View Full Version : A Nigerians view of Heathrow

5th Dec 2004, 06:06
Over a combination of drinks, sitting in open air, in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere, a group of senior friends who had only recently been in and out of England, through the famous Heathrow airport regaled us with stories of despair about how Heathrow is no longer one of the safest airports in the world, but in their reckoning, a den of brief-case and handbag thieves who now operate with so much recklessness, beyond the long arms of English law. They all sounded so sad especially about Terminal Four, the international wing that is used for flights to and from Lagos. For obvious reasons, this is almost always ordinarily a busy wing. Nigerians travel a lot. They carry a lot of luggage. And they are always laughing and speaking in vernacular on top of their voices.

The first time I arrived in England through Heathrow, I was so excited. I looked around, and even if I did not need to, I visited the toilets. That was in those days when the toilets at the Murtala Muhammed Airport here in Lagos used to look like refuse dumps, where robust flies and maggots, wearing cloaks of faeces, assaulted the hapless traveler. In comparison, the toilets in Heathrow looked so antiseptic, without a stain and no trace of odour. I had concluded innocently that perhaps a white man's "shit" does not smell.

Every other trip through Heathrow only showed me the good side of Britain, the organisational efficiency; the diplomatic courtesy of the officials, and the strategic security value of Heathrow itself. But now here I was, listening to aggrieved Nigerians, and these are people who should know, lamenting that Heathrow houses a gang of underground crooks, and advising that anyone traveling through that airport these days should be careful with bags, brief-cases, telephones, passports, cash or anything that can be easily liberated by a crook. Two of my senior friends had only freshly returned from England. One of them lost his brief-case containing a considerable amount of money, and other valuables. He was inconsolable as he narrated his ordeal.

"I only turned for a second to shake someone's hand, and exchange pleasantries. By the time I turned back to the cart I was pushing on the queue, my briefcase had disappeared. I could not believe it. I looked around. I could not see anything."
"May be it was a set up."
"How? I was just at the airport, coming back to Lagos quietly, who could have arranged to steal my briefcase?"
"The guy who came to exchange pleasantries"
"No. I don't think so. This is someone who knows me. He too was shocked. When I started asking the other people on the queue whether they saw anything, the only response I got was that Terminal Four has become very notorious these days. Look, I felt like dying. I deliberately kept the money inside the briefcase to use it to sort out certain things on my return. My only luck was that I was holding my passports. They would have stolen my passports too."
I wanted to know whether he reported the case at the security desk of the airport. It turned out that he did. But the officials were not of much help. They asked him to write a statement and describe the contents of the brief-case.

"When the security man asked me to describe the contents of the briefcase, I did not know when I shouted at him. After my briefcase had been stolen, the only thing he could do was to ask me to describe the contents"
"You mean he didn't help?
"He told me that Terminal Four has become notorious. There is no day without somebody losing a bag or a briefcase at that Terminal."
"But don't they have cameras there? Couldn't they have checked the cameras to see what happened? I am surprised that British security could treat you like that, especially now that there are fears about terrorism. The British should be concerned that briefcase thieves are terrorising travellers at Heathrow."
"If the victim had been a white man, you can be sure that they would have done something about it."
"But the thieves must be white men. Is that why they are not doing anything about it?"
"I have been a victim twice", someone else interjected. "But both happened at Terminal Four. Anytime I travel through Terminal One, when I am traveling between London and the US or Canada, nobody steals my things. But Terminal Four is really bad. I guess it is because Nigerians carry excess luggage. There is always something to steal. On one occasion, I was pushing the luggage cart, and my wife left her handbag on top of the bags. We were both on the queue. She said something and I turned towards her. In less one minute, her handbag was gone. It simply vanished into thin air."
"Did you make a report?"
"I didn't. How can someone of my status be going around, lamenting that my wife's handbag had been stolen. But it happened a second time. My own briefcase was taken and till today, I just could not imagine how. I dropped the brief case on the floor and tried to remove my passport from the breast pocket of my jacket. That done, I tried to carry my briefcase again, I clutched vacant air."
"You don't mean it?"
"I suspected the man standing behind me on the queue, but I couldn't do anything because I didn't see him with any briefcase. It is so bad. But how can one go to Heathrow and you have to be clutching your briefcase to your chest just so that someone does not steal it?"
"The British would just have to do something about Heathrow", I opined. "In fact, what you are telling me is scary. One of these days, crooks will steal a human being in Heathrow and nothing will be done"
"You are complaining about Heathrow. I hear it is worse in Italy. Those ones actually use motorcycles to snatch bags and briefcases as you step out of the airport."
"They have okada in Italy too?"
"They ride motorcycles, not okada. You can't compare sleep with death."
"But you see, if all this had been happening at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, by now the British would have issued travel advice to their citizens. They would tell them to be careful with their luggage when passing through Lagos. They will complain that Nigeria is falling short of international standards."
"I agree. Our High Commission in London should ask the British to do something about Terminal Four at Heathrow."
"The only thing though is that in every airport in the world, you are advised not to leave your luggage carelessly. In fact, you are advised not to leave your luggage unattended and not to collect any luggage from other persons."
"But that does not stop the airport authorities from providing security. It does not stop them from getting rid of airport rats and thieves."
"I don't even think one can be too careful. When I went to the security desk to report my own case, I met one fellow there, a Nigerian, from Ogun state. He was rolling on the floor, weeping and punching the air."
"What happened?"
"The guy's briefcase was stolen right there at Heathrow and he had $12, 000 in it. He was coming home on holiday. His wife and children had already gone ahead of him. He had no luggage, just his briefcase. He needed to use the toilet, and he carried his briefcase along with him. He didn't leave it behind."
"I always do the same too."
"When the guy got to the toilet, he put his briefcase down, and tried to use the urinal. When he finished, he just discovered that his briefcase was no longer there. He checked the entire toilet, including the toilet bowl. He didn't see anything."
"What could have happened? He didn't see anybody in the mirror?"
"Which mirror? There is no mirror in front of you when you are urinating. Even if there is, how do you watch the mirror when you are busy trying to relieve yourself?"
"Poor fellow. $12, 000. That is a lot of money."
"The guy said he just started weeping and rolling on the floor."
"Inside the toilet?"
"You can't know how painful these things can be, unless it happens to you. Maybe that is that guy's entire savings. Maybe it is even a loan from a bank which he had taken to give his family a good time in Nigeria"
"But how would rolling on the floor solve the problem?"
"He lost his money, lost his passport. He had no money on him. And he was in transit from California. Even his address book was in the stolen briefcase. What are you saying?"
"When I go to any toilet in any airport, I always hold my briefcase between my legs as I urinate. I don't see how anybody can remove it that way."
"But that is not hygienic. Your briefcase will be standing on other people's urine, and you may also pee on it. No. I can't do that."
"The way my mind is working now, anytime I travel again to England, I am not going to use a briefcase. I will get a good carry-on bag, those types that you can wear on the shoulders. Whoever wants to take that from me, would have to kill me first."
"But that is not gentlemanly. It won't fit your status"
"Thank you. But it is gentlemanly for my money and briefcase to be stolen."
"I think the solution is for the British government to take the matter up"
"Who is going to tell them?"
"But they have to know. It seems as if some terrorists have taken over Heathrow airport, and this theft of other people's belongings may just be a method of giving Britain a bad name."
"No serious terrorist will steal briefcases. We are dealing with common thieves not terrorists. You always like to exaggerate things."
"But why has Heathrow suddenly become so unsafe for briefcases and handbags? Let them find out. In the process of doing so, they may discover other things that may be useful. For example now, the problem can ruin the market for manufacturers of briefcases."
"There you go again"
"I think what can be said is that Terminal Four deserves more security. And nobody should tell me that we, Nigerians are always carrying excess luggage. That is no excuse. We are giving the British good business. Lagos-London-Lagos-London is the most lucrative route for both British Airways and Virgin Airlines. Those two airlines are always overbooked all year round on the Nigerian route. Going to London for many Nigerians is like going to Abuja. Sometimes I wonder what our people go to do in England."
"For some of us, it is second home. I go to England every month, for example, to dry clean my suits. I can't risk giving my suits to a Lagos dry cleaner."
"If the British are getting such good business, then they must provide security."
"One of these days I am going to catch a thief at that Heathrow airport, I swear, and that day, I will kill somebody."
"I won't stop using briefcases. But the next time I travel, I will deliberately leave my briefcase carelessly. But I will be watching carefully. If anybody tries to steal it, they will know me in England that day."
"You'd be surprised you will end up losing another briefcase."
"Until then. You wait and see."

5th Dec 2004, 06:15
The clock has started.:)

5th Dec 2004, 08:11
I happen to know a fair bit about this. Baggage theft is a serious problem for obvious reasons. Any drifter (and London has at least as many as any major city) knows that the airport is the place to find lots of people who are carrying valuables, and who are concentrating on getting around the airport. There is a handy Underground link that will get you anywhere in London for a few pounds once you have your loot. The police have plain clothes squads on duty all of the time, and there is comprehensive CCTV. Courts treat any baggage theft from Heathow very seriously, and prison is inevitable - the only question is how long.

Things to watch out for are distractions - for example one gang member throws a handful of coins or gravel onto the floor to make you look round. Sometimes it is a dollar bill - "is this yours?" is the question. Look round and your laptop has gone. Another one is to put shaving foam or liquid mustard on to your clothes. A helpful stranger offers you a tissue, while his pal runs off with your luggage. Travellers using the phone, public or mobile, are also targeted.

South Americans seem to be among the most adept, but no group has a monopoly.

Stupidity is common too. One pair of local men snatched a bag from outside T4 while the owner was having a smoke. They drove off and parked in a street off-airport to divide up the spoils. They parked directly under the glideslope for 27L, which is of course surveyed by cameras. The police arrived in just over two minutes, directed by the camera operator.

London contains extremes of wealth and deprivation. It is best not to look too prosperous, and unfortunately it is also essential to keep a good grip on your bags.

surely not
5th Dec 2004, 11:38
I believe I am right in saying that VS operate their LOS flts from Terminal 3.

How very sad to read that LHR Terminal 4 has reached such low levels of personal security. A shameful situation that I hope the authorities take action on.

5th Dec 2004, 11:57
I trust all those hapless souls involved managed to complete the necessary paperwork and receive ample compensation from their respective insurance companies?:)

5th Dec 2004, 12:47
LTNman It may coincidentally be your good fortune that theft covered by insurance.

5th Dec 2004, 13:16
Nostalgia mode ON

I used to work in Terminal 3 in the 1970s when Nigeria Airways ran a 707 to Lagos. All the memories came flooding back; all that hand baggage, Peugeot short engines, fridge freezers...

What an excellent piece; it made a good relaxant with a cuppa after a loooong night shift. I believe that it deserves a wider audience. I wonder if Skyport would consider publishing it?


5th Dec 2004, 13:41
Risk of theft on the ground side seems pretty universal. It was a huge problem in JFK while the baggage carts were designed to be pulled behind you. It went down somewhat when they changed to the push type.

The machines at airport parking lots are also a popular place. Put down your bag to pay, and 20 seconds later, the bag is gone, with nobody around.


6th Dec 2004, 16:03
Might be some scrotes revenge for succumbing to a Nigerian "My cousin works for the National Bank and he has left $345,000,000 in a Swiss bank account which you, my most trusted friend, can help me to acquire........etc" scam.