Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Before we boycott BA...

This write-up by Tolu Ogunlesi shares a different perspective on the Nigerian defence mechanism that has been set up as a result of the BA incident/call for boycott. 'Tis rather long but i think Tolu's last paragraph sums up his point:

"I do not attempt to minimize the import and the gravity of the punishment and embarrassment meted out to Mr. Omotade. Nothing will ever justify that. I sympathise with him. BA should apologise, genuinely, and overhaul their crisis management response. But we (Nigerians) should also step back and be at least a bit more dispassionate in our evaluation. The ranting and the calls for boycott will not do us any good. A country without its own international airline has no business making the kind of noise we are currently making, ordering the world to "respect" us. We should instead keep our mouths sealed and wallow in our collective shame of airline-lessness. And of course, we should enroll in International Diplomacy 101 – and learn to more often than not, temper our abrasive quest for justice with some measure of reason. It’s the season of the rule of law, after all."

A bold perspective, but if everyone sat and waited for the utopian Nigeria (where we have our choice of quality local airlines) before they opened their mouth to scream "foul", then I can only imagine where we'd be...we'd be worse than Baba Rule of Law - a nation of 200 million full/fool vessels (too full to make a sound!)

******

In other news, yours truly spent almost an hour of paid time today trying to circumvent the BA-monster. I thought it was punishment for all my talk and talk against the corporation - the cheapest NYC-LONDON flight i could find was BA (almost $200 cheaper than Virgin, and this is a work-related flight so i couldn't but choose the cheapest "name" option (Air India was really the cheapest but hmm...)I was about to put up a poll and ask what to do, when lo and behold, an angel appeared by the name of Delta Airlines, a tad bit cheaper than BA though I've never flown them internationally, (but if their domestic flights are anything to go by, I'm in for the longest 7 hours of my life). Well, all's well that starts well.

In other OTHER news, Lufthansa and KLM have waived the Schengen Visa requirements for Nigerian passengers with final destination visas...The heat is on.




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Before we boycott BA - by Tolu Ogunlesi

I should start by saying I am not a spokesperson for British Airways. And this is not a press release on their behalf. What I am is a Nigerian, asking questions that I think we should all ask ourselves before we, in our collective rage, consign the poor airline to the (dust)bin of boycott.

The story has been repeated time without number, so the details are clear to most of us. A Nigerian citizen, concerned about the manner in which another Nigerian citizen was being deported, voiced his displeasure to the policemen carrying out the deportation, and ended up being bundled out of the plane. Other Nigerians on the flight protested vehemently, things got unruly [BA claims its crew was "subjected to both verbal abuse and physical assault"], and 133 passengers were ejected by police from that flight. 64 were allowed to re-board before take-off, while the others were later put on other plane[s]. The man at the centre of the protest, was arrested, detained for hours, had his money and luggage confiscated, and was banned from flying BA.

This is where I have to ask my first question. Was the deportee actually maltreated by the British police officers or not? None of the accounts or newspaper reports I have read have implied in any way that the unnamed deportee was maltreated in the deportation process.

The only pointer to that fact, or the only plank upon which we may nail such an allegation is the “I go die o” that the man was said to have been screaming repeatedly as he was being put onto the plane. But I want to ask, is the screaming of “I go die” sufficient proof upon which to come to a conclusion of maltreatment? Does anyone honestly believe that a man (or woman) being deported will sit quietly, and smile through the entire repatriation process? Certainly not. Deportation is to be instinctively resisted, because of what it signifies: The suddenness, the shame, the blacklisting. So the fact that a man being deported is screaming that he will die is not proof that he is anywhere near death.

At this point, let’s listen to the account of the man at the centre of it all, Ayodeji Omotade: “I pleaded with the officers not to kill him and my exact words were ‘please don’t kill him.’ The British Airways staff said the officers were doing their jobs and that nothing was going to happen. The noise became louder and other passengers started getting concerned and were complaining especially about their safety.”

This is where I ask my second question. Are the British police/immigration authorities STUPID (emphasis mine) enough to murder a Nigerian on a plane to Lagos, in full view of tens of Nigerians. If they wanted to kill him wouldn’t it have made more sense for them to have done so before boarding the plane.

Why am I demonstrating this brand of skepticism? A number of people must have read the letter sent to Dele Momodu (and published in the This Day newspaper of Sunday, May 11, 2008) by Olu Ayodeji, a Nigerian who works as a Cabin Services Director with the British Airways in London. I read it and immediately came to the conclusion that Nigerians should pause and do a bit of soul-searching before hanging British Airways (after all we’ve already given the dog a bad name).

And it is Mr. Ayodeji’s article that has emboldened me to share my own perspective on the matter. Mr. Ayodeji is quick to point out that he is not writing as an official spokesperson for the airline, and even the tone of his voice makes it quite evident that this is someone who just wants to set forth his thoughts, and hopefully enable the watching world to get a more balanced view of events. In the last few weeks much of what we have heard has been muddled up in the noise of Nigerian protest – mostly accusations of racism targeted at the “white establishment” that is British Airways.

I don’t know how this may sound, and it will probably not earn me any cheers from this side of the divide, but I can’t shake off the feeling that, instead of stepping back to weigh the issues at hand, Nigerians have resorted to a defence mechanism whose deployment we have perfected over the years: namely, to wield the “Identity” Card. Don’t we all know that, by Nigerian standards, corrupt politicians are not tried or jailed because they have stolen money, but because they are from a certain ethnic group? This is the same card we have played in this case: BA has maltreated us because we are Nigerians - and we MUST fight back. (At this point though I must quickly add a caveat: that none of this is to in any way minimize the reality or extent of racism in high and low places.)

Let’s hear what Mr. Ayodeji (who speaks as someone who has “witnessed at close quarters the attitude of fellow Nigerians on BA flights”) has to say: “When I first joined BA, I used to stand up to my colleagues, at the risk of losing my job, to defend fellow Nigerians' integrity. Sadly, over the years, I've since abandoned that attitude having witnessed and experienced firsthand the embarrassing attitude of Nigerians.” He gives examples; examples which many of us as Nigerians, if we were honest enough to admit to ourselves, would admit are more often the rule than the exception. He speaks of a “generation of Nigerians who see every shortcoming on the part of BA as a basis for confrontation, verbal or physical assault,” and goes on to give examples, which I’m sure every Nigerian traveler will easily identify with.

We don’t need psychologists to officially diagnose us as brash people. Yes, we are the happiest people on earth, and we have learned to match every ounce of happiness with two ounces of brashness. It is a collective brashness, a loudness and argumentativeness that must intimidate other nationalities when they encounter us. Next time you fly international, watch out for how we treat cabin crew. Watch how we flaunt our sense of entitlement – for airline food and wine. How we rush onto planes whose seats are numbered because our “hand-luggage” is “arm-and-leg” luggage that needs infinite space in the overhead compartments.

But the most interesting part of it all is this: what I call the Grand Irony: Everyday Nigerian airlines treat Nigerians worse than animals – overbook flights and reduce boarding to a Darwinian-cum-100m-dash; cancel flights and divert planes to other routes with reckless abandon; hoard tickets and hand over sales to touts; hike prices in a way that would make air travel the envy of Sotheby's. Time after time our honourable politicians shut down the airspace so their executive and chartered flights can land undisturbed; our Big Men delay flights (even international ones) for hours in order not to be late for their shopping binges; and our runways admit cows to graze merrily and watch planes land up close and personal.

All of these happen, and all we do is whimper, perhaps grumble, and life goes on. We dey kampe! Nothing dey happen! No shaking! How I wish that (we)Nigerians were as vocal in our protestations against the inhuman treatments meted out to us by domestic airlines, as we now are against BA. A few years ago an entire plane-load of Nigerian citizens was consumed by flames while a crowd (parents, relatives, and friends) watched, helpless, because an airport had insufficient fire-fighting capability. And life went on. It didn’t occur to us to boycott our airports until basic facilities were put in place.

But when an international airline, concerned about the commotion aboard a flight that was their responsibility, chooses to take steps they deem necessary to safeguard the flight, before you can say “control tower”, an entire nation has risen and whipped out the race card. We have done it the way we have learnt to do it – the “Do You Know Who I Am”? Way. Pause and watch next time two cars collide near you in a traffic jam, or when someone jumps a queue in a bank and tempers flare; and count the number of “Do You Know Who I am?” that you will hear fired from angry lips.

It is our nature. We will continue to spurn the “organized” route, because things work faster that way – at least within our country. The Rule of Gra-gra makes things happen, and makes them happen fast. But we fail to learn that things may not always work that way outside our borders.

Again I say it, I do not attempt to minimize the import and the gravity of the punishment and embarrassment meted out to Mr. Omotade. Nothing will ever justify that. I sympathise with him.....(See excerpt above)
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Tolu Ogunlesi is a short fiction writer, journalist, poet, and juggles all this with a day job! Do check out his blog.

16 comments:

IjebuMan said...

Very well said.
Until we take responsibility for our collective behavior and the resulting reputation, I suspect the respect we desire will continue to elude us. There's never a justification for treating anyone shabbily but it would be naive to view this incident outside the context of what the world understands to be our "Nigerianess". When we fix the world's perception of what it is to be Nigerian, we fix the root cause of the problem. Obviously, we don't fix the perception by simply demanding it.....or even worse, behaving in the same manner that created this unpalatable perception in the first place. It took years and years of behaving badly for us to have a bad name, it'll take years and years of behaving well to reverse it. This has nothing to do with BA, we need to do this for ourselves.

SOLOMONSYDELLE said...

I agree with the essence of Ogunlesi's stance. Nigeria should have set up its own air carrier after the demise of NA. It should not have created Virgin Nigeria especially when the majority of the money in the airline came from nigeria's coffers. There is indeed at least one domestic carrier that the nation could have invested in and used to be the nation's carrier.

But that is besides the point. Whether Nigeria has its own carrier or has VN does not change the fact that Nigerians are not to be messed with. Here's a little bit of history 101. Kwame Nkrumah made it known that if anyone messed with a single Ghanaian anywhere in the world, they would have to deal with him, personally. That stance by Nkrumah, set up the precedent for every single Ghanaian leader that came in his wake, military or civilian. Do you think BA would have tried to remove 136 Ghanaian's from their flight even if those Ghanaians under the same or similar circumstances. I put it to you right here and now, that our Ghanaian brothers and sisters would never receive such abhorrent abuse.

That being said, although i understand Mr. Ogunlesi's point and share it to some extent, I seriously disagree with his suggestion that Nigerian's sit down and be quiet in their 'airline-lessness'. Nigerian's cannot cower in shame because of the failures of their government's and the majority of their 'leaders' who have proven repeatedly to lack vision and to shy away from creating messages that are empowering and inspirational. I am sticking to my guns on this one, and even if I end up being the ONLY NIGERIAN that never ever buys stock in BA or any of their partner airlines and other commercial interests (London Eye being one of them and anyone can feel free to read my post to learn the strategy I suggested), I will continue to stand for the betterment of my people and the respect that they deserve from foreign corporate interests, foreign governments, our own government and our own people.

As such, I thank you Afro Beat for bringing Ogunlesi's opinion to my attention. I thank him as well for pointing out things that some of us would rather not face but, I will unfortunately disagree with some of his conclusions.

naijalines said...
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naijalines said...

I'm with Solomonsydelle on this one. BA has had it coming for years! I know a number of nigerians who'd already boycotted BA at least 10 years b4 this incident. I'm also of the opinion that certain so-called character traits of Nigerians is cancerous prejudice and stereotyping. The attitude of a few Nigerians here and there cannot be blamed for the bad treatment meted out to many decent Nigerians in diaspora every single day.

I would argue that it is in fact this sort of virulent prejudice and stereotyping; the that-is-how-NIGERIANS-behave-dogma-mentality of many of these foreign corporate interests... is what led to BA's degrading treatment of Nigerians on that plane.

Particularly in relation to the BA incident... This mentality espoused by fellow Nigerians... Is damaging, divisive, obstructive, and counterproductive.

Omo Alagbede said...

I must point out that my argument is not that BA is not - or does not contain - a bunch of racist white peeps. But then again, I get accused of stereotyping Nigerians, yet my accusers apply the same stereotyping brush on BA. Boycott BA! Boycott BA! BA is racist! How is that different ("generalisation-wise") from saying "Nigerians" are brash.

Secondly, let anyone who feels offended by BA, take personal action against BA by suing or boycotting. I hear there are many individuals out there who have personally decided to boycott BA, and are not making any noise about it. That's the way to go. Not this "parapo", "town-union" mentality, that will do us no good. The anger many are displaying today is the same kind of "vex" that our people must have made in that BA flight that fateful day, that ended up alarming the oyinbo cops...

For the love of me said...

I do not think I agree with Tolu on this one, I think that it is exactly this attitude that has kept Nigeria where it is. We justify almost everything.
BA and others, I insist, do not treat us bad because we do not have a national carrier.They treat us so because they know they can. They know we won't do anything about it. And for once, I am glad we have surprised them. Nigerians as Pastor Paul would say know how to take a licking and keep on taking it. At home, abroad,everywhere. Everyone complaining about Nigeria's lack of this and that, what are you going to do about it? If you can fix the issues in Nigeria, that'll be great, we will be most grateful, but if you can't, kindly let people demand/make changes the only way they know how.
Nigeria's problems are huge. There's something for everyone to do. Simply do your bit.

Jinta said...

ogunlesi is, of course entitled to his/her opinion. i disagree. whether or not we have a national airline should not be criteria for respect. we are a people who are industrious, hard-working and proud and should be sufficiently self-loving to reject such nonsense, as one.

one of your commentators kicked against 'parapo'. unfortunately, it is comments like that which keep us as a divided people that cannot confront even our thieving polititians

finally, i disgree with you for even considering taking ba because you did not like air india. what is wrong with air india? i took it to new york once and they were ok, certainly better than virgin nigeria; and india have their own airline.; and they've been running a democracy since 1948 - exactly 60 years later, we're still rigging elections

it wasn't until blacks boycotted the bus service in alabama and walked miles to work for weeks that the bus service was desegregated. ba is certainly big and convenient, but to save our souls, we all have to suffer some discomfort in 'parapo'

naijalines said...

Exactly...

If there were no parapo mentality, would the civil rights movement have got off the ground? Black people would still be lynched & hung on trees and crosses today, if not for the parapo mentality.

The parapo mentality has achieved a lot for humanity, so I wouldn't knock it. It's that same parapo mentality that gave Nigeria its independence from colonial rule! This issue is not so much about racism. It's about basic human rights: treat all human beings equally with respect and dignity. PERIOD. Is that so hard to understand???

Personally, I'm tired of the selfish individual streak in some Nigerians who have no regard for the massive strength of public opinion in speaking out against injustices; yet day by day they themselves reap the benefits of freedom from injustice and oppression that their national forefathers fought for...

TheAfroBeat said...

Thanks for clarifying your take on the matter, Omo Alagbede (the author, Tolu, for those of you who don't know). But i don't think that calling for a Boycott of BA, or inferring from the incident that BA is racist in their approach to Nigerians, is in anyway stereotyping BA. Based on their actions, people have made their judgments (which might in the end, be completely wrong) but stereotyping doesn't take the action of the individual (on whom the stereotype is placed) into consideration, and instead pre-judges. One might argue that you're stereotyping Nigerians on the BA75 flight by assuming that this "parapo" mentality must have led to some sort of misconduct that warranted them being thrown off the plane, without even having the facts right. I will confess that i did the same, but based on Mr Omotade's account, without first hearing BA's side of the story (which wasn't given until a MONTH LATER!). What say you?

@ Brother Jinta, the truth is i had to take the cheapest fare because it's a company trip and I won't get reimbursed 100% if i do otherwise. I hadn't heard of Air India but if i had been pushed to the wall, i would have done my homework to make sure they were legit (I found out they are part of Star Alliance, so heck yes, I would have flown them over BA if the company allowed and I felt safe about it!). How're things?

guerreiranigeriana said...

...i learned a long time ago that excuses are the tools of the incompetent used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness...i can not remember all the words...but you get the points...ogunlesi writes very well, but suceeds in pointing out a lot of excuses againts boycotting...

...so now, because my government doesn't have a national airline, anyone around the world can just mistreat me?...the same people ogunlesi points out as whimpering and grumbling when our own government mistreats us are the same people, who when you sit down to organize a response will start reminding you of why you should just 'leave am for God o!'...

...if indeed the other passengers were reacting in fear to the deportee's treatment, i don't see anything wrong with them voicing their opinions and disapproval of the mistreatment of a fellow human being...as we all have sat trying to behave prim and properly, our sister and brothers have died in darfur, rwanda, the congo, ivory coast, the holocaust, serbia, etc...

...and this notion that we are treated badly because we go around misbehaving has also got to be addressed...i am sick of hearing this wack and tired excuse...when the europeans came and started stealing africans to use as slaves, let me guess, it was because the africans were behaving as slaves already right?...why then don't we think of europeans as disease-carrying, pillaging, rapist thieves?...is that not what they did and continue to do to the continent of africa and latin america?...no, instead, we bend over backwards to allow them walk all over us and degrade us...nonsense...so, yes, a few nigerians engage in 419/yahoo-yahoo, we have had some corrupt leaders and act obnoxiously when traveling...although i don't engage in any of these activities, i will make sure and inform my dog to shit and piss on me...after all, i am a nigerian and thus unworthy of respect...

...for those of you not interested in fighting against disrespectful and unjust treatment, please, continue to fly ba...hopefully they'll see past your nigerian heritage and obviously misbehaving self and treat you kindly...those of us interested in boycotting, leave us to boycott...i don't need convincing with weak and self-hate filled excuses for bad treatment...this boycott for me is much bigger than some apology and parapo...stand for something or fall for anything...

Sherri said...

i agree largely with tolu..

Pink-satin said...

tolu has spoken well o!yes we should be ashamed we do not have a national airline!blah blah blah!!!but that doesnt mean we should be ill-treated...after all BA is enjoying from us not having our own national carrier!!!

STAND FOR SOMETHING!!!

Pink-satin said...

@ Tolu omo alagbede wow...u say "town-union" mentality".....we trying to voice our opinion,calling for better treatment has turned to "town-union" mentality"....its up to anybody to boycott if they wish its not like we are forcing people to boycott!!!so some people are boycotting and not makin noise ...thats the way to go about it? then why are you too making noise!!!why dont u silently fly BA and keep all your opinions to yourself...after all some people support BA and think we deserve this ill treatment since we dont have our own airline and they are not making noise

d same vex is the one that annoyed the oyibo cops!!!shoot..are u serious!!!!

SERIOUSLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

Doja said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Naapali said...

I left my comments to Mr. Ogunlesi's post on Naijablog. I agree with Guerreiranigeriana in entirety.

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