As the reading was going on today, I remembered my horrible encounter with the officers of the Nigerian security agents at the airports; remarkable was the Nigerian custom service. I am not in any way trying to be an alarmist! But my recent encounter at some of the Nigerian airports, for example Murtala Muhammed international airport, Lagos, Akanu Ibiam international airport, Enugu, and Nnamdi Azikiwe international airport, Abuja, is a call for someone to be really worried about security risks at these airports. Last week during my brief visit to Nigeria I used these terminals and there I observed this heartbreaking act which has sullenly (I can’t say for how long it’s been going on) been creeping into the system. There are ‘new breeds of beggars’ well dressed in security uniforms. They have smoothly fine-tuned their begging approach to make it look like they are not actually begging for alms. If they are branded ‘corporate beggars’ that will not suffice; they deserve an appellation cruder than that.
At the MM2 where I had landed from Heathrow I was faced by two custom service officers at the check point. The way they approached me I thought they were friendly and compassionate to me because of the somnolent look on my face which was a clear sign that I was really jetlagged. But little did I know they were clearing ground for an anticipated payoff. My Janded (slang word for someone from the UK) looks actually deceived them. They demanded for some handouts just because I was coming in from abroad. I jokingly asked one of the officers, what if I was coming in from Ghana? The officer responded, bros leave that story, at least you don fly come back na, we sef we never touch plane talk less of entering inside. Bros remember say bible say if you get plenty food try share with your neighbour wey no get to chop. I was flabbergasted; I really first thought I was facing a Police officer because I never imagined an officer of the Nigerian custom service in that capacity at the airport would demand for a hand out. I tried to make sense of what the officer was saying but my weary mind had deserted me. But the looks on my face was enough reason to tell them that they had embarked on a wild-goose chase! I witnessed the same act at the Abuja airport, and the worst scenario was at the Enugu airport where the female officer didn’t bother to check what had triggered the alarm as I walked pass through the security door because may be she didn’t want her search to obstruct her from receiving the payoff she had anticipated. Another wild-goose chase for her!
What actually struck me in today’s gospel reading was what seemed like a search for ethical advice by some tax collectors and soldiers from John the Baptist. As I muse over the reading I linked it with my encounters at the airports, especially to what the officer at MM2 told me and it struck me that the officer might be referring to the reading in Luke 3:10-18, where John responded, to the question the crowd asked as to what they should do, by saying, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” But that was really a misguided representation of the bible reading. Probably, the officer overtly ignored John’s response to the soldiers, which says “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely- be content with your pay.”
As today’s Gaudete Sunday pointed at what seemed like ethical advice, I began to worry about the kind of advice we would be offering to these ‘new breed of beggars’ who are strategically located at our airports. It was really hard and painful for John the Baptist to speak and point out to those people that there was someone far higher than him and with powers above his own, though to us it seemed obvious the way he spoke authoritatively. But we can actually emulate John’s outspoken way and say no to simply shutting up. Insisting at all times that morality is entrenched and dishing out some moral philosophy are sure and better ways than dancing to their tunes.
However, two things are quite convinced to me in today’s reading. The first is that Jesus came into the world in human flesh in an ancient time and place. The second is that we humans will celebrate this historical event again in just a few weeks’ time. But what remains vague and doubtful to me is whether or not we decide to live under his authority as spoken by John and in a way that portrays his power. The onus is on us to decide. The punch line is that we have to make that decision because it is in making those right decisions that we find the real happiness.