Who would have thought that, with all the Babel of the greatness of market forces and private enterprise in Nigeria, it is still not a matter of demand and supply to fly to Owerri, Imo State in Eastern Nigeria? Although Air Peace alone, for instance, operates two scheduled flights there from Abuja on a daily basis, it is almost always booked and woe betides the traveler who did not buy a ticket many ‘years’ ahead.
It was initially hard to believe when the check-in counter at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport said the evening flight on September 9th, 2020 was fully booked. A quick consultation yielded the idea of checking Max Air, another airline that operates a daily flight or so to Owerri. That one was no different. A call went out to an official somewhere and this desperate traveler headed back to the Air Peace check-in again. It was the same story.
Another quick session was convened. The Church Service for the burial taking this traveler to Owerri would most likely not have been over even by 11. 00 a.m on Thursday, Sept 10th, 2020. “So, why don’t you buy the ticket for the morning flight on Thursday morning. You will still meet us at the burial ground”, it was advised. That sounded okay even as one would have missed the activities of the night of Sept 9th, 2020. But, it was still a no-solution. All the seats have been taken.
Yet another quick digital session which resolved in favour of taking Abuja – Portharcourt flight and then making one’s way to Owerri. This was even dismissed out rightly by one of the staffers who had become an acquaintance through the benefit of shared language. In the end, what appeared like a joke became real. A very simple exercise of a one-hour flight East of Nigeria from the Federal Capital, Abuja cannot be taken for granted even when that line of business is completely privatised?
The ‘expert’ on the dynamics of flights to the Eastern part of the country told Intervention that even if the number of flights available now were doubled, it would still not be a case of just walking into the airport, buy your ticket and land somewhere in the East. The flights are always booked, he said.
A regular patron of the route to whom the nasty experience of missing this burial was narrated said the traveler should have known that majority of the Easterners are businessmen and women, not people who wait for payment of monthly salary to be able to fly. So, it is only someone who has not been plying that route that would be shocked that a potential traveler needs to have bought a ticket ahead.
As elitist as finding no flight to travel to any part of the country when flight is the only way out, it also speaks to a hopelessly managed capitalism in Nigeria. Although frustrations with incompetent capitalism are framed in ethno-religious and regional terms, that is precisely what the grumblings are all about. They all stem from capitalism that is not productive and has very little or nothing to offer anybody. In the circumstance, members of the middle class who are the pillars of nationalism and patriotism are as disappointed as the masses. Patriotism is not a given. It must be nourished. Failure to do so can be dangerous in terms of accumulating into a trigger for one dangerous outcome or the other.
A million reasons could account for anyone’s failure to attend a particular burial in any part of the country. It is unthinkable that it would be a demand and supply crisis on a route that is clearly lucrative. That suggests a market economy still so constrained to even respond to a sectoral dynamism, no matter how clear the dynamism. What a pity!