Ayodeji Omotade vs. British Airways – by Reuben Abati

23 Comments » April 15th, 2008 posted by // Categories: The Best of Reuben Abati's Editorials




Ayodeji Omotade vs. British Airways

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Written by Reuben Abati   

Sunday, 13 April 2008


Ayodeji Omotade vs. British Airways
By Reuben Abati

On one or two internet sites, particularly Nigerian Village Square, , Nigerians are up in arms against the airline, British Airways over the maltreatment of 135 Nigerian passengers and one Ayodeji Omotade on a March 27, 2008, BA flight to Lagos from Heathrow, London. Readers of Omotade’s story, which he tells with transparent pain and agony have been asked to send protest comments to the CEO of British Airways, amid nationalistic calls for the boycott of British Airways by Nigerian passengers. It is strange that more than a week later, there has been no response from British Airways to this public relations crisis on its Lagos route. It is either the public relations managers of British Airways are asleep, or they have chosen to treat this as a piece of irritation, or they are assured that since the protesters are angry internet commentators, their indignation would soon pass unnoticed.

If the latter reason explains the seeming arrogance of British Airways and its CEO, then it clearly underestimates the influence of internet journalism. With increasing ICT penetration and access to interconnectivity, more persons are spending more time daily on the world wide web, which they now rely on for a broad range of activities including conversation, romance, therapy and education. The number of Nigerians, especially in diaspora, who falls into this category continues to increase, the same with internet sites on Nigerian affairs, with the most active and the most interactive being in my estimation, the Nigeria Village Square.

No serious business should take any debate about its affairs on the internet lightly. Nor should it underestimate the increasing power and influence of citizen journalists, those ordinary men and women who practice journalism simply because they have a story to tell, and they are so moved by events they cannot afford to keep quiet. But the story of Omotade’s agony is told not just in Nigeria Village Square, it was also reported in The Mirror of London as follows:

“A British Airways captain ordered 136 passengers off his plane in chaotic scenes after they all started complaining to cabin crew.

As the flight waited to take off at Heathrow the row was sparked by the restraint of a man being forcibly deported.

Many were distressed by his pitiful cries of “I go die” and one passenger, Ayodeji Omotade, 39, spoke up on his behalf.

The deportee was taken off the Lagos bound jet by immigration staff and police.

But five officers returned and arrested Mr Omotade. This outraged the other 135 passengers in the economy class section and they complained to cabin crew.

Amid riotous scenes in the aisles, 20 police officers boarded to calm everything down.

Then the BA pilot took the extraordinary decision to boot off everyone who had witnessed the arrest of Mr Omotade, an IT consultant from Chatham, Kent.

The captain took the view they were all guilty of disturbing the flight, although no more passengers were arrested.

After the economy class section was virtually cleared, the deportee, aged about 30, was brought back on and the flight left.

The passengers were booked on to later flights but Mr Omotade was told by BA staff he was banned by the airline for life.

English-born Mr Omotade, married with a daughter aged four, was handcuffed and kept in police custody for eight hours after his arrest. He has not been charged and is seeking an apology from BA.

He was travelling from Heathrow’s Terminal 4 to Lagos for his brother’s marriage and had in his luggage the groom’s wedding ring, shirt and suit. He missed the ceremony.

He told the Mirror: “There were agonising noises from an individual being restrained. It went on for 20 minutes.

“I pleaded with the officers and my exact words were, ‘Please don’t kill him.’

“I was not swearing or threatening. BA staff said the officers were doing their jobs and nothing was going to happen. When he was removed we thought it was the end of the matter.

“But police officers came back and I was handcuffed and dragged off the plane.”

He claims his luggage has been lost and �1,600 cash he had for relatives has been taken and not returned.

Scotland Yard confirmed: “A man was arrested for affray and causing a disturbance and was bailed.”

Ba said: “Police were called to the BA75 service to Lagos on March 27 after a large number of passengers became disruptive.

Many were removed.

“We take any threats against our crew or passengers very seriously and this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated.”

What is missing in The Mirror report, but which Omotade provides in his own account is the ordeal which he, Omotade, is now undergoing in the hands of the British authorities. He has been charged to a Magistrate court. Investigators are asking him to provide pay slips and bank statements to enable them establish the source of the money that was found in his possession. British Airways kept his luggage for more than a week; when it was returned, one of the bags was damaged. Omotade was not a Naomi Campbell, playing the prima donna and slapping policemen at the airport, his only offence was that he dared to speak up for a compatriot in distress who was being deported back to Nigeria and who was screaming: “I go die”. He is being punished and victimized, he has now been banned from flying British Airways for life (!), for being outspoken. The other 135 passengers had also protested, but Omotade had to be singled out by British Airways as a scapegoat. Omotade may at the end of the day get the apology and the compensation that he seeks, but to get to that point, he should assert his rights beyond mere complaints on the internet, send a formal complaint to BA, go to court, but it is the mindset, the sociology of air travel, the politics, that has informed his maltreatment that should be addressed.

Since 1999, the Nigerian government has been making efforts to work on Nigeria’s image abroad, to transform the country from being regarded as one of the last outposts of military dictatorship into an open, democratic society, but whatever has been done and gained in this regard has been hobbled by the grand failure of domestic policy, and the failure, also, of national character. Nigeria remains in the eyes of the world, a country that is badly run, badly led and whose citizens in desperation have taken to a life of constant emigration and crime. Every Nigerian that shows up in a foreign land, including African countries, is immediately regarded as a security risk. We have this strange image out there of a loud, ungovernable people, in whose inner recesses exists a craving for the short cut and disdain for rules and standards. It is the likes of that deportee on that British Airways flight who have brought this opprobrium on our heads, it is the likes of Obasanjo, godfathers like Adedibu and all the thieving Governors and Ministers, whose stories are well known in Europe and the United States who have brought us so much undeserved shame. The deportee kept shouting: “I go die”

Even in his distress, it was probably simulated, his compatriots felt for him and tried to defend his right to live. But the British flight crew must have stretched the situation into the hall of prejudices: the pilot had to evict the Nigerian passengers because he had imagined that their complaints could have ended up as “a hijack operation”. “Can’t put anything past these Nigerians”, he must have concluded. We are the victims of some of the worst stereotypes, and profiling systems, in the world. A young lady travelled to Mauritius recently only to discover that every Nigerian is referred to suspiciously as “the Green Passport” by the people of Mauritius. We are not the only country in the world using a green passport, but ours is the only green passport that carries a stigma.

It is not only the British Airways that is guilty. Hotels, restaurants, super markets, foreign government authorities all treat Nigerians suspiciously. A credit card originating from Nigeria is subjected to more than ordinary scrutiny. Ayodeji Omotade is a British citizen but that did not stop the BA and the British police from treating him shabbily. If he is Nigerian, then there must be something about him. So, they refused to listen to his pleas that he had not committed any crime or disrupted the activities of the almighty British Airways. They had to investigate the source of the one thousand six hundred pounds (about $3, 200) that they found on him. They probably thought he could be a money laundering agent for one of those corrupt Nigerian public officials. They have seen so many in the recent past, they would rather not take any chances. But there was a curious class dimension to the politics of the British Airways flight. Only the passengers in the economy cabin were evicted. Now, economy passengers on Nigerian routes have quite a reputation with all airlines. They are loud, they carry excess luggage, and when you pry into that luggage, they are either transporting cray fish and snails into England or they are going back into their country with bagfuls of toothpaste, chocolate, toilet rolls, and so on. This kind of behaviour sends signals of poverty and underdevelopment, and so those funny hostesses treat economy passengers on Nigerian routes snobbishly, sometimes, they spray disinfectants straight into your face! Often times, I suspect they think we are bringing lice aboard the flight.

We must link all of this to the unusual vigilance that any flight to or from Nigeria generates at foreign airports. All the dogs are brought out, all the guns are cocked, all eyes are on us. We are treated like terrorists, but terrorists of a different kind. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Ojo Maduekwe has been talking about citizen diplomacy. This is a major area of assignment for Ojo and his team. The ordinary Nigerian citizen out there in the world, be he a crook or a gentleman is entitled to the protection of the Nigerian government, insisting on his right to human dignity. But the best way to earn the respect of the world, for the country and its citizens is to run a country where things work, a country that is truly deserving of respect. Much of what goes into human relations is visual. We have a continuing challenge to turn Nigeria into a visual delight not the eyesore that it is at the moment.

Having dealt with the internal dimension of the problem, let me now add that the arrogance of the British Airways authorities is insufferable. This arrogance derives in part from the unusual dominance that BA enjoys on the Lagos-London -Lagos route, making this route one of the most profitable worldwide for the airline. This has not translated into due courtesy to Nigerian travellers, rather it has encouraged contempt on the part of the airline. The Nigerian aviation authorities must take a second look at the London route, and open it up a bit more, make it more competitive and offer Nigerians a wider range of choices. Would BA ban anybody for life on its airline, just for expressing an opinion, if it did not think we are still in the era of British imperialism?

In specific terms, the Bilateral Aviation Services Agreement (BASA) between Nigeria and Britain allows 21 frequencies for British airlines and 21 frequencies for Nigerian airlines on the Lagos-London route. But at the moment, the British Airways enjoys more frequencies than other airlines, it flies into Lagos and into Abuja, and sometimes it does so more than seven times in a week. Why? The 21 frequencies for Nigerian airlines is shared by Bellview, Arik Nigeria and Bellview.

The 21 frequencies for British airlines is meant to be shared by Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and British Midlands. But British Midlands is not on the route. British Airways currently uses its frequency, granting it an undue advantage and even when it exceeds its quota, Nigerian aviation authorities look the other way. The British Airways authorities need to be reminded that when General Sani Abacha banned the British Airways in the recent past, and BA had to relocate to Ghana, the airline almost bled to death. Also, in the post-9/11 season when BA scaled down n its trans-Atlantic operations, it was sustained largely by its Lagos-London route and the ever traveling crowd of Nigerians. All Nigerian customers of British Airways deserve more respect than they seem to be currently getting.



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23 Responses to “Ayodeji Omotade vs. British Airways – by Reuben Abati”

  1. Olu says:

    This is not the kind of language big businesses understand…its not just one Nigerian vs BA. A class act suit with a heavy financial payout is what these people understand, According to this story there are over a hundred and thirty witnesses that should count for something in court and besides other culprits (airlines) would learn from the negative impact the publicity alone will cause.

    • Ayo Abidemi Lawal says:

      Well am not surprised, its not only British Airways or British Govt. that behave the same way, I am an engineer that work with a multinational company, my company has so many project round the world (GE), I was embarrassed by the Saudi Immigrations, They took my passport for over 30 mins, checking the laminated Info page, that was a ridiculous and callous way to treat a visitor… I dont really blame them for their act, like a Yoruba proverb, “Bi Iku Ile ko ba pani, Tode ko le pani” meaning that If you dont die the death of your locality, the outside death wont kill you. Lets sit tight and Make our country great.
      God will punish all our leaders that knows the right things and they did not do it. They placed their children in the best university in the world yet keep spoiling the economy for the under previledged citizens. God dey.

  2. (Anonymous)Dumebi Shewa says:

    i’m short of words concerning the larger-than-life approach of these British people in general. This is despicable, arrogant, unGodly (they kuku don’t believe God exists) and discouraging. That’s exactly what they do when you go into supermarkets as if it’s only Nigerians who steal or parrys items in stores and the likes.

    Like Dr. Reuben Abati have rightly said, we should be our house visually inorder. Nigerians out there should be told, being in the UK is not at all the best, especially for those who come here to work (they usually say, won fase). You work and about 30% of your earnings goes back to the government, you’ll pay bills (water, electricity, gas, council tax and many more), so what is left? Only an enviable Nigerian economy can save us. We shouldn’t be working to serve these people. Our fore-fathers served them in the old-day slavery, now modern day slavery in form fase-fase (work-work) is highly common. This is not life o!

    Even those who come here to school pay through their veins all in the name of school fees. An average of

  3. Prince Oladigbolu Kabir says:

    This Ayodeji’s issue will bring more quetions than answer: WHY ARE WE BEING DECEIVED THAT BETTER LIFE IS ELSEWHERE ABROAD?
    The issue is as a result of negative impacts that actions of few unscrupulous people who identify themselves as Nigerians . I want to believe that Nigeria is getting better off to live rather living abroad.Anyway, they are no longer interested in manpower from Africa again,afterall they have taken away our resources in exchange for a trick for better living that does not really existing in their land.
    Anyway its up to US as Nigerians to turn around and rebuild, support and uplift our good efforts.

  4. ddafeni says:

    True talk Sir

    • The law says:

      Have the passengers thought of seeking damages for racial discrimination. There is no limit on awards on race discrimintaion. BA should be made to pay where it will hurt them in their pocket. The passengers should all bring a class action.

  5. Key Tee says:

    if you are talking of human sympathy generally it makes sense, but just because one british born yoruba man got treated badly on a certain flight, on a certain day, because he misfired when he shouldnt have doesnt mean the whole worlds hould go into a freaking row.
    after all the guy enjoys all his rights and previllages when he is in the UK…..funny how some people are even writing petition to yaradua on the issue.doesnt make sense man…

    • Bims says:

      key tee

      you seem to be missing the point….forget Omotade….135 passengers including children were shipped off a plane, left to fend for themselves for almost 10 hours at the airport with no food/water/adequate shleter except the four walls of London heathrow Aipport before being put on a plane…what the hell is procedure in this situation?…..i think you should look before you leap…thats the point….

    • Jossy Ann says:

      i think this is the most senseless comment i have ever heard in a decade. What exactly is your point? Do we call that Jealousy or Inferiority Complex? So your anger is that the guy lives in Britain and enjoys all the rights. It’s better some people like you were not born human at all but wild animals without thoughts, sympathy and emotions. jealousy go kill you

    • Demi says:

      I wander Key Tee, if you would be writing the same thing if you or a loved one was put through the ordeal in question.

      I very much doubt if you\\\’d be so quick to make such loose and positively thoughtless remarks.

      There are different dimensions of this type of treatment and absolutely anyone, including you, KEY TEE can be subjected to it at anytime.

      You dare to wander why our President is being called to action on this matter. Its a shame KEY TEE because its seems you really didnt take time to think over this matter before putting down your comment on this forum.

      Think! have u ever heard of the British or US Govt ignoring such an occurence on even the smallest or poorest of their citizens. No! You want to know y? They take themselves very seriously and have a great sense of patriotism. They may have squabbles internally but, they come out united front to the outside world.They know that if they fail even 1 person, the whole nation has failed.

      After al said, I would like to know that, if you are a Nigerian, You are one for Life in the eyes of everyother person. No amount of conformity to rules or norms really sheilds you from discrimination out there and despite her shortcomings, it is only in Naija that you will Belong.

      In conclusion KEY TEE your are entitled to your opinions, excercise that freedom of speech by all means afterall not all of us can benefit from it as we can see in the case of Mr. Ayodeji Omotade Vs BA.

  6. Key Tee says:

    im wondering why there’s talk of boycotting BA by so many nigerians..those of you who have been badly treated by the airport security on arrival in any other country, UK or US Im sure you know how it feels when your sister’s or mother’s are being taken in for examination and the horrific tales they tell you of what was done to them in the room they were being examined.
    all this is done to them just because they are holding a green book(naija kpali),but the man every one is protesting about holds a red book (british kpali)and has never been humiliated at any airport for being british. So what is all this noise about boycott BA?
    Its really begining to sound irrational and it should be noted the crew of the said flight only acted according to Standard operational proceduers not necessarily sentiment.

    • Bo says:

      You seem to be missing the point.You are myopically justifying the actions of BA against over 130 Nigerians and One in particular,further you are placing so much emphasis on his British passport (do you have a problem with British born Nigerians) and what has that got to do with the inhumane treatment all those onboard the flight got.People like you are one of the reasons we dont have a collective voice and historic changes are never achieved .Get Real!!!

  7. Ebun says:

    This is an oppportunity for Nigerians to take a stand agains maltreatment by foreign airlines. That you carry a Nigerian passport does not mean you should not be treated with courtesy. Several years ago, the no defunct SABENA(sucha bad experience never again!) flew us to Yaounde without prior notification. Whe we protested, we were told by the pilot,”is your country that organised?”. A lady on baord a BA flight boarded with a hat box. It wouldnot fit into any of the compartments. When she asked the the hostess where she could put it, she was told saucily to “put it on her head”. Key Tee misses the point. It is Nigerians who do not care about the plight of others that allow the collective mistreatment of Nigerians. The most populous Nation in Africa should not be taken for granted. Collectively, we can achieve a lot. Boycott BA! I hope Key Tee realises it could be his turn tomorrow. President Yaradua, stand up for your people. let us all stand and be counted. I am outraged.

  8. Miamore says:

    I am very against BA’s attitude in the case in question and all like cases. But honestly the sad part of all this is our (Nigerian) excesses. We misbehave at every opportunity, we are an embarrasement to ourselves. At airports, resturants, in the planes, we see our fellow country men and women misbehave. It saddens me when it happens time and time again and gives the impression that all Nigerians are like that.
    Just like there was an article of recent in UK about Nigerian mis use of the medical facilities available to tax payers in UK. We go there to make us of there tax payers money when we cant pay our own taxes here and help our nation.
    Honestly i am sadden by what happened to Ayodeji Omotade and all others on that flight.

  9. Miamore says:

    I am very against BA’s attitude in the case in question and all like cases. But honestly the sad part of all this is our (Nigerian) excesses. We misbehave at every opportunity, we are an embarrasement to ourselves. At airports, resturants, in the planes, we see our fellow country men and women misbehave. It saddens me when it happens time and time again and gives the impression that all Nigerians are like that.
    Just like there was an article of recent in UK about Nigerian mis use of the medical facilities available to tax payers in UK. We go there to make us of there tax payers money when we cant pay our own taxes here and help our nation.
    Honestly i am sadden by what happened to Ayodeji Omotade and all others on that flight.

  10. Dim says:


    very nice piece! i think british airways should be taught a big lesson i think they should be banned by the federal govt then maybe they would know how grave this is.to be honest do they care? i would like to see al 135 passengers sue them that would be a delight! and to be honest for the fact that Mr O holds a british passport doesnt mean nything.His british not english! that still happens over here even though u hold a british passport as long as your from an african descent doesnt mean nything ti them.Yes our leaders in the past nd even citizens have done things to have us treated this way but honestly i think its high time Nigerians unite and take a stand against this.

  11. dim says:

    but the truth is even virgin nigeria staff treat nigerians like trash so wot r we talking about here? wot happened to nigeria airways? the govt should bring them back we were flying al over with them and thier staff were pretty good nd jovial! Yar adua should act on this we dont need to merge with nyone to run our own flight servies look at sa airways or even ghana airways? ethopian airlines? Nigeria should learn from this

    • La Princessa says:

      Great idea, but only we seriously capable of running anything successfully without the oyinbo people having anything to do with it. It was never the average Nigerian that brought Nigeria Airways to ruin but top officials in the government and the Nigeria Airways Corporation that bled it dry.

  12. Hamis Ehi says:

    Having gone through the text of R. Abati, you could summed it up that Nigerians are vastly responsible for the inhuman and debasing treatments being metted on them. Personal experience with BA lately was a big turn off, On my first flight by BA to Lagos I almost disembark from the aircraft voluntariy due to the rowdiness of the more than 95 percent of Nigerian passengers on Board(economy class) no fund to buy another ticket. Seat location and reservation which I have enjoyed for years with other airlines with little or no Nigerians on board was disregarded, overhead luggage comparment that tallys with one’s seat number was totally ignored, my seat was taken over by some one who wasn;t ready to leave and my luggage was comparment by another passenger, a colleague we were travelling together has to give his luggage to the air hostess for safe up keep and all attempts to question the irrationality of my fellow country men were met with ”sit anywhere” or ”is this your first time of flying” it was a laughable but disturbing and even debasing in this modern age.
    Hyperbolically the rowdiness of the flight was scary and my colleague sworn not to fly BA again on Lagos route. The officials of the airline just can,t put them to order or they just feel its none of their business , to further butress these claims if I do fly BA to Lagos again I intend to record and disperse the images.
    I am not in anyway crediting or justifying the behaviour of the officials they could have applied ‘selective absorption’ that only those disburbing or exhibiting a threatening behaviour should be expelled from the aircraft, and again if Mr Omontade knows for sure he was falsely accused and banned he should seek redress from the court and I think he must have one or two contact telephone numbers of fellow compatriots on the same flight.
    Truth be told, judging from variuos flights to Lagos our character on board is despicable it really tells the onlooker that you are holding a green passport or must must have held a green passport before(naturalisation)
    Nigerian leaders should not only be chasing economic shadows but also discipline measures should be reintroduce to sanitize our ailing morality,etiquette,norms tradition and customs, may be Idiagon replica of WAI

  13. Bosheyi Ajuwon says:

    I dont blame anyone,organisation or country when (they will)treat us nigerians badly.I blame our government and media.Ayodeji Omotade comes from a constituency with a rep at the national assembly…has the rep said anything?..NO The media in nigeria should have taken the issue nationwide and worldwide by inviting witnesses who were on board the flight to live interviews and give nigerians and the world a first hand blow by blow of what happened.Where is Ayodeji Omotade himself,has anyone heard his story on radio or TV? NO.(who do you blame?)OURSELVES.this is the 21 century.

  14. R.A Atoyebi says:

    Nigerians should learn how to complain more to the apporpriate officers and in writing. Nigerian High Commission and nigerian government and its relevant agnecies are guilty of failure to address such unjust treatments of its citizens in diaspora. Why not start a forum through this medium to register our concerns and opinions for collective actions on subjects of importance such as this.
    I urge the people directly concerned to collective take action and the rest of us to register our support. At the same time I urge fellow nigerians to conduct themselves in a respectable manner to gain more respect of others.

  15. anonymous says:

    Its not entirely a Nigerian factor, it is a ‘BLACK PEOPLE’ factor. all black people are seen and treated that way. It is not entirely a ‘British bias’… it is a global stigmatization that blacks are subjected to. But it doesn’t kill the black man’s spirit and quest for a better life and true liberation. It doesn’t kill a black man’s hopes and dreams… Just like they couldn’t stop Obama.

  16. Pwar B says:

    I know this is an old article, and strangely I got to it because a guy in New Jersey (Innoccent O) keeps logging penny-type bids in every item of local public surplus auctions (i.e. look at the bidder list and he’s the type trying to buy every item for a dime). Anyhow, he runs a facebook page for this incident..

    So, what’s the big deal here. When a government decides to forcibly deport someone, it’s very much within their right to do so. It doesn’t matter what rantings the person being deported may be saying (like “I go die if I;m sent back). If you don’t like a country’s immigration law you should avoid going there. Now, when a law officer – or flight crew – attempting to escort a law breaker on a plane starts to get hassled from seemingly uninvolved folks; thinks get weird. Face it – airline travel is very different these days – – you need to be a bit wiser than think you can begin challenging the merits of SOMEONE ENFORCING IMMIGRATION LAW – ON AN AIRPLANE. Mr Omatade is insane. Further, why the hell does the rest of the Nigerian manifest need to jump in? From a pilots perspective, there is no way in hell this plane is going in the air with that sentiment.

    I urge black people to begin thinking rationally instead of always ‘us vs them’. This is nuts. Your actions and tendency to get irate at any (misunderstood) perception of race factor is exactly what got these folks booted. If you;d stop playing the race card every 5 seconds things would certainly improve.

    Moral of the story: The last place you want a mob to ‘pile on’ is on an airplane. Especially if it’s confronting law enforcement!!!

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