Nigeria - Lagos Airport Again! by Nick Robertson (1989-90)

In the airport at Lagos, the geography is similar to that of London Heathrow Terminal 1, with arrivals on the ground floor, the main check-in concourse on the first floor, with stairs leading to a balcony, off which were all the airline offices. The balcony was on the rear wall of the check-in level and the front wall was entirely glass.

One night, (probably in 1989 or 1990) I was walking along the balcony towards the BA office when I heard a very large bang, followed by a brief tearing noise somewhere above my head. I looked around but couldn't see anything and nobody was running about, so I thought no more about it.

At that time, the baggage belts broke down so frequently that they kept baggage carts, usually found on the tarmac, on the check-in concourse so that bags could be trucked to the goods lift and taken down to the ramp. I just assumed that the loud bang was the sound of a heavy steel tow-bar hitting the tiled floor in the check-in area.

Around 20 minutes later, one of the staff rushed in to say that there had been a shooting in the car park and that a courier, unfortunately, had died as a result. At the time in Nigeria, there was a roaring trade in hard currency, which was traded illegally all over the country. The official rate of exchange was around 4 Naira to 1 and the racketeers were giving up to 25 Naira to the pound. Therefore, most expatriates working in Nigeria, myself included, brought in hard currency and exchanged it at the black-market rate. It was, strictly speaking, against the law but nobody ever got prosecuted, so it went on everywhere and made the cost of living much more affordable.

This meant that there were a group of people who had enormous amounts of hard currency, in pounds, US dollars, French francs, deutschmarks etc but no means of officially accounting for it. The banks were not an option, even if they had been secure. Therefore, every night of the week, a courier with 2 large suitcases full of money would travel to London on the BA flight. I'm not sure what they did with the money when they got there but I could hazard a guess that it wasn't that legal in the UK either!

The loud bang that I had heard was a stray bullet, from the fracas in the car park, smacking through the 2 cm thick plate glass window at the front of the building and the brief tearing noise was it burying itself in the ceiling tiles above my head!

The last time I was in Lagos, in 2002, I had a look and the bullet hole in the glass front of the building is still there.

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