Friday, May 30, 2014 5:18 pm
By Wale Fatade
A quick journey to Abuja on Wednesday, 7 May, via Medview Airlines was a horrific experience that surely left me with post-traumatic stress disorder. Since mental and psychological health are not areas we give much thought to in this part of the world, it is important that Nigerians, and the global community, get to read the story and not just marvel or create hashtags at how low we have sunk as a country. Especially these days that the world’s attention is focused on our country as we seek to bring back the Chibok girls, other silent killers are ravaging our souls, leaving behind decimation that will need a long time to heal.
Actually, that was my second time on Medview ever since the airline commenced domestic operations in November 2012. It started with hajj operations in 2007 but my experience last September 17 when I flew its plane to Port Harcourt left a sour taste in my mouth. The 3pm flight of that day took off at 7pm, making me to miss an important dinner scheduled for that time. It was, however, gracious enough to offer angry passengers vouchers for food at a restaurant in the airport. Ever since I steered clear of Medview like a plague until 7 May and certainly, the leopard can never change its spots.
Our flight to Abuja took off as scheduled, 7am, and it was a smooth flight spiced with conversation with another passenger. Expectedly, Boko Haram, the World Economic Forum (WEF), Christianity, and inevitably that topic whenever a group of men discuss, sports, specifically in this case, football, were issues we debated and argued. We landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport and it appeared to be under siege with gun-toting soldiers and policemen everywhere. This could not stop a Toyota SUV driving to the tarmac to pick one of us who arrived on the same flight. We proceeded straight to the city, seeing an almost empty Abuja. Initially, we thought the closure of government offices for the WEF would affect our programme, but it was not so.
My friend and I felt it was a little bit early to go to the airport for our return flight at 6:30pm after we finished our business and we did not want to disturb other friends in Abuja. Time was just around 1pm and I was glad that there would be enough time for me to read Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday that was in my bag. We got to the airport and presented our tickets at the Medview counter. That was when we should have been concerned, as the gentleman who collected our tickets was reluctant in giving us boarding passes until another person, most likely a supervisor, told him to go ahead.
Old Friends, Same Problems
The alarm bells in my head went off when I discovered that the boarding pass read 8:30pm, with no explanation, no apology, and no information from any Medview staff. Shortly after being screened, I saw an old friend and egbon, Dr. Wole Odutolu, whom I’d not seen for years. He was excited to see me too, and he held my hands for some minutes as we sat down to catch up on a lot of issues. At this point my friend disappeared and left me with the doctor to continue our discussion.
Seeing someone after a long time is always an invitation to a long discussion and this was what happened. Odutolu and I kept on moving from one topic to another and at a point, we changed location to get some drinks. With a bottle of Snapple in my hands, we continued our discussion on Nigeria and our home state, Osun. At this point, I saw Stephen Keshi, the Super Eagles coach, who just released a 30-man list for the World Cup in Brazil, with Victor Ikpeba afar and I felt like walking up to them to congratulate Keshi for including two names on that list. But that would be rude, so I continued my discussion with Dr. Odutolu.
Later, poet, former student activist, lawyer, professor, and now an aspirant to the House of Representatives, Ogaga Ifowodo, joined us but did not sit down. He was on another Medview flight billed to take off at 2:30pm but it was already over an hour late as at then. “Oh boy, which kind country be dis?” Ifowodo asked me in pidgin. “I’ve been here for one hour now and nobody is saying anything on this flight. Why do we allow ourselves to be treated this way? Honestly, we must do something,” he added. Tired, he concluded, “Wale, let me go and find somewhere to crash as I don’t know when we are leaving.” He, however, reminded me to contribute to his campaign, as he does not have any godfather bankrolling him.
I should have joined in his lamentations. Selfishly, my thought was on the fact that my flight was 8:30 and Medview must have sorted things out by then, I erroneously assumed. Shortly after, another colleague of Dr. Odutolu joined us and we continued our discussion. Simon Kolawole of The Cable passed by too but not without accusing me of missing the launch of his new project. “Thanks for coming, I saw you at our launch,” he said sarcastically. Odutolu’s flight was announced and he left me with his colleague, whose knowledge of Ogun State politics dazzled me as we compared notes on the forthcoming elections in Ekiti and Osun states, the rift between Gov. Ibikunle Amosun and former Gov. Olusegun Osoba in Ogun State, and the 2015 presidential election.
Waiting for Godot
His flight too was announced and I stood up to stretch my legs again. That was when I knew that our wait would be long as Medview scheduled another flight for 4:30pm, meaning three flights were booked to fly to Lagos – 2:30, 4:30, and 6:30 – based on tickets sold. Around 5pm, the 2:30 flight departed, leaving two flights behind. As the flight was announced, some passengers on the other two joined but were politely turned back. Tempers started flying at this point. “Why did they sell tickets when there was no plane?” “Why are we like this?” These were some of the questions people asked. I still kept quiet because I could not imagine that there would be no flight for us at 8:30pm. “Cool down,” I told myself. Three hours were enough to arrange a plane that would take us to Lagos.
Keshi was one of those that were turned back as we were booked for flight VL2107. Shaking hands with people around me, I congratulated him for including two players, Ramon Azeez and Sunday Mba, on the list. “Thank you, my oga,” he responded with smiles. To everybody he responded the same way, “You know I have many ogas, all of you are my ogas.” The waiting continued till 8:30pm. Our dilemma was growing, as there was no plane to convey us to Lagos. That was the first time Medview communicated to us, having kept us waiting.
“Attention please, passengers on flight VL 2107 please proceed to the Medview counter for light refreshment,” was the announcement when we thought it was a boarding announcement. I could not hold it any longer, and I walked up to a staff. “What exactly is happening to our flight?” I asked a man in blue shirt who had carefully concealed his identity card like other Medview staff. Suddenly, a man with a beard as long as that of Kongi, though not as well kept as that of the playwright, blurted, “Don’t answer him, please. If you answer his question, he would ask another one.” I was aghast and I really felt like slapping the old man even when I’m not given to violence. “Please, walk away from this place before I do something both of us will not like,” I shouted at him, and wisely, he walked away.
“We had a delay in Lagos, it is raining now and that’s why there’s no plane available,” the Medview staff answered. He added that text messages were sent to passengers earlier that the flight has been rescheduled to 8:30pm, which neither me nor my friend got. We continued waiting and that was when I discovered that the airport seats were not comfortable at all. Walking around to stretch my legs was the only way I could retain my sanity while others continually looked at the tarmac awaiting the plane’s arrival like passengers waiting for a BRT bus at the terminal.
Finally, some few minutes after 10pm, the plane landed. I never knew I would witness what happened thereafter again in Nigeria as passengers were jostling and shuffling to get to the boarding gate as two flights were combined. Mercifully, women with children were allowed to pass first. We took off at 10:50pm and my wife could not believe me when I told her. “Are you in Lagos now?” she asked, thinking we had landed. “No, we are just boarding,” I replied. We landed at 11:45pm and the only thing Medview offered were repeated apologies by the pilot and cabin crew. Nothing about compensation or damages but the temerity to add that, “we look forward to welcoming you on board soonest.”
Tired and angry, I made my way to the taxi park and I vowed never to board Medview again and also to brief my lawyers. This cannot continue, I said within me, and surely, Medview will hear from me again on this matter.
—Fatade is a journalist in Lagos