Our short stay in the land of the Amazons who fought better than many men was memorable. He had written a previous article, “Christmas Reflections in Cotonou and the “Japa” Syndrome” about our Christmas experience. With Christmas gone by and our invitation expired, we had to move on. Rather than go through the nauseating demands at toll collection points privatized by Nigerians in uniform, across the Seme-Krake land border, we decided to leave the Republic of Benin via Cadjehoun Cotonou airport.
The trip to the airport on the morning of December 28, 2022 went smoothly until we were stopped by the police on what I chose to call the diplomatic road which has many embassies, the presidency and the statue of the beautiful Amazon woman that dominates the presidency as to protect Patrice Talon, the occupier. A superior officer approached the car, told us to slow down and get a speeding ticket about 50 meters from where he had intercepted us. I learned from Eusebe that a previous policeman had timed us driving at 67 km/h in a maximum area of 60 km/h. There was no discussion. We chose the penal ticket to pay 10,000 cfa. There was no reason for the driver to speed up because he had built 3 hours into our departure at a small airport. No recriminations to the driver.
At the airport, Eusebe willingly and rightly accepted that she could not come into the departure lounge with us. Our son-in-law had invited us to spend the New Year in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.
It was a nice flight to Addis Ababa for the night and continue to Antananarivo on December 29. To make life easier for us, we stayed at the Skylight hotel inside the airport. This is a new addition. We didn’t have to go through immigration.
Addis Ababa Bole Airport maintains its leadership as a major hub in Africa. With an airline that is second to none in Africa and one of the top 20 in the world, Ethiopia truly lives up to the label of being the diplomatic capital of Africa – after all, it is home to the imposing Chinese-donated African Union building.
It was nice to see a row of huge Boeing and Airbus planes parked in the hangars as well as on the wide runway. I no longer remember when I passed through Addis Ababa for the first time. I guess it was in 1981 when I was heading to Egypt on my way to Pakistan to do my PhD field research. It was a much smaller runway and airport that housed a few planes. Subsequently, there was an expansion before the current major expansion linking developments in earlier stages. Ethiopia is one of the least liberal countries in Africa. A foreigner, (except there is a change since I left that neighborhood), cannot own real estate except through an Ethiopian spouse. The only exception is the Americans whose government had threatened to deny the Ethiopians everything they owned in the US! So Ethiopian Airlines uses most of the huge space. And they’ve done well with 144 aircraft, including many dream big liners and 31 orders. By comparison, when General Olusegun Obasanjo signed on in 1979, Nigeria Airways had 22 aircraft and Murtala Mohammed International Airport had just opened with two operational wings: D & EAB&C. The wings would later be built in a staged approach.
Please don’t ask me why those planned additional wings of Murtala Muhammed International Airport are not built until today. However, I read that the planes belonging to Nigeria Airways had been reduced to 2 when the General returned as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, President of Nigeria, in 1999. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) in 1987 had suspended Nigeria Airways from international compensation. house under the surveillance of General Ibrahim Babangida. There had been a number of safety issues and loss of life as well. Nigeria Airways, with a tongue-in-cheek “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 Reverend Ogunbiyi’s curse will continue to haunt all companies associated with the land they stole from him to build the airport and Nigeria Airways headquarters. He took this as a brewery joke even though the story he told was about a beer but in his palatial mansion. Ministers continue to take their share of what was left of the ruins of Nigeria Airways. Of course, the ministers followed different paths to raise money. Contracts were awarded at inflated prices not to build A, B and C wings, but to design small buildings as air terminals, and concessions were given on trams and even Internet provision that never works. Well, the story is not over, now we are asking Ethiopian Airlines to be the strategic partner in a new Nigeria Airways as another lucrative venture for private pockets. For now, the finished deal is stuck in court.
It’s painful because I was once proud to fly with Nigeria Airways as every Ethiopian should be when they hear their language at the forefront of the state airline’s advertisements. For example, I once used the airline every weekend to go to Maiduguri to teach Political Economy at the University at the special request of support from my main base, the University of Lagos. Professor Alaba Ogunsanwo had insisted that I was the best placed to undertake the task. Those were the days when it was still kind of noble to be an academic.
I had also flown with Nigeria Airways when I undertook my first air trip to Accra to represent the University of Lagos Students’ Union in the West African Student Athletic Competition. I was never an athlete, but the ULSU Executive decided that I should represent the Union in my capacity as Secretary of Public Relations during the 1974/75 session. My second international trip with Nigeria Airways was to the UK in 1975, as a student on summer vacation. It wasn’t a vacation but a vacation job, to save money and gain experience. Jason Iroapali, my friend, had pushed me to invest my Western Nigeria Bursary scholarship in this venture. He argued that he would earn more money. I made. Those were days when Nigeria counted in the world. We had a powerful currency and could visit many countries without a visa ostensibly as “Citizens of the Commonwealth”.
Going to the UK was also an opportunity to reconnect with Tony Finch, my school father and former teacher at Ijebu-Ode Primary School, who was visiting home from Saudi Arabia where he was teaching. The only moment of relaxation she had was to go on a motorbike with him to Ashurst (name of his family home), Hailsham, Sussex to visit his father an astronomer who worked at Greenwich Observatory, his mother and the sister of him I remember I was sweeping the Chelsea Cloisters on 29th July 1975 when it was announced that General Yakubu Gowon had been ousted, a pleasant event as I was arguing with the famous but cunning Godwin Daboh, who made his name by attacking Joseph Tarka (a Minister of Gowon), for being corrupt.
As student leaders, we were willing to commit to working with him to have General Gowon overthrown since his regime (as opposed to him) had gone rogue. But Daboh was arrested for cheating on a socialite before we could consummate our plan. Today, General Gowon should be honored for leading a holy military administration.
I also did a return flight on Nigeria Airways in late 1991 to New York. Major General Ike Nwachukwu, as Foreign Minister, had appointed me in October 1991 as Special Assistant to General Olusegun Obasanjo in his race to become Secretary General of the United Nations. My trip to New York was on a direct flight with our DC-10 plane. I had a first-class ticket that 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 landing, he told me how he made so much money in Nigeria. His family told him never to argue with the Nigerian customs officials whom he considered to be the most corrupt. He was to pay what they demanded, move their goods, and pass the load of “bakshish,” the Indian word for bribe, also known as “tua kitu kidogo” in Kenya, to the end user. No wonder Nigeria’s textile industry and cotton consumption went into a coma. And we wonder why it takes 750 Nigerian nairas to exchange them for one dollar. Corruption literally decimated the value of the naira, hence our individual lives.
Nigeria Airways was on its deathbed. Unfortunately, the International Monetary Fund came with their Nigerian-trained economists to teach us that our problem is having state-owned companies. We protest against the enslavement plan to perpetuate neocolonialism. The question that continues to occupy my mind is simple. Why has Ethiopian Airlines prospered and Nigeria been a graveyard for private airlines? All of these private airlines served as money laundering companies for theft of national assets. There have been too many to count. Money laundering plays an important role even in today’s private airlines. But who really cares when it comes to a nation of impunity for corruption?
As we enjoyed the ease of having a place to sleep at the Addis Ababa airport, bypassing immigration and security checks, I couldn’t help but wonder why Nigeria, the Lilliputian “Giant of Africa” with so many human and material resources , could not serve. as a hub for airlines in Africa, what’s more, even in West Africa. Togo is fast emerging as the center of West Africa. I like Naija’s expression: “who did this to us?”
Boarding on Ethiopian Airlines was about 20 minutes, walking through constantly moving crowds. On board, I had a row of three seats to myself at the exit. An older lady was advised to leave an exit seat which cost more than others given her legroom. She wasn’t strong enough for the task. My wife also had a row to herself. People used to be begged to take those seats, but that’s not the case anymore. You pay more for them. A Chinese boy jumped up to sit next to me. The supervising flight attendant talked to him about whether he would accept responsibility for opening the door in an emergency. He replied in Chinese. The flight attendant insisted that she should go back to her previous seat. She was properly stern and she refused to be persuaded by her colleague that she wanted the Chinese to stay in the seat. I was proud of her professionalism.
When I was a kid learning about Africa, I liked Malagasy names. The capital, Antananarivo, sounds like a sweet phrase to utter. I was looking forward to landing safely in Antananarivo for an overnight transit 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.