Written by Respect Nigerians Coalition
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, on May 1, 2008, British Airways issued a Statement supposedly in defence of the action it took on March 27, 2008 over what it considers to be the unacceptable conduct of its Nigerian customers aboard the BA75 flight from London Heathrow to Lagos. Ordinarily, making such a statement should have been accepted as a responsible approach to dealing with the issues at stake, except that the Statement is far from responsible. Worse still, it is a wicked insult on the integrity of its fare-paying Nigerian customers.
When people who run an airline of the calibre of British Airways make the peddling of lies against customers an instrument of corporate policy, they not only demean themselves and the otherwise great institution they represent, they also abuse the trust of society. It is therefore incumbent upon decent people everywhere to expose them for what they are – little-minded people invested in prejudice and suffocating folly.
The British Airways Statement began by saying they “regret the upset that the events onboard the BA75 to Lagos on 27th March have caused in Nigeria”, yet the very next statements that followed this indicate that the last thing they’re feeling is regret. They repeatedly state that “the decision to offload passengers was made in consultation with and on the advice of the UK police, and the sole aim of this decision was to ensure the safety of our passengers, aircraft and crew”. But if this indeed was the case, why were these same passengers thoughtlessly offloaded from the plane just because a few of them dared protest the unjust treatment meted out to one of them? Was this the best course of action in the circumstances, considering that BA precipitated the protest by inviting the police and making false statements to them about Mr Ayodeji Omotade who was subsequently manhandled, arrested, stopped from travelling for his brother’s wedding, banned, had his money confiscated and his luggage damaged and held up for over a week?
However, the worst of BA’s lies was the claim that their crew were subjected to physical assault. It is instructive that throughout the coverage of this affair in the British media, BA had ample opportunity to state this (if it was indeed the case), but never did. Of course, they never did, because it never happened! The police who attended the scene never received a report to this effect and never took any statement from any member of staff supposedly physically assaulted. The police arrested only one man, Mr Ayodeji Omotade and his arrest was not based on assault of anybody. He was arrested on the presumptive ground of affray, but up till now, over two months after, he’s yet to be charged for any offence. Yet, curiously, after over a month, BA suddenly realized that their staff had been physically assaulted and felt convinced enough about this to make it into a press statement in faraway Nigeria a day after the ultimatum given to them by our organization, Respect Nigerians Coalition (RNC) expired!
BA obviously sought to undercut our resolve to make the airline see the benefit of being a good corporate citizen by cooking up this terrible lie! How was it possible that in a place supposedly under “very serious” disturbance by passengers and which needed about twenty to twenty-five police officers to restore peace only one man was arrested? How was it possible that in an enclosure like a plane, with cameras, crew and security operatives watching, only one man was arrested and not for physical assault on anybody? We have challenged British Airways in a face to face meeting with its Executives (which included Mr Adrian Mcloy, the BA Country Representative) at their Lagos headquarters to name the member(s) of staff supposed to have been physically assaulted, but they couldn’t!
We also want to use this opportunity to correct certain erroneous impressions presently making the rounds in the public space. The first concerns the idea that British Airways had made an apology to Nigerians. This apparently emanated from the report in the Nigerian Punch newspaper of Friday, 2 May, 2008 which carried the story of their press release titled “British Airways regrets the maltreatment of Nigerians“. We are hereby attaching a copy of that press release to let you see that there was nothing indicating an apology anywhere in that Statement. The fact that they claim to express regret does not indicate they’ve apologized. As shown above, the Statement is an exercise in contradiction, obfuscation, subterfuge and outright fabrication. It is indeed an insult on the collective intelligence of Nigerians! However, we note that even in criticizing British Airways, the Nigerian Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Aondoakaa accepted this erroneous impression that the British Airways has apologized. They haven’t and we need to clarify this.
Secondly, we note the intervention of the British High Commissioner, Mr Robert Dewar. The Nigerian Guardian newspaper of Wednesday, June 4, 2008 reported him as apologizing to the Federal Government of Nigeria over the incident in question when he paid a courtesy visit to the Nigerian Minister of Information and Communications, Mr John Odey. We find this a curious diversion, not only because we have no issue with the British government, but also because Mr Dewar only went on to restate the lies peddled by the airlines in the guise of apology! At any rate, we do not think the issue concerns the British government. British Airways may be a British company, but it’s not owned by the British government. It is owned by shareholders, some of whom are Nigerians. We assume that all of these shareholders have a social conscience and would not want to be associated with a company steeped in discriminatory and racist practices – a company too vain to apologize for a wrong inflicted on its Nigerian customers.
Crucially, we want to use this opportunity to thank millions of Nigerians and well-wishers who have heeded our call to boycott British Airways goods and services since Thursday, May 15, 2008. They have made us very proud and strengthened our belief in the rightness of our action. The feelers we are getting right now are that British Airways is being hit by the action and they are running from pillar to post seeking ways to stop the bleeding. Of course, they know what to do based on our five demands; but they wouldn’t do so, because it is not in their nature to apologize to Nigerians, even though they’ve done so in the past when it concerns other people. We are deepening this campaign with more actions. At this point we can only ask people to continue supporting these actions once they’re announced. You can always get information on details of the campaign from http://www.respectnigerians.com and http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com, two flagship websites that we employ for this campaign. Please, watch this space, because we are not giving up until BA does what is right by Nigerians and our common humanity.
Finally, we thank you, the Press. We thank you for your unstinting support throughout this campaign. Without you, Nigerians and well-wishers would not have been able to heed this call. Without you they wouldn’t have been able to understand the issues. Without you we wouldn’t be here. Without you British Airways would have ran roughshod over us with their well-oiled public relations machine, silencing the voice of a nation and all decent people worldwide. You know what this fight is about. You know it is not just about Ayodeji Omotade and the 135 passengers on that flight. You know it is about human dignity and national respect.
Please, keep the flag flying! We appreciate all you do. You make us proud, very proud!
(For and on behalf of Respect Nigerians Coalition)