smuggle cash are never asked questions, they get VIP pass.
It is difficult to connect the dots between how funded you are for trip and the optimal performance of the airport.
8. Where do you work?
This one, you must surely hear several times if you use the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. It is almost like the go-to question for attendants. When I hear this question, often I wonder “are there offices whose employees are not allowed to leave the country?” Or has the law blacklisted employees of some companies from travelling?
Your answer to this question is usually followed by “show me you ID card.”
I once asked an attendant who claimed to be working for the drug law enforcement agency why this mattered to them, and he said drug traffickers would be inconsistent. I perceived his answer as lame. Anyone can claim an office and forge its ID. What if a traveller is unemployed? Would you stop her?
Have you been profiled in any airport across the world? Share your experience in the comment section.