The Case of Nigerian Airways and Insufficient Fuel
Mobolaji E. Aluko, Ph.D.
Wednesday, May 15, 2002
On May 4, 2002, the very day that an EAS BAC One-Eleven plane crash with hundreds of fatalities occurred May in Kano, a ridiculous drama was unfolding in far-away New York. Let us "permit" a letter to tell the story:
Show of shame by Nigeria Airways
SIR: Please permit me to relate the show of shame by the management of Nigeria Airways at its New York terminal, on Saturday May 4, 2002.
Flight 851 was expected to depart for Nigeria at 4.00 p.m. New York time. The passengers were duly checked in and were advised to commence boarding at 2.30 p.m. At 4.00 p.m., there was an announcement that the
flight would be delayed for an hour due to fueling problems. To us that excuse was laughable, since there was no shortage of aviation fuel at JFK Airport.
As time went on, the reason for the delay filtered to the passengers that the agent that fuels the Airline refused to do so until all previous supplies had been paid for. By the time the Airways staff could meet the agent's demand, precious time had been wasted and the flight was postponed till the next day at 9.00 a.m. Passengers were checked into the Radisson Hotel, even though two per room, they
demonstrated patriotism by sympathising with the Airline and bearing the inconvenience with equanimity.
The passengers reported at the departure lounge before 7.00 a.m. in anticipation of the 9.00 a.m. flight. By 9.30 am the passengers were to receive the rudest shock of their lives when we learnt that that the quantity of fuel which was supplied by the previous day was not up to the minimum required for the trip. The pilot was alleged to have refused to take off until the quantity required was supplied. Apparently cash-strapped, the Airways' staff resorted to soliciting
financial assistance in form of loans from the stranded passengers to enable them augment the fuel. One good Samaritan passenger saved the situation by offering a $5,000 loan.
The above report would appear incredible but it is absolutely true in its entirety. If the management of the Nigeria Airways cannot manage an airline, I feel it is in the overall interest of the country that it should fold up rather than expose Nigeria and Nigerians to public opprobrium at an international terminal where airlines of less endowed nations than Nigeria operate scheduled flights without any constraints.
That mere fuel could cause the cancellation of a flight speaks volumes about the efficiency of the Nigeria Airways.
Femi Ola, Abuja, FCT
Since the circulation of this letter on the Internet, it has been greeted with a mixture of revulsion, anger, embarrassment - and down right amusement - by Nigerian commentators. A $5000 loan from a passenger to fuel a Nigerian Airways plane bound for Lagos from New York ke?
I checked the calendar: it was not April 1, 2002! But still, since I did not know who this "Femi Ola, Abuja" was, who knows whether he was just "forming" this story? I could not believe it until one "Deji", who I know and I trust, wrote the following piece:
My wife was on that flight to Nigeria from New York. That weekend was a nervous one for us as a family here in Maryland. Keep in mind that the Kano air-crash happened on the same day.
Our family in Nigeria who had traveled from Ado-Ekiti to meet my wife and daughter in Lagos had to sleep in the
airport floor and car waiting for my wife and daughter to arrive. On Sunday morning, she called us and we were all excited that she is in Nigeria. To our surprise, she was still in New York.
What a big shame! Never again, will any of my relatives fly on Nigeria Airways, not even my adversary.
Not even his enemy, Deji wrote! Nigeria Airways just lost two of its few customers!
So it was true? What the heck, so many people have since asked? Is it "by force", one Yinka asked, that we operate an Airline if we can't afford to? Can't we just crawl back to South Africa and ask that it rejuvenate that joint flight that
was terminated in March 2002 - I was on its last Saturday flight from Lagos to New York on March 16, an excellent flight - another fellow asked?
Aha! Even "ocho passengers" in Aba motorpark will not ask passengers to loan them money to fill their Ekene Dilli Chukwu bus!
Many more people, coming out of woodworks, have been relating their Nigerian Airways (or air ways) experiences. One "Emmanuel" wrote thusly:
I have been in shock since I read this report earlier this morning which once again confirms that Nigeria is a classic case of a DEAD NATION WALKING (or 'not working' as the case may be). One can not but
be depressed at such insanity.
Ironically I wrote an article…. recently in which I submitted in effect that:
- Nigeria airways is more or less nothing better than an organised scam as compared to organised crime ( well i was wrong they are a disorganized scam after all)
- that we in so far as we can not guarantee our flight security in post-911 reality and our ability to return to our continent of origin are not far removed from our ancestors who were brought here as slaves and unable to return home ( once again I was wrong - we can now 'contribute' and 'settle'
people on the tarmac like we sometimes do at home to be able to fly from NY-Lagos!)
Let me tell you why my concerns for our flight assurance are not outlandish. When I went to Nigeria for a week last month I was told I could only fly into Abuja but not back because of seat unavailability. I chose to return through Lagos.
At Lagos around 8pm we were told we could not be boarded. BA was overbooked!!! British Airways ke? over-gini?!!!
Anyway all hell-broke loose as assorted Nigerian accents from all over the world began to manifest. One said he 'garra [GUY-WAY for "GOTTA"] be in NY' to connect the following day; an English- Nigerian said he had to be at work in London by 9am; some other guy was connecting to some Island I had never heard off and then there was the woman with the medical appointment. I won't mention the kids who were visiting naija for the first time. My own was i needed to be "in DeeCee to file ma taxes" the following day April 15th!
Bottomline about 40 of us were booked in hotels including me who had already been checked in. I will only tell you about how I returned from Sheraton to pick up my bags which had to be retrieved from the plane only to learn that one seat came open so I made it after all leaving all the others behind!
Which brings me to last week. My friend was expecting his family to arrive here last week on naija "airways". They said they had no seats! My friend who had paid for his ticket the same day and flown the same day on the virtually empty flight the week before could not believe.
He called the manager in Nigeria and demanded that his family be put on the plane. They flew in the next day - once again a largely empty aircraft. Reason - Nigeria Airways operates a quota system whereby seats are
allocated to each office. One could be sold out and the other unsold but no one really cares to find out unless you "know" the manager!
Friends, my sad conclusion after last month's trip was that we don't have a government. All we have is Shakpeares characterization of the words of [a tale told by] an idiot 'full of sound and fury but signifying nothing". I wish to high heaven I did not have a Nigeria Airways that would come all the way to embarass me here in a foreign land as if I don't have enough self-esteem issues already.
Wouldn't we be better off some how without them if we just rented a jet from Avis or someone each time we want to travel? I mean should fuel for any reason be Nigeria's problem?
By the way does anyone know how our Space Program in Nigeria is going? Finally should we start a contribution fund to get these nincompoops out of the China shop so we can restart our country again? Anyone
As an early supporter of Nigeria's "Space Program" myself, I found the last sentence particularly irritating! We can't operation Nigerian Airways, and we are going to the Sun? What a joke!
Finally, I think that this episode has touched a funny bone in Nigerians. Read one wickedly funny "BabsOloye":
Welcome to Nigeria AirWaste!
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. This is your captain (Boneyface) welcoming you on board of Nigeria Airways.
We apologize for the four-day delay in taking off, it was due to bad weather and some overtime I had to put
in at the bakery.
This is flight 126 to Lagos. Landing in Lagos is not guaranteed, but we will end up somewhere in the South.
If luck is in our favour, we may even be landing on your village!
Nigeria Airways has an excellent safety-record. In fact our safety standards are so high that even
terrorists are afraid to fly with us!
It is with pleasure, I announce that starting this year over 50% of our passengers have reached their
If our engines are too noisy for you, on passenger request, we can arrange to turn them off!.
To make your free fall to earth pleasant and memorable, we serve complimentary Bongo tea and Okin
For our not-so-religious passengers, we are the only airline who can help you find out if there really is a
We regret to inform you, that today's in-flight movie will not be shown as we forgot to record it from the
television. But for our movie buffs, we will be flying right next to Air Barka, where their movie will be
visible from the right side of the cabin window.
There is no smoking allowed in this airplane. Any smoke you see in the cabin is only the early warning
system on the engines telling us to slow down!
In order to catch important landmarks, we try to fly as close as possible for the best view. If, however,
we go a little too close, do let us know. Our enthusiastic co-pilot sometimes flies right through
Kindly be seated, keep your seat in an upright position for take-off and fasten your set-belt. For
those of you who can't find a seat-belt, kindly fasten your own belt to the arm of your seat ... and for
those of you who can't find a seat, do not hesitate to get in touch with a stewardess who will explain how to fasten
yourself to your suitcase.
ENJOY Nigeria Airways!
I can't stop laughing - even though I know that it is gallows humor!
By the way, I am making sure that this my Essay gets to our Aviation Minister, the lovely nne Dr. Kema Chikwe, so that while she continues to harrass those one-aircraft, BAC-1-11-laden airline operators inside Nigeria, she should also remember to provide enough money to buy fuel into Nigerian Airways aircrafts!
Finally, do you think that maybe some people are trying to "sabotage" Nigerian Airways so that it can be privatized for peanuts?
Just as well, to save us all of this (inter)national embarrassment!
Federal Ministry of Aviation
Federal Secretariat Complex
Shehu Shagari Way, Central Area
P.M.B.5012, Wuse, Abuja
Tel: 234-09-523112, 5232052
Minister: Dr. (Mrs.) Kema Chikwe
Tel: 234-09-5232112, 5232132
Nigeria Airways Limited
Murtala Mohammed Airport
P0. Box 136, Lagos
Tel: 01-4963953, 961577, 01-9003470-88, 01-900553, 01-490 0470
Fax: +234 1 277 7665
FEDERAL AIRPORTS AUTHORITY OF