Monday, April 28, 2008

The BA imbroglio..

...seems not to be getting much press attention in the UK (except for here, here and even the very venerable Robert Fisk here - big up the Indy for picking up on the story), however its big news over here. Many Nigerians are fed up with what they perceive to be BA's poor attitude to what is one of their most lucrative markets/routes. Deciding to eject everyone from economy on the flight in question (apart from the deportee himself) does seem an extreme measure. From the Indy articles above, it looks like institutional racism at work.

As an example of the kind of outrage that has been voiced, I've pasted below an email I received last week from Chinua Asuzu, from the Assizes Law Firm (written both by Chinua and Pelumi Osundahunsi):

"Globalization has been embraced in all spheres of human endeavour, in theory if not always in practice. From cross-border professional practice to inter-racial marriages, from exchange programmes between business and academic institutions to nearly-free movement of goods and services, the Global Village is the 21st century's keynote. This has given rise to increased tolerance among peoples, cultures, and races across continents.

Antitrust laws and enhanced competition, coupled with the growing emphasis on corporate governance and corporate social responsibility, have combined to constrain business organisations of all sizes to improve their client, human and public relations.

In the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher the Milk Snatcher snatched the milk from giant monopolies like British Rail, British Gas, British Telecoms, and British Airways when that great Prime Minister commercialised, liberalised and privatised virtually everything, leading to the great prosperity which the UK continues to enjoy today. Speed and efficiency in the rendering of services and the supply of public utilities gradually became the order of the day. Bureaucratic red tape sagged. Competition at first sauntered, and then matched into the various business and service arenas. Quality in the production of goods and supply of services improved.

British Airways did not like the trend set in by Thatcherism. And when Rebel Billionaire Richard Branson set up Virgin Airways, BA openly and shamelessly prayed for his planes to 'drop out of the sky'. BA never gave Virgin a chance. Virgin came with new ideas and new ways of doing things, friendlier staff, prettier girls, lower fares, Equal Opportunity Employment policies. BA fought Virgin with all the evil weapons in its arsenal.

Virgin, young as it is relative to BA which has been operating the Nigerian route for decades, already employs more Nigerians than BA. Without just cause or excuse, BA hates Nigerians.

It is against this briefly outlined background that we at Assizes, as human rights and immigration lawyers, view the recent maltreatment of Nigerians aboard a BA flight. The facts, briefly, are as follows:-
1. A Nigerian deportee was handcuffed unnecessarily and unlawfully aboard a BA plane late last month.
2. Compatriot Ayo Omotade complained.
3. BA crew threw the concerned Nigerian citizen, who was merely and admirably being his brother's keeper, off the plane and banned him from using their services.
4. Other Nigerian passengers on the same plane voiced their discomfiture at the mistreatment of their fellow citizens.
5. They were all shabbily removed from the plane, which then proceeded to fly the deportee home.

When confronted with the outcry of numerous Nigerians including the Federal Government, BA invoked the defence of statutory authority. They asserted that they had conducted themselves in accordance with the UK Immigration Act of 1971. This excuse is completely misleading and does not avail BA. Perhaps they assumed that Nigerians are not familiar with that statute. Well, at Assizes we have studied the legislation in detail and can find no provision in it that could justify or excuse the conduct of BA crew.

· BA's handcuffing of the deportee is insupportable by statute.
· BA's jettisoning of Ayo Omotade is insupportable by statute.
· BA's disembarking of the other Nigerian passengers is insupportable by statue.

The egregious and extravagantly aggressive and violent conduct of that BA crew was not in compliance with the UK Immigration Act of 1971, nor indeed with any provision in any UK Immigration Act or Rules, nor compatible with any law for the time being in force in any part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. BA showed off that crew of scallywags as a bunch of ineducable racists and savages.

Unfortunately for BA, the March 27 incident is not an isolated one, but merely another turn in the long history of racially-actuated ill-treatment of Nigerians in particular and Africans in general by BA, an organisation stuck in the colonial mould of its founders.

The Day of Judgment against BA in Nigeria has come!

The Assizes Law firm joins other Nigerians in calling for a total boycott of British Airways by Nigerian passengers, even when this would entail travelling by indirect routes. Nigerians can afford to be selective of the airlines we patronize if the airlines can be selective of the nationalities of the passengers deserving their respectful service and treatment.

Assizes in addition demands that the Federal Government should suspend the landing rights of British Airways at Nigerian airports until BA fully and publicly accepts responsibility for its mistreatment of Nigerians, tenders an unreserved apology and pays reasonable compensation to the deportee, to Ayo Omotade the patriotic sympathiser, and to the other Nigerian passengers initially aboard that flight, all of whom were insulted in their personal dignity, racial identity, national pride, and common humanity.

Compensation of the adversely affected Nigerian passengers would accord with Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of Europe of 11 February 2004, which established common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights. In legal effect, Ayo Omotade and the rest of the Nigerian passengers suffered at least a constructive denial of boarding and cancellation of their flights.

The despicable treatment of those Nigerian passengers also violated their human rights and passenger rights. It amounted to a blanket, prejudiced assault on their rights as stipulated under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Involving as it did a major airline of an allegedly "friendly" nation (UK) and passengers from her partner (Nigeria), the attack also entailed diplomatic implications. It would require a gesture from the British Government towards the Nigerian Government and people. For example, it has created an opportunity for the former colonial mistress to review her harsh and negative visa policy towards Nigerians and her negative immigration attitude to our people generally.

Nigerians in their private capacities contribute billions of pounds to the UK economy, and our government is a major trade partner in a grossly unequal partnership. This diplomatic incident, for it amounts to that, should give the Nigerian state pause regarding her relationship with the UK. Is it not time for us to deal less with the Brits and more with other people who show us some respect?"


Anonymous,  10:51 pm  

its high time our govt stepped in and banned BA until an apology is issued. the govt needs to protect and defend its citizens when necessary. after i use the return leg of my ticket, i'm switching to Virgin. this s**t is absolutely ridiculous.

Simon McIntyre 7:11 am  

It isn't just BA, and although race may have something to do with it, it's more that Nigerians don't fit the idea of a "normal customer" i.e. one that is quiet and British. It's endemic in the airline industry.

Virgin also have their issues on a lower level, although I'm sure they wouldn't react like BA have: Diversity Virgin

Anonymous,  10:14 am  

Yup, am boycotting BA.

Anengiyefa 3:29 pm  

Simon Mcintyre I wouldn't quite agree that there's any such thing as a "normal customer". BA has been flying the Nigerian route for several decades, even from the days of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. This in my book, is time enough for BA to have worked out that Nigerians have peculiarites, as do peoples of different countries all over the world. Nigerians are not British, and it is wrong that we should be treated differently from others because we do not act like the British do. Every customer is a normal customer, and it is normal for Nigerians to act like Nigerians. Chinese and Japanese whose knowledge of the English language is negligible and who do not act at all like the British, do not suffer treatment anything similar to what Nigerians suffer on BA.

I personally was ignored by cabin crew on a BA flight when I called for assistance, and the lousy food when it eventually came was all but shoved in my face. I have hated my BA experiences, and have now vowed never again to travel BA, unless my life depends on it. Last time I gave thanks when my bags showed up on arrival at my destination because I was half expecting them not to.

Lets face it, the truth is that BA does not like Nigerians, although ironically their Lagos route is perhaps their most profitable route in Africa.

Anonymous,  4:36 pm  

who can ever forget BA and Lord King's dirty campaign against Virgin in the early 90s...

If i was as imaginative or eloquent as Jeremy or had no ethics... I would suggest we also mount a similar dirty campaign against BA>...

Anonymous,  7:36 pm  

I am Nigerian and I find it terribly confusing that Nigerians suffer 'racial' discrimination at the hands of fellow Nigerians on Nigerian soil in every aspect of their lives and stay silent yet we choose to attack BA.

Imagine the following real-life scenarios:

1. A caucasian happily joins the end of a Virgin Nigeria check in queue at Murtala Muhammad Airport, guess what? Some airline or airport official moves him/her to the front of the queue!

2. A Nigerian and a caucasian tender for a contract or attend a job interview in Nigeria with equal qualifications. Who do you think gets it?

3. That on Virgin Nigeria, on a flight from Nigeria, the inability to purchase on-flight items in NAIRA!

4. And when it comes to customer service, who are the worst offenders; Bellview, Virgin Nigeria, Virgin Atlantic or British Airways?

I'm a believer that if you pay for a service then you deserve to receive the best service possible but I'm disgusted that in an industry where all parties are guilty that one airline is being singled out.

Anonymous,  8:48 am  

Anon 7:36

The short answer to your post is that: you pick your fights.

Rosa Parks was not the first black to refuse to give up her seat in Jim Crow America. She just happened to do so under the right circumstances.

The BA incident is similar - a clear case, a winnable fight, a historical convergence point.

This issue is beyond BA. It actually tells us more about Nigerians than BA: that we are learning to speak up, that we are casting off our victim mentality, that are growing in self-esteem.

Is it coincidental that this case comes at a time when the ruling party is losing election tribunals left-right-centre, when no-go areas reserved for the rich and powerful (power sector contracts, land allocations etc) are being openly and publicly exposed?

You are right, the BA imbroglio is not the beggining, nor end of Nija's 'issues' - just another small step on the long road of societal transformation.

Kpele BA, kpele oh! My people say 'one person dances and people clap, another dances and gets booed'.

Never apologize for being Nigerian.


PS: Re your point 3, the reason airlines may not be willing to accept naira is that it is not an internationally convertible currency.

Anonymous,  12:33 pm  

we said Modibbo!

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