The journey from London to Casablanca was smooth. No problems whatsoever. Every necessary procedure was followed – from the take-off instructions to the landing instructions. We were supposed to have a 1hour stopover at Casablanca before leaving for Lagos, but that wasn’t the case as we were already told to start boarding the plane few minutes after landing. At least I won’t have to worry about sleeping off and leaving my bag unprotected within the 1 hour at the airport, I thought.
While on the queue to enter the plane, a staff member asked some people to drop their hand luggage – a form of unorthodox luggage check-in, it seemed. I was curious as to why that was done, and hoped not to be called aside to do the same, so I held my bag closely and unlooked. At the entrance was a female passenger with a baby seemingly trying to plead her case with a flight attendant. I tried as much as possible to mind my business so I didn’t know what her case was. As I tried to find my seat, I figured out the reason for the unorthodox luggage check-in we witnessed outside was either due to the flight being overbooked or my fellow Nigerians’ decision to use the luggage that could have been checked in as their 10kg hand luggage, which led to little or no space in the luggage compartment for everyone’s hand luggage.
I got settled in what I believed was my seat with my bag placed in between my legs. You could immediately guess the destination of the plane as the atmosphere was completely different from the earlier flight. Pidgin English here, Yoruba and Igbo there. Three guys were still trying to locate their seat. The first one found his, but it had been occupied by someone’s box, so he began to complain to the flight attendants. None of the attendants offered any reasonable help as they were busy walking up and down. Then it happened; the craziest thing I have ever experienced on a plane happened. While these guys were still standing and trying to get their seat and a majority of the luggage compartments still opened, the plane began to move. Everyone was alarmed. The guys that were standing rushed to sit down in Business Class to save their lives, while some passengers got up and closed the luggage compartments. I was confused. I found the situation funny and scary. It felt like I had seen it before or like I had arrived in Lagos and was already inside a Danfo bus. I knew, at this point, that we were in for a long flight so I quickly asked Baba God to take control (as if the control I had initially asked Him to take wasn’t enough).
The plane stopped a few minutes later, and after much persuasion by the flight attendants, the guys came back to the Economy Class to get seated. Apparently, I had been unknowingly sitting on the seat that belonged to one of the guys standing. Thank God everyone was too angry at the pilot and flight attendants to have a go at me. So I quickly apologized and moved to my seat while the other guys got seated. We were all still shocked by what we had experienced so we earnestly waited for a sort of explanation or apology. The pilot finally spoke. He spoke in what seemed like an angry tone. He said, ‘Due to certain factors, we are going to experience a form of delay. And it is going to be a long one.’ We all looked at one another with great shock, like ‘What the actual heck?! Where is our apology?!’ Then a few minutes later, another announcement was made. The pilot said certain people had to disembark the flight for the journey to continue. The certain people being the guys that rushed to sit in Business Class. We were livid! ‘Don’t go anywhere!’ ‘Complete rubbish! They are the ones at fault and they are telling you to disembark. Nonsense! ’ It was really nice to see Nigerians unite for justice. Anyway, before we could say Nebuchadnezzar, the police arrived. Then the pilot instructed the guys to leave the plane again. But the insubordination was maintained so some higher officials came on board to talk and walk them out. The guys remained intransigent on staying on board (with everyone’s full support). The next thing we heard was that everyone had to leave the plane for ‘security reasons.’ The man beside me went to talk to one of the officials. He came back and told me that the guys were apparently aggressive to the flight attendant in Business Class, hence the ‘security reasons’. We grudgingly came down from the plane thinking we just needed to come down for a few minutes then go back in afterwards. We thought wrong. On getting down from the plane, some buses arrived. I was confused and thought the Royal Air Maroc airline officials were just overdoing it. We got inside the buses and got dropped in a departure section. It was at this point that we knew we were really in for a long night.
‘It is because we are blacks! They can’t try this with a white man!’ a man began to rant, as we all sat down and waited to be attended to.
‘Oh yes! It is true, nwannem. Very true. And we are all Africans so this shouldn’t be the case,’ another man said.
‘I don’t blame the Moroccans. I blame the Nigerian government. If people don’t respect your government, they won’t respect you. Our country is a joke, so the Moroccans believe they can treat us like clowns’, the first man replied.
‘This one that they brought us here, we might be leaving here in the next three hours or so,’ a woman said.
The time was 9:30pm, and we were to get to Lagos around 3am the next morning. At least I came prepared, I thought. My Americanah book by Chimamanda Adichie would finally become useful, I thought. Two hours went and I had struggled to read a page. Slight hunger, thirst and frustration couldn’t let me concentrate. We were kept in a place with no Internet and no refreshments. Actually, refreshments were available for sale but no salesperson was available. So here we were – stuck, unattended to, hungry and thirsty but allowed to look at refreshments we couldn’t have. People began to withdraw their support for the guys. The guys that we all stood by and insisted they continued in their defiance. Certain circumstances truly test the authenticity and durability of people’s opinions in life. ‘These guys should stop being stubborn and just wait behind so others can go home na. They should consider these babies at least na,’ a woman said. As for me, I just wanted to eat, drink and go home.
They finally attended to us. First, some officials came in and requested to talk to the infamous guys then asked for their passports. They initially refused but later gave in and went with the officials. On seeing this, we hoped that our waiting was over so we stood up from our seats and formed a queue. Unknown to us, this was to be the first of many hopeless queues. We’d get up and form queues as soon as we saw officials at the entrance, but still no movement. The guys got back and told the people at the front what was discussed. I could barely hear what they said and I wasn’t ready to stand up hopelessly again. The little I could gather was that a new pilot and attendants had arrived, and the pilot wanted to talk to the infamous guys. This was good news, so we got up and queued again. An official came in and said they would read out six people’s names and those called out won’t be flying with everyone. They would be put in a hotel until the next day when they could fly. The names were called out, the infamous guys were among – of course – but the shocking thing was that 3 -4 other names were added at random. So you could have been sleeping throughout the whole incident on the plane and your name could be among this group – just like that. The random people that were involved were absolutely livid. This people were among those in support of the defiance of the infamous guys, but here they were, not ready to be associated with them. The time was 1am.
I got word that there was free WiFi upstairs so I quickly went up to inform my mum of the situation before she would start worrying if I didn’t arrive on time. I then went on Twitter to escape from the frustration. It felt good, but I had to be on the lookout for people’s movement before I would be left behind because of WiFi. Wetin I go tell my people for house? I bin de browse when plane bin take off? I went down and there was another queue. I didn’t even bother to join it until I saw it move. The mentioned people and the flight managers had reached a compromise so they queued separately, while the other queue began to move. We were finally free to leave. We boarded the plane at 3am. The plane took off and all I had on my mind was food and sleep. The food wasn’t my type, but at this point my stomach wasn’t a respecter of type. I slept as soon as I finished eating.
I thank God we landed in Nigeria safely. What a wonderful ‘Welcome back to Nigeria’ it was for me, after 20 months of being away. Now tell me, who do you think was at fault here? The airline? The guys? We, the supporters’ club? Me (for sitting in the wrong seat initially)?