Bankole Adeniyi, 19, will not forget Saturday, March, 14, 2015 in a hurry and it has nothing to do with being his uncle’s birthday. It marked his first experience on an escalator courtesy of his joyous uncle who took Adeniyi and a couple of friends to Ikeja City Mall in Lagos, in his celebrative mood.
Incidentally, it was also Adeniyi’s first time at the mall.
Adeniyi was instantly greeted by cool air from the mall’s air-conditioners and he realised it was a pleasant alternative to the bustling hot markets he was used to. The fashion stores, global brands, luxury goods on display and the hundreds of shoppers milling about all contributed to offer Adeniyi a thrilling experience, but they didn’t come close to the excitement offered by the restive escalator at the shopping centre.
Being a movie lover, Adeniyi, a resident of Ajuwon in Ogun State, had seen escalators hundreds of times on television, but none of the screen images compared to seeing one live before him. As the escalator moved up and down, offering an open invitation to shoppers, Adeniyi’s excitement was however, replaced by fear- the new challenge of using an escalator for the first time.
“I was initially excited but I have to confess that I got scared later on because I had not used an escalator before,” the Lagos State Polytechnic, Ikorodu student, said.
“But my uncle helped me out by explaining to me to target the steps as they come out and step on one of them. This was how I managed to get on the escalator and it was a smooth ride after that. Since that time, anytime I come to the mall, I make sure I take the escalator.”
And of course, he never forgot to update his profile pictures on his social media accounts each time he had a new one of himself on the escalator to show the world.
An escalator may be a set of moving staircase meant for moving people between floors of a building, at the Ikeja City Mall, its use is not that simple. It is fast becoming a tourist attraction, strongly competing with shops and other services for attention of visitors.
200 tourists on busy days
Flashes and sounds of camera snapshots are a familiar occurrence around the escalator. It is common to see visitors snapping themselves, friends and other loved ones with their mobile telephones and other gadgets. But to make things easier, a bunch of photographers have strategically placed themselves at the two ends of the escalator, with cameras in hand.
An instant picture on the escalator costs N500 each for those who want theirs taken by the photographers- the only authorised commercial photographers at the mall.
One of the photographers, who did not give his name because he was not authorised by his employer to speak on the issue, said on busy days, each of them gets between 20 and 40 ‘tourists’ who want their pictures taken on the escalator.
Considering the average number of photographers at the escalator, which is five, between 100 and 200 ‘tourists’ would be paying for pictures at the mall on such days. This is aside other ‘tourists’ who take pictures with the cameras and mobile telephones.
Findings by Saturday PUNCH show that busiest days at the mall are weekends and public holidays with the prime time falling between 2pm and 4pm.
Our correspondent took some time to observe as ‘tourists’ posed for photographs individually and in groups while riding on the escalator. The photographers took pictures of the ‘tourists’ from up and down the escalator, capturing them in motion while ascending or descending the moving staircase. Those who were not pleased with the pictures taken rejoined the escalator for as many times as necessary to get them the right picture effect they desired.
Crowd milled around the escalator, with youths and family members gaily teasing one another and laughing about their experience on the device.
Some visitors to the mall, who spoke to our correspondent, described the trend as a reflection of Nigerians’ thirst for good infrastructure. In Lagos, the only major public centres with escalators are Ikeja City Mall; City Mall, Onikan; Silverbird Galleria, Victoria Island; and the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, otherwise known as MM2.
Like Adeniyi, Opeyemi Ozain, a barber, enjoys taking the escalator.
His first time on it was even more dramatic as he did not have anyone with him to offer a word of advice on how to use the moving staircase.
“It’s unique and different from the lift (elevator) or the normal staircase I was used to, so I was afraid to use it the first time,” Ozain said with a sheepish smile.
“I was afraid because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. So as a guy, I stood by and watched as people got on it. After watching how people went about getting on the escalator for a while, I realised that I had to get it right by stepping on steps and not in-between.
“Once I was able to get on the escalator, I was worried again about how to get off because that is another issue. Getting on it is one thing, getting off is another one.
“One has to know how to get off because it also involves understanding what to do. I realised that I needed to put a foot on the solid ground as the moving steps I was standing on were about to slide under.”
Ozain explained that the sight of a moving staircase was more exciting than that of a still one, while sympathising with others like him who are enthralled by escalators.
“It makes taking a staircase more interesting which is why many people want to get on it and experience it,” he said.
“I’ve seen different kinds of people here- rich, poor, old, young including students. It doesn’t matter who they are, if it’s their first time of using it, you will see the excitement or the fear on their faces. But once you have taken it before, you find it really nice to use and will prefer it to a normal staircase.”
Similarly, when Daniel Osaremen and his family recently visited the mall on a Sunday, they stopped to take a few pictures on the escalator, which Osaremen adjudged to be some of the best they have taken as a family.
He said the picture gave the impression that it was taken in an advanced city abroad like “Dubai, London or Paris.”
“It was my daughter that insisted on taking the escalator and we all joined her,” he said with a smile.
“The experience was nice and the pictures we took on it were very beautiful. In fact, if we don’t tell you that the pictures were taken in Ikeja, you would think they were taken in more advanced countries. We all love the pictures including my wife and we have agreed to take more pictures on the escalator when next we visit the mall.”
‘Some first timers stumble’
Interestingly, some security guards at the mall have also noticed how many visitors have taken a liking to the escalator. They told our correspondent that they often sight adult ‘tourists’ going up and down the escalator continuously.
One of them who did not give his name because he was not authorised to speak to journalists said, “when some people come, they love the experience, the ‘Jangirofa experience’ (an experience of moving up and down).
“Since we are the ones standing around here, we are able to observe everything going on that other shoppers won’t take notice of. Some people are here because of the escalator; sometimes we see people going up and down the escalator up to four times repeatedly. I easily know that such persons enjoy using the escalator for fun.”
Also, when people stumble, or trip while using the escalator, which often happens, the security guards take notice. From experience, they have also learnt to identify first time users of the escalator just by their dispositions.
“Several times, I have seen people trip as they are about to get on the escalator,” one of them told Saturday PUNCH, adding that such unlucky persons are always saved by the silver-coloured rails on both sides of the escalator.
“So I have never seen anyone fall flat on the escalator but I have seen people stumble on it on many occasions. People trip everyday but I’ve not seen anyone who got injured as a result of that yet.
“When we see someone hesitating for too long before using the escalator, we know it’s most likely his first time. Usually, they hesitate because they are not sure of how to get on it.
“You see such people jumping on the escalator and jumping off at the other end. The ones who slip on it usually don’t know the steps come one after another. It is easy to use but some don’t know how.”
Ironically, the security guard confessed during the course of the conversation with our correspondent that his first time on the escalator was also not pleasant.
“I slipped the first time I took an escalator too, which was here, but it was nothing serious because I quickly got hold of the rails,” he said, adding that he has had to encourage some apprehensive first timers to find the courage to use the escalator.
However, there is another category of visitors who avoid using escalator at the mall.
One of the guards who recalled his recent experience with a woman suspected to be in her late 20s, said the shopper opted for the use of the staircase even though the escalator offered an option of a shorter route to the shop she was going.
She stood by the escalator for a while and then decided against taking it,” the guard said, recalling his interaction with the shopper.
“When I asked her where she was going, I realised that the shop she was going was where the escalator would take her. But she insisted that she would rather go back to take the staircase which was a longer route, which she did.
“The lady said she was scared. I tried to encourage her but she refused to budge. Nigerians don’t like to embarrass themselves; maybe she wanted to avoid a situation that would embarrass her.”
‘I like staircase better’
For Osagie Okpame, a businessman, there have been mixed feelings about the escalator.
Although, his first time on an escalator was also filled with some apprehension while his children loved nothing more than going up and down the device, he did not see it as worthy of being a tourist attraction.
If anything, Okpame would rather stick to the use of a staircase than an escalator for health benefits.
He described staircases as better than escalators, saying using staircases is a form of exercise.
“My kids like going up and down the escalator but I don’t see any big deal in it,” he said.
“It shouldn’t attract so much attention. Sometimes, I would want us to take the staircase, but it’s my kids that would insist that we take the escalator.
“They would refuse to take the staircase. The first time I took an escalator, I was a bit scared because I didn’t quite know how to get on it. But now, I can use the escalator with my eyes closed.
“However, I still think that a staircase is better than an escalator because the staircase makes us do some exercise. By using the staircase often, we are able to keep fit and improve our breathing. But using the escalator makes many of us lazy because most people would prefer it to using the staircase, and it does not get us to do anything.”
But it is unclear if the management of the mall is worried about the trend.
An official of Broll Nigeria, the company managing the mall, told our correspondent to direct his enquiries to an email address belonging to Eniola Ositelu, said to be in charge of dealing with the media. But he did not respond to the mail or acknowledge receiving it.
Ositelu, who later spoke to our correspondent on the telephone after repeated efforts to reach him, however, promised to respond to the mail sent to him.
But he failed to do that as of the time of filing this report.