Calling the British Bluff

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British Airways

British Airways

I felt proud being a Nigerian with the way our government has handled the unfair treatment meted out to Arik Air by British Airways. A look at the whole story shows that either the British are convinced that they cannot compete favourably on a level playing field or they are just habitual cheats without morality. The underhand tactics they used to elbow Arik away from the Lagos-London and Abuja-London routes belong in a mafia movie.

Why would Arik be made to rent slots from the British Midland International (BMI) at £1.4 million between 2009 and 2010 when the agreement clearly stated that either side was entitled to 21 weekly frequencies? To add insult to injury, after the expiration of the initial term, BMI increased the price of its slot from £52,250 monthly to £90,000 per month- and refused to negotiate further. Eventually ACL offered uncoordinated slots to Arik Air in a way that could not be suitable for scheduled flight operations and Arik had no option but to abandon the route.

The Committee on Aviation in Nigeria’s senate came out openly to support the deadline given by the Ministry of Aviation to British Airways to restore the landing slots given to Arik Air at Heathrow Airport. Echoing the views of Nigerians on the matter the chairman of the committee said, “When you do business with us, it is the way you treat us that we will treat you. So if the situation is not rectified within the given period, we will have to take action.”

In every self-respecting nation, reciprocity is the name of the game. I will do to you exactly as you have done to me, no matter who or what you think you are.

We are talking about the same airline that failed or neglected or refused a couple of years ago, to get the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, on board after the monarch had been checked in. The initial news that filtered out was that the Sultan’s bags were offloaded and left on the tarmac. A reporter who witnessed the embarrassing incident said the Sultan would have cancelled his UK trip altogether but for the fact that he already had top-level meetings lined up for him the following day in London. He added for good measure that there were indications that that would be the last time the Sultan would patronize the British Airways.

The issue here is beyond Arik Air as a Nigerian company. It goes to the heart of bilateral relations and international reciprocity. For too long we have allowed ourselves to be treated as dirt by some European and North American countries. It seems that in their thinking, our patronage is desirable but our wellbeing is not.

Beyond the airline issue, their immigration service singles out our people for special humiliation as if we are all drug pushers and scam artists. I have had to answer insulting questions in foreign airports on account of their prejudices. Once I plainly told an immigration officer that my name was not Ian Brady (murderer jailed for life) nor was it Donald Neilson (the “Black Panther” jailed for murdering four people in 1976. I told my condescending interviewer that I was aware of the story of the Suffolk Strangler Steve Wright who killed five prostitutes in Ipswich in 2006 and that of Levi Bellfield who murdered Amelie Delagrange and Marsha McDonnell and attempted to murder schoolgirl Kate Sheedy. I told the immigration officer that I could never say every British national was a murderer. That would fly in the face of verifiable reason. The criminals in all societies are in the minority. That is why we must shun stereotypes. The immigration officer blinked so repeatedly I thought his eyeballs would simply fall off. He waved me on to save both of us of further misery.

Whatever nefarious activities some Nigerians perpetrate, majority of us are like law-abiding human beings anywhere in the world. The Arik Air debacle is but the aviation version of what happens to Nigerians in other areas. And it has to stop. The timely reaction of Princess Stella Oduah is a good starting point. She must ensure that the issue is comprehensively addressed in such a way that Nigeria is not treated as a junior partner or, worse still, a vassal. The British should be told to take a hike if they can’t respect a mutually beneficial agreement.

Re: On Her Majesty’s disservice

I received quite a handful of letters from parents and students alike on my article which addressed the frustrations of Nigerian students seeking to study in the UK or already schooling there. Many parents say they would not have sent their children outside the country but for the unstable university calendar and in some cases security concerns. Those who have children in several countries disclosed that by and large their ugliest experience was with the UK either before their wards left these shores or after they had spent a year in the UK and needed to renew their visa for the rest of their stay. The parents in question say they don’t have that kind of problem with the American embassy.

It is interesting that several agencies such as Kaplan perpetually mount recruitment campaign for Nigerian students to make the UK their destination of choice. Even British universities regularly send their counsellors to Nigeria on an annual recruitment pilgrimage. It is beginning to look like all they are interested is the transfer of money to the various institutions while the students are left to suffer untold humiliation. How else do you explain a situation where a student who was originally given a one-year visa (and has now successfully completed the first year) has been finding it difficult to renew the visa for the remaining three years? The affected student has already paid the fees for the current session and classes have started but the Home Office is yet to process his documents.

One such student said in frustration: “The UKBA has sent my documents back to me with the same report! I have no other choice now than to go to the International Support Team to ask them for advice on what I should do. The bank is still saying that the problem is from the home office unit. As it is now, the Home Office themselves are not replying my emails….”

I insist that this is not how to treat fellow human beings. Shall we call this-incompetence, contemptuousness or sheer sadism?

(Please continue sending in your reactions so we can judge whether the Home Office is worse than British Airways!)

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