It was in February, 2012. A Revival in Port-Harcourt and a quick visit to two friends of mine in Abuja surged me to journey home. In twenty-four years I had not seen Tony Akhiotu, now Managing Director, DAAR Communication. Nothing of course would be wrong to say hello to him as he was expecting me. The Adebayos too, (Wole & Anita) extended to me a warm invite to visit their place. The choice was no longer mine; I had to see my friends in the capital of Nigeria, that’s what friends are for. A table had been prepared before me in the presence of my friends.
Continue after the break.
Each time I travel to Nigeria, I just have to stay at least two nights in my place of birth. It’s a covenant of sort with Ibadan that I will not break. Everything seemed set in place for this, and I was looking forward to a refreshing time in Abuja. flying out of Ibadan was a deserving beat of the crazy Lagos traffic I would have run into if I were to fly out of MMA2, and driving down the treacherous death-trap called Ibadan-Lagos expressway to catch a flight in Lagos was not what I looked forward to.
Cordelia Ekwueme, a minister in my church in Milwaukee who had just relocated to Nigeria was just beginning to revamp and run the run-down Associated Airline as the new Managing Director. A handful of Airlines fly out of Ibadan to Abuja, Cordelia told me, and one of them was Associated Airline that she had just begun to manage. I didn’t have to pray to jump on the offer to fly Associated as a VIP. It was a sweet offer.
At the airport I checked in my lone bag, passed through security check and headed straight for the gate, and I saw the plane. It looked like an abandoned piece of scrap metals fit for the junk yard. It was a kind of flying chariot of iron ready to take Elijah to heaven. But I am not Elijah, and not ready to go! If your nostrils are so designed, you could smell death. My heart started beating, but I am a man of God.
Crowning the aircraft were some rickety, rusty propellers swinging like a 1959 ceiling fan we had in our parlor in Ibadan growing up. I hated that fan, and I hated these propellers too. They looked like they had teeth that were set to bite life out of anything that had life. I hesitated on boarding, but one of the luggage boys who noticed the behavior smiled and said to me; “it’s a good plane sir”. I was not actually looking for a good plane; I just wanted a safe one. This plane did not look safe.
We were ushered in and I took my seat on seat 1, I don’t remember if it was 1A or B, but it was to the left of the aircraft and almost directly behind the pilot who definitely was a Nigerian. All the seats were just a little big bigger than my sons’ car-seats when they were babies. I relaxed, because I had to. It was too late to change my mind. I knew I would land somewhere, either in Abuja or in Abraham’s bosom. I was not prepared for the latter.Then the noise! It was both deafening and disruptive. It seemed as if the propellers and the aircraft engine were in a competition to determine which was loudest- a combination of rattling, cranking, and booming noise. I thought about my children, my wife, my church, and the Pounded Yam with Efo Riro waiting for me on Anita Adebayo’s table in Abuja. The hunger and the salivation quickly disappeared.
Then the plane attempted taking off, just like a reluctant child who doesn’t want to go to school when you wake him up early in the morning. That was the mechanical attitude of this plane. The baby didn’t want to go to school, but the Daddy (pilot) forced him to. In seconds, however, with the accompanying noise, the baby lifted up.
I tried looking around and all the passengers had closed their eyes. Why? I didn’t have anyone to ask, I just closed mine too. The noise, and the tilting, and the swerving of the plane mid-air made me sleepless. People might have closed their eyes, I am sure they were not asleep. Nobody could sleep with that kind of noise, not with that kind of “break-dancing” in the air. I grabbed a newspaper and pretended to be reading. The contents on the pages of the newspaper, in my mind, switched between looking blank and looking like they were written in Chinese, as I watched the time slowly ticking by. Then the pilot announced we would be landing in Abuja shortly. I muttered to myself; “I would never come to Nigeria again”. Far-fetched? Yes, but that was how I felt. Then we landed, and it was smooth. I applauded the pilot.
After my experience, I reported to my sister Cordelia who wanted to know how the flight was. I didn’t hold back. I heard that the she had ordered the plane grounded until the problems were addressed. But problems are not addressed in Nigeria; they are dressed up as angels of light. And my sister, just coming from America after over 30 years sojourn, didn’t know that. She was learning how to live in Nigeria. What doesn’t work in Nigeria is never grounded, it is exalted. The working stuff, working idea, working technocrats, working policies, working people, working teams are grounded. My Friends, that was the same plane that crashed in Lagos on Thursday!