Enroute Nosy Be: Ruminations On Nigeria/Africa

Our short stay in the land of the Amazon women who fought better than many men was unforgettable. I wrote an earlier piece “Christmas in Cotonou Reflections and Jaffa Syndrome” about our Christmas experience. With Christmas over and our booking up, we had to move on. Instead of going through the sickening demands at toll collection points privatized by Nigerians in uniform, through the land border of sm-crack, we chose to leave the Republic of Benin via Cadejaon Cotonou Airport.

The drive to the airport on the morning of December 28, 2022 was smooth sailing until the police stopped us along what I chose to call the political highway which has many embassies, the presidency and also the statue of the beautiful Amazon woman. The presidency seems to be in defense of Patrice Talon, the occupier. A senior officer approached the car, told us to slow down and pick up a speeding ticket about 50 meters away from where he intercepted us. I learned from Eusebe that a police officer had previously clocked us as driving 67 km/h in a 60 km/h maximum area. There was no argument. We chose the penalty ticket to pay 10,000 CFA. There was no reason for the driver to speed up because I built 3 hours for our departure at a small airport. No charges against the driver.

At the airport, Eusebe willingly and rightfully accepted that he could not enter the departure lounge with us. His son-in-law invited us to spend the New Year in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.

It was a pleasant flight to Addis Ababa for an overnight stay in order to continue to Antananarivo on December 29th. To make our lives easier, stay at the Skylight Hotel at the airport. This is a new addition. We didn’t have to go through Aliyah.

Addis Ababa Bula Airport maintains its leadership as a major hub in Africa. With an airline unmatched in Africa and one of the top 20 in the world, Ethiopia does live up to the tag of being the diplomatic capital of Africa, after all, it hosts the impressive Chinese-donated African Union building.

It was nice to see a line of huge Boeing and Airbus planes parked in the hangars and also on the wide tarmac. I no longer remember when I first moved through Addis Ababa. My guess is that it was in 1981 on my way to Egypt on my way to Pakistan to do my PhD research in the field. It was a much smaller runway and an airfield that hosted several planes. After that, there was an expansion before the current huge expansion that links the phased developments in the past. Ethiopia is one of the least liberal countries in Africa. A foreigner, (unless there has been a change since I left this neighborhood), cannot own real estate except through an Ethiopian spouse. The only exception is Americans whose government has threatened that Ethiopians will be deprived of everything they own in the US! So, Ethiopian Airlines utilizes most of the vast space. And they did well with 144 aircraft, including many huge dreamships and 31 on order. In comparison, when General Olusegun Obasanjo signed in 1979, Nigeria Airways had 22 aircraft and the Murtala Mohammed International Airport had just opened with two operational wings: D & EAB&C., wings were to be built subsequently in a phased approach.

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Please don’t ask me why these additional wings of Murtala Muhammed International Airport are not built till date. However, I read that the aircraft that belonged to Nigeria Airways were reduced to 2 when the General returned as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, President of Nigeria, in 1999. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) in 1987 suspended Nigeria Airways from international clearance under the General’s watch Ibrahim Babangida. There were also a number of safety issues and loss of life. Nigeria Airways, with an ironic “Elephant in Flight” as its logo, finally grounded and folded in 2003. A friend who retired as a captain at Nigeria Airways once told me that Rev. Ogunbiyi’s curse will continue to haunt all the enterprises associated with him and the land that was robbed from it to build the airport and Headquarters of Nigeria Airways. I took it as a beer hall joke even though the story he told was about beer but in his grand mansion. Ministers continue to take their share of whatever is left of the wreckage of Nigeria Airways. Of course, the ministers continued in various ways to rake in money. Contracts were awarded at inflated prices not to build A, B and C wings but to design small buildings as air terminals and they gave themselves concessions on trolleys and even internet supply that never works. Well, the story is not over, we are now asking Ethiopian Airlines to be the strategic partner in the new Nigeria Airways as another venture to spin money into private pockets. For now, the completed deal is stuck in court.

It hurts because I used to be proud to fly Nigeria Airways as every Ethiopian must be when they listen to their language on the front of the announcements in the state owned airline. For example, I once used the airline every weekend to travel to Maiduguri to teach political economy at the university on a special request for support from my home base, the University of Lagos. Professor Alaba Ogunsenwu insisted that I was best placed to carry out the task. Those were the days when it was still somewhat noble to be an academic.

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I also flew on Nigeria Airways when I made my first air journeys to Accra to represent the University of Lagos Students’ Union at the West African Students’ Athletics Competition. I was never a sportsman but the management of ULSU decided that I should represent the union in my capacity as Public Relations Secretary during the 1974/75 session. My second international trip on Nigeria Airways was to the UK in 1975, as a student on summer vacation. It wasn’t a vacation but really a vacation job, saving money and gaining experience. Jason Iroafeli, my friend, pushed me to invest my Western Nigeria scholarship award in this venture. He claimed I would make more money. I did. Those were days when Nigeria was considered globally. We had a strong currency and could visit many countries without a visa apparently as “citizens of the Commonwealth of Nations”.

The trip to the UK was also an opportunity to renew contact with Tony Finch, the school’s father and former teacher at Ijebu-Ode High School, who visited home from Saudi Arabia, where he taught. The only quiet time I had was riding a motorbike with him to Ashurst (his family home), Hailsham, Sussex to visit his astronomer father who worked at Greenwich Observatory, his mother and sister. I remember washing Chelsea Cloister on 29th July 1975 when it was announced that General Yakubu Gwen was deposed, a happy development when I was in discussions with the famous but cunning Godwin Dabo who rose to fame by attacking Joseph Tarka, (a. Gwen’s minister), for being corrupt.

As student leaders, we were willing to commit to working with him towards the overthrow of General Gwen since his regime (as opposed to his personality), had become corrupt. But Dabo was arrested for swindling a socialite before we could execute our plan. Today, General Gwen should be saluted for his leadership of a holy military administration.

I also made a return flight on Nigeria Airways in late 1991 to New York. Major General Ike Nwchukwu, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, appointed me in October 1991 as Special Assistant to General Olusegun Obasanjo in his race to become Secretary General of the United Nations. My journey to New York was on a direct flight on our DC-10 aircraft. I have a first class ticket which allowed for a comfortable sleep. I clearly remember that there were only two of us in that cabin. The other passenger – an Indian businessman in the textile industry was very friendly. Before we landed, he told me how he made so much money in Nigeria. His clan told him never to argue with Nigerian customs officials who he considers the most corrupt. He had to pay whatever they demanded, move his goods and pass on the burden of the “bakish”, the Indian word for bribe, aka “tua kitu kidogo” in Kenya to the end user. No wonder Nigeria’s textile industry And Nigeria’s cotton consumption has skyrocketed. And we wonder why it takes 750 Nigerian naira to exchange for one dollar. Corruption has literally destroyed the value of the naira, hence our personal lives.

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Nigeria Airways was on its deathbed. Unfortunately, the International Monetary Fund came with the skilled economists in Nigeria to teach us that our problem is that we have government enterprises. We rallied against the enslavement program to perpetuate neo-colonialism. The question that continues to occupy my mind is simple. Why did Ethiopian Airlines prosper and Nigeria was a graveyard of private airlines? All those private airlines were used as money laundering enterprises for thefts from national property. There were too many to count. Money laundering plays a major role even in the current private airlines. But who really cares when this is a nation with impunity for corruption?

As we enjoyed the ease of having a place to sleep at the Addis Ababa airport, without going through immigration and security checks, I could not help but wonder why Nigeria, the Lilliputian “giant of Africa” ​​with so much human and material resources, cannot serve as an aviation hub in Africa, no, even in West Africa. Togo is quickly emerging as the center of West Africa. I love the Naija phrase: “Who did this to us?”

Boarding Ethiopian Airlines was about 20 minutes, walking through crowds in constant motion. On board I had a row of three seats to myself on departure. An older looking lady was advised to leave an exit seat which cost more than others given the legroom. She was not strong enough for the task. My wife also had a fight with herself. We used to beg people to sit in such places, but that’s not the case anymore. You pay more for them. A Chinese guy jumped up to sit next to me. The supervising flight attendant talked to him about whether he would accept the responsibility of opening the door in an emergency. He responded in Chinese. The flight attendant insisted that he must return to his previous seat. She was stern and refused to be persuaded by her colleague that she wanted the Chinese to remain in the seat. I felt proud of her professionalism.

As a child learning about Africa, I loved Malagasy names. The capital, Antananarivo, sounds like a sweet sentence to pronounce. I was very much looking forward to a smooth landing in Antananarivo to make an overnight transfer to Nosy Be.

– Babafemi A. Badejo, former Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, is currently Professor of Political Science/International Relations at Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Nigeria.


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