Once his name was listed as one of the successful applicants for the Commonwealth Scholarship to do a masters course in the United Kingdom over a one year period, he lost taste of everything Nigerian. It had been a tedious road to the point where he’d got to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja, en route London, but he was so glad with the outcome that the process leading to it becomes hazy and foggy each time he casts his mind back to it. With recession hitting Nigeria heavily, he could say it would be the best time to be out of it, unfortunately the thought of leaving his family behind weighed heavily on him, though except for the latest addition to the family, he knew they understood why he had to.
He simply waltzed through the few weeks left in Nigeria before leaving for the UK like a zombie, doing mostly the routines literally with his hands tied to his back. Only few people besides family and colleagues at the office knew about his plans. The flight from Abuja to London took about six hours, forty minutes. It was uneventful which he quite appreciated considering that as a frequent flier on Nigerian airlines, events inflight were the rule rather than the exception. Delays are normal, and flight cancelations routine without anyone offering explanations or putting up passengers in hotels till flights recommence, in line with international best practices. He missed a relatives’ burial a few weeks back because after passengers had come to be checked in, the airline company suddenly discovered there was no aviation fuel to power the aircraft meant to lift him and other passengers from Abuja to Lagos. Days before he left Nigeria, two of the airlines shut down their operations, one was even so notorious enough to allow passengers book and pay for flights online the eve of the morning it was announced they were shutting down.
Like Nigerian banks, the aviation sector despite several bailouts by government has failed to live up to expectations, many times by no particular fault of theirs, considering the difficult terrain in which they operate, so much so that when it made news that a Nigerian businessman had set up the biggest airline company in Swaziland, he was not in the least surprised. Another thing he considered a factor to failure of Nigerian businesses to thrive or outlive the founder, is that penchant for immediate gratification. Once a Nigerian sets up a business, many times with loans, the next thing is the acquisition of property, exotic cars and the likes, not for company use but usually for personal or private use at the expense of pressing company needs. The boards of directors of some of these companies, where and when they exist are feted like kings, whose insatiable appetites must be whetted, just because of the role they might have played in bringing the business concern to life. In one instance where a loan was approved for the aviation sector, one of the owners of an airline he’d just bought off a government concessionaire arrangement, channeled same towards personal use, and the airline was grounded, staff laid off without entitlements, while the man walked free, even had the temerity to vie for political office earlier this year.
Hence, though there were Nigerian airlines doing the Lagos/Abuja to London route, he opted to not give them the benefit of the doubt, notwithstanding the “Buy Nigerian” campaign that the new CHANGE government of President Muhammadu Buhari was on about in order to stem the flow of cash outside the country. The Nigerian aviation sector continues to be Nigeria’s worst managed sector, even after the national carrier was stood down, and the sector opened up to private concerns. Even when one managed to finally board for journeys that lasts no longer than forty-five minutes, “turbulence” many times starts from the beginning to the end of the journey, with heart wrenching sounds coming off the body or the engine. In his early days of flying, he always had his heart in his mouth, but have over time learnt to be still with the knowledge that most of Nigeria’s pilots are the best there is, and have witnessed impressive feats by these men, and women who have managed to turn very bad situations, in which lives could’ve been lost, around for good without as much as applause from their employers, or the flying public, who go as far as even heaping opprobrium on them for putting their lives at risk, forgetting easily that the pilots work under very tasking conditions, their counterparts in saner climes couldn’t even contemplate in their worst nightmares. Till date there are no local flights in Nigeria at night, rainfall is a no-no for flying, even during harmattan when visibility is low making him wonder why aviation in Nigeria with all that technology can avail still rely on windows to make airlifts and landings, when just five decades back flights carrying food aid and weapons were landing at will at Biafra’s Uli Airstrip, mostly at night to avoid detection by Nigerian Egyptian piloted jets and radars on recon duties over what they termed rebel territory. What Nigeria lost by discountenancing the advancements made in Biafra at unification remains unquantifiable.
To avoid any likelihood of had-I-known by flying with Nigerian airlines, he elected to fly with British Airways, and was shocked with the total lack of events, much like he’d heard about been-to Nigerians who expressed shock at easily driving into petrol stations abroad to fill their tanks without a single queue because of the availability of fuel, which is the exception rather than rule in Nigeria. The first culture shock that hit him right in the face after leaving Heathrow’s Terminal Five with his would-be host, into the air of London was the smoking. Just about everybody was doing it, everywhere outside of buildings. It looked like the cigarette was an added appendage to their fingers, making him wonder what the situation would be like in winter. The last place he saw people smoke this much was in his days in the College of Medicine campus as a student and later as a house officer. He’d have to stay with relatives on his wife’s side, he’d come to know them only when the matter of his coming to London and accommodation came up. He could sense that his hostess was sizing him up as she drove, but he couldn’t care less as she navigated him out of the traffic of London the Monday evening he arrived, out of the city to her place of residence. There and then it occurred to him that this was no dream, but what would be his reality for the next three hundred and sixty-five days or thereabouts under Mama-Charlie’s dominion.