I was home recently in Nigeria. While returning to my base in New York, I was among a bunch of Nigerian travelers who were to stop over in London before continuing to the United States of America. It would have been qualified as a good trip by all passengers, but it was not the case for us especially for a gentleman amongst us who ended up being locked up in London. A situation that tested the question in many of us – “How proud am I to be a Nigerian?” But, how did it all come to that. Please read on.
It had snowed just a little and the runway of London Heathrow Airport was closed. After hovering in the air for hours, and after waiting endlessly for the runway to be reopened, our flight was redirected to Gatwick Airport also in London, for landing. After landing, we were not allowed to leave the plane for another 4 hours. During the wait, some passengers were upset at the understanding that the airline was concerned with making a profitable decision rather than the convenience of the passengers. Other passengers argued that we were being treated with neglect because the flight was from Africa and full of Nigerians. At some point news filtered in that the authorities needed to provide a high number of immigration officials at the airport to take care of us because of our (Nigerians) high rate of illegal immigration incidents.
The pilot and his crew denied the allegations. In turn they gave several untenable reasons and excuses for the delay and what was almost becoming a sort of imprisonment, as the passengers demanded explanations upon explanations. At the end, it seemed that the passengers were correct. The airline provided no justification for not letting us alight from the aircraft, 4 hours after we landed. We were supposed to arrive Heathrow by 3:00 P.M., but we alighted at about 11:00 P.M. at Gatwick Airport. The airport was almost deserted, as most airport workers and airport businesses were either gone or closed for the day. It took another hour for the airline officials to show up at their booth to provide us with hotel accommodation.
We were told to wake up as early as 5: 00 A.M. to be taken to Heathrow Airport by 6:00 A.M. Again, Africans will be on time when they want to. At 5:00 A.M. We were ready to go but the bus did not arrive till about 7:00 P.M. When we arrived Heathrow Airport (by Bus) at about 9:00 A.M. the 1st and 2nd flights to the United States were fully booked. The last flight would leave at 4:00 P.M. Everyone wanted to make sure he or she would be on that flight. In the ensuing eagerness, a gentleman with us ended up exchanging words with an airline clerk who did not like the way the gentleman spoke with her. She threatened to call the police and she made true her threat. When the police arrived, the Clerk started shedding tears (crying?) and accused the gentleman of threatening her. Many of us are familiar with how much the authorities in Europe and America can be influenced by crocodile tears. Well, the gentleman was cuffed, arrested, and whisked away.
At first, the initial reaction of most of us was to voice our protest and disapproval at what we saw to be injustice, discrimination, and harassment meted on one of us, and a bid to prevent the rest of us up from demanding our rights to be treated fairly like other world travelers. Voices were about to rise, and the police were about to call for back up to arrest more of us. However, cooler heads prevailed. A Resident Nurse and a Lawyer both based in New York, as well as a Reverend Father all from Nigeria with us called for calm. The lawyer amongst us quickly drafted a letter (witnesses’ testimony) and passed it around for all those around who witnessed the incident to voluntarily append their names and signature.
At this point, a few Nigerian passengers stayed aloof and washed their hands off the incident. This was one of those unannounced situations to proudly stand up for our own as Nigerians, but some Nigerians amongst us preferred not to identify with it. Perhaps they were not proud to identify with their kind who was in need, or they must have some other personal reasons. However, many others who appreciated the fact that the gentleman was speaking on our behalf (albeit unofficially) quickly signed the letter. It would be sad and hypocritical for most of us Nigerians to abandon this Nigerian at that point. The compassionate and proud Nigerians fearlessly and without equivocation, appended their names to the letter. They were in the majority as has always been the case.
Subsequently, the Lawyer amongst us personally took it upon himself to make sure that the gentleman who was arrested did get a fair treatment. He went ahead to submit the letter to numerous authorities including the police and the airline top officials. Four hours later (about an hour before our flight would take off to New York) there was no sign of the gentleman, and we were prevented from reaching him. The Lawyer amongst us then called the US embassy in London to notify them of the arrest, since the gentleman was a US Citizen (though of Nigerian origin). It was then learnt that the arrest had not been reported to the embassy as was required by law. The lawyer then implored the embassy to seriously get involved with the case and he also left his personal contact information for the embassy since our flight was about to leave.
The flight did leave without the gentleman. About a week later, the gentleman found his way to the office of the Lawyer to show his gratitude. He then explained that he was charged to court in London the next day, but that the letter written by the other Nigerian passengers made all the difference. According to the gentleman. The judge dismissed the charge based on the testimony of the passengers who witnessed the incident as stated in our letter.
I will not repeat the many things worthy of note in this story, but in conclusion, permit me to say that it is not a bad idea to see the goodness in us, and to be proud of who we are and where we come from regardless of what ill others may think. There are a few Nigerians who tarnish the Nigerian image, and because of that, Nigerians may sometimes hesitate to say things like “I am from Nigeria,” etc. However, there are quite a lot of positive, compassionate Nigerians, ever so resourceful and hardworking. We can always be proud of that. I am. Nigerians ought to respect and help themselves if they want the world to help and respect them. This is just my understanding, and though I am a Nigerian-American, I am ever proud to be Nigerian by origin. Our fatherland!
Read PART ONE HERE.
FatherlandThough in hardship we many suffer,
We assure tomorrow by steadfast work,
As a breed of people never subdued.
Though our country’s name is tarnished,
By few of us in unpopular ventures,
We remain achievers across the world,
For most of us are true good men,
Revered by those who really know us.
Though in tribe and tongue we may differ,
And though in the past, we fought a war,
We stand stronger in pending freedom,
Cherishing the labor of our heroes past,
In loving strength and faith united,
To uphold that honor and that glory,
Of a people diverse but industrious,
And yes we’re called the Nigerians.
This fatherland and native country
Of plentiful rain and moderate climate
Endowed with nature’s own blessings,
Allowing production of diverse food,
Oil and gas and major minerals,
Blended with a populous citizenry,
This is my own dear native land,
And with God in it we proudly stand.
Oliver Mbamara, Esq. © 2003
Oliver Mbamara, Esq., is an Administrative Law Judge with the State of New York. Web Sites: www.Expressionsofsoul.com, www.PoemsofSoul.com, www.AfricanTheaterUSA.com, www.AfricanEvents.com