My Japanese colleague (who was visiting Nigeria the first time) and I went back and forth from the Check-in counter to the Ticket selling point, only to be referred to the Booking Centre upstairs at the departure hall of MM2. I was losing my patience for I thought I had resolved the issue of changing my flight and hers two days earlier in Abuja. We had paid for a flight from Abuja to Kano only to receive a call from Virgin that the flight to Kano on the day we’d booked was canceled due to technical problems.aircraft to be used had developed a fault they said.
We had to request a re-scheduling of our flight so we can fly directly from Lagos to Kano. The people we had planned to meet in Kano agreed to reschedule and I felt everything was cool. Finally through the conscientious efforts of the Virgin Nigeria staff, the problem was resolved and we boarded the Lagos-Abuja/Kano bound flight.
When we landed in Abuja, I waved goodbye to the toddler whose mom sat behind me, and he reveled in poking at my hair during the flight. Majority of the passengers disembarked leaving the 40 Kano-bound passengers enough room to roam about in the belly of the flying bird. I asked for extra bites of cake and fruit juice from the friendly flight attendants who obliged willingly. The past 2 weeks, I had flown with the same cabin crew and our smiley exchanges didn’t look out of place and the extra chunk of cake and cut of juice wouldn’t break customer care codes after all!
At 6:15PM, we taxied again after refueling and the Boeing 747 bird nosed up and we flew out of sight, and my eyes were glued to the window to catch a final glimpse of the picturesque hilltops and lush greenery that encircle and overlook Nigeria’s capital city. By road, it takes a little over 4 hours to travel from Abuja to Kano, but thanks to aviation technology, a flying bird would huddle one from Abuja to Kano in breath-taking speed with 25 minutes! I watched as we breezed past drifting clouds and no sooner, we no longer had any idea of what terrestrial life looked like from such dizzying heights that organic and powerful birds like the dignifying eagle wouldn’t dare to attempt.
All of a sudden, the ‘fasten-your-seat-belts’ warning came up and the voice-over announcer asked all to seat tight. We’ re lunging into a ‘turbulence’ but the weather was supposedly fair and flight-friendly before the control tower in Abuja gave the female-pilot a plausible prompt to face Kano. No motivational speaker or miracle-worker was handy to give us pep-talks. If any was in the plane, his inspirational lines went with the storm.
Initially, I had thought it was the usual ‘air turbulence’ but for seconds that stretched into elongated minutes, we bumped and rocked like a rickety bus galloping through a rugged terrain. The plane seemed to have lost control and began to plunge steeply downwards as though gravity was a fellow-accomplice. I looked around, everyone was too horrified to ask any questions and the cabin crew made no further announcements.
I tried to do ”odeshi” by ignoring the bumping and rocking swagger of the plane, feigning to be held irresistibly by Richard Dowden’s book, “Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles” which have accompanied me in my most recent flights. I dropped the book and freed my hands so they can grasp anything graspable to stabilize me. A vociferous woman ahead of me began to scream and shout, “the blood of Jesus”, and spewed out prayers and cries of dereliction. She was not ashamed to ‘confess her sins’ to God openly’ and like the thief who was crucified with Jesus Christ, her entrance to paradise may have been secured ”prayerfully”.
A day before the flight, I had a meeting over the burial of an old classmate who died a week earlier, and wondered if I was going to be added as mere data to the statistics of those that perished without trace through air mishaps. So deep within, I began to pray in tongues and mutter scriptures and words that emphasized God’s life. I said ‘I’ll live and not die to declare the glory of God’. My lips moved as I remembered how Jesus commanded the raging storms to be still. At some point, I calmed myself that even if the plane crashes and I die, I’d accept it ‘gladly’ save that I’d regret that I’ve quite done all that I set out to do on earth. I had projects to face; books to write; publishing company to build; places to visit; prayers to pray, knowledge to acquire; people to mentor and give hope to; and much more!
I had cried over the sudden death of loved ones and couldn’t bear to imagine what sorrow the news of my death would evoke in the hearts of close family members and friends. I asked what tributes would pour from the hearts of those my life benefited and I’m certain I’d also caused pain to some others to whom I may be seen as a villain for obvious reasons. For even a saint falters and it’s been said of the ‘righteous’ that they can fail and falter ‘seven times’.
At that hapless and death-bound height, everything on earth lost significance. An eerie cloud of doom snuffed out hope from the faces of the fear-stricken passengers. A young Lagos guy on NYSC posting to Jigawa State who sat to my left was visibly shaken and couldn’t look out through the window again. As I peered and forced my eyes to see, everything looked black with no flicker of light; of life to behold. The woman in my front raised the tempo of her prayers, and a man sitting to my left moved his lips endlessly as he prayed silently. I wondered what an atheist or free thinker would’ve done in the midst of it all. Would he be able to tap into his ‘inner power of the mind’ to steer the aircraft away from danger zone to safety? God became very relevant, and belief in a higher power was inalienable and acceptable mid-air!
After a long battle, the skyline over kano came to view as tiny flickers of light that peered through a ticket of darkness. Our hopes for landing then rose, but the stormy bumps seemed to not abate in their onslaught against our flight path. We wished the plane could jump down safely like a trained paratrooper without having to circle over and again.endlessly! Heart palpitations, tremors, murmurs, and thuds assailed our hearts the more, and we wondered what would have been the heart beat of the pilot locked up in the console. And the business class passengers had no insurance or extra privileges to draw from, for paying more than us in the economy cabin!
Cabin crew get ready for landing! Ensure that your seatbelts are securely fastened and your seats are in upright position!! Do we believe or not that the landing would be safe? As the tires hit the tarmac and began to taxi along, a passenger disengages from his seat and hit the aisle in a bid to ‘escape’. The flight attendants had to calm him down, till his seat received his buttocks back to the fold. Then the final stop but there was no shout of hallelujah. In silence we all marched out hastily to the arrival hall as though the storm was in hot pursuit to snuff out our lives!
I checked the time, and the clock’s hand hovered around 7.30pm and a quick addition helped me surmise that we spent over 75 minutes mid-air in dread for a flight that would have taken about 25 minutes. As we huddled to pick our loads, I walked up to exchange pleasantries with the NYSC guy and still in shock, he told me he’d never board a plane in his life again until the phobia induced by this scary flight left him. An expatriate within reach made a phone call through, and I overhear him tell the other party that he’d never enter a plane again! He sounded absolutely vehement! A young urbane Muslim girl I chatted briefly with told me how she laughed at herself during the turbulent flight, and wondered if her life was coming to an end via a plane crash.
The Igbo woman whose prayer was most dramatic told me how she had a dream while in China the previous day. The melodrama involved her pastor who forcefully restrained her from entering a particular flight in the dream and after the exchange, she had
woken up. and the nightmarish scare nudged her to pray in China. Since the flight from China-Lagos-Abuja was smooth, she forgot all about the dreadful dream until the storms came. Another passenger corroborated that he also had a foreboding dream the previous night. So we eventually didn’t join to swell the statistical count of passengers who lost their lives in 2009 through air-mishaps. Kabiyesi, Olorun ese pupo ooh! Chineke mmama ooh!! Nagode Allah sai.!!!
The car hire picked my scared Japanese colleague and I and we headed into Kano metropolis, I felt a dull ache around my neck as I tried to turn my neck. It’s obvious that my neck muscles were over tasked in their effort to stabilize my hapless and swaying head during the scary flight.
Later that night in a chat with a medical doctor friend (and former classmate at Bayero University Kano), I was too miffed to recount the ordeal, and he told me how he’d been obviously worried after I sent him an text message that we’re about to take off to Kano, knowing that the forecast had hinted that the weather would be inclement that day. Had the plane crashed, would the aviation authorities hurry to make statements to exonerate or vilify anyone? Would family and friends trace the ”passengers manifest” to confirm my name as one of the survivors or not?
I am alive and life is good, but no Dis-virgined airline would conspire with the clouds and mid-air storms to abort my life. Nay, I am here to stay for a very long time still!