Just about boarding a flight from London to Abuja, I asked a crew member welcoming passengers on board what the chances of an upgrade were because I missed the bulkhead / emergency exit seats and standing at 6ft 3” tall, it is a struggle squishing myself in my allocated seat for the night, what with the DVT and I went on. The steward, who must have heard this before from other passengers or perhaps me, kindly took my boarding pass stub and told me he will send someone over as soon as all passengers boarded.
Off I went to my seat in the economy class, settled down after much ado with overhead luggage space availability duel championships final and offering assistance to short elderly ladies who otherwise would step on the armrest (your arm) to reach the compartments above. Within ten minutes a flight steward came over and announced for a passenger VillagerX to make himself known to which I responded “that’s me”. He did a double take, then looked at the Caucasian men within close proximity of where I was sat all of whom seemed to dismiss him with uninterested looks. Knowing the steward’s dilemma I said, “You have my boarding pass stub and are perhaps hoping to re-seat me elsewhere but I am sorry if I confused you by not having an indigenous Nigerian last name, shall we go?” He led me away, red-faced, to the business class cabin. My former neighbour in economy class , a North American businessman, put in his two cents worth to another crew member and was promptly marched to business class to be re-united with his former neighbour, me.
I am that curious person who wants to know, wherever possible, the intricacies of western businessmen’s dealings in Nigeria. As such, we got talking and I gathered that he is involved in promoting sustainable economic development in developing countries. Ah ha, we have something in common, line of business, and the discussion progressed during which I understood that he intended to route from Abuja to Port Harcourt and Warri, by himself. I took a few minutes to muse over this ludicrous feat and the little I know about the region this man dared to venture on his own. It transpired that the last time he was in Nigeria was when he spent two weeks in Lagos back in 1990.
Well, why let a fellow man embark on such an endeavour with a placard around his neck that read “I AM FAIR GAME”. So, I began by highlighting the risks ahead of him and preventative measures that must be taken to ensure he does not wind up on CNN as the latest western hostage in Nigeria, which invariably would have been the case.
By the time we got to Abuja, this man was a bag of nerves though he kept it well under wraps. I offered him the services of a security escort to the domestic airport and onward to Port Harcourt. I called his contact in Warri and after some stern words gathered that he would have been in Abuja to meet his guest but for unforeseen circumstances.
Our North American guest met his client, rewarded my security personnel generously and has since returned to his homeland.
Whilst I can understand that in the absence of access to the media, it is highly likely that one might plead ignorance of the current goings-on in the Niger Delta, however we are awash with information pertinent to this particular situation via television, internet and the like. Sometimes I can’t help thinking that non-black westerners bring misfortune upon themselves when they venture into volatile places such as the Niger Delta with little preparation for what they are about to encounter or indeed little or no knowledge of the potential dangers that await them.