By Owei Lakemfa
Missing. I am on my way to the police station to report that the Nigerian Government is missing. The absence of government in the country is glaring. A week ago, I thought it was on sabbatical.
Midweek, I concluded that with terrorists, bandits, criminals and some ministers acting with impunity, the government must be Away Without Leave, AWOL.
But this week, having determined that government cannot be so incompetent, clueless, rudderless and insensitive as to allow Nigerians to be treated as orphans, I concluded that the Buhari government is missing and that it is the patriotic duty of all Nigerians to search for it even if we have to enlist the services of the INTERPOL.
As is well known, Nigerians cannot travel the roads as the chances of kidnap is very high, with some victims spending eight years in captivity.
It is not just the fear of bandits that is making Nigerians hesitate to travel by train, but also the phenomenon of a train breaking down, not due to mechanical problems, but running out of diesel!
Anything can happen in Nigeria; so, the Airline Operators of Nigeria, AON, have decided to ground the airlines in the country because with the ever-increasing cost of aviation fuel, Jet A1, the possibility of an aircraft running out of fuel mid-air, is no longer in the range of impossibility.
Just as most of our rulers treat Nigerians with disrespect and contempt and as mere objects of exploitation, so do foreign concerns operating in the country.
Take the Digital Satellite Television, DSTV, run by MultiChoice, which has been operating in Nigeria since 1993. It regularly increases its subscription rate while not improving services to the two million subscribers in the country. When these are challenged in court and ruling is in favour of the subscribers, DSTV does not only disobey the courts, but does so with contempt.
When, tired of naked exploitation by DSTV who bills subscribers even when the television is not functional or switched on, Nigerians, backed by the Senate, demanded the introduction of the Pay-As-You-Go, PAYG, system. The DSTV simply ignored them.
When in 2020, the House of Representatives summoned DSTV to explain why it continues this exploitation of Nigerians, the Chief Executive Officer of MultiChoice Nigeria, Mr John Ugbe, cheekily told the National Assembly: “We are yet to see a pay-TV business anywhere in the world that does PAYG in the sense intended here. We do not believe the model is technically or commercially feasible.”
This of course is a white fat lie as this system operates in parts of the world. Even here in Nigeria, the Telcom Satellite TV, TSTV, runs a PAYG system. If the government were not missing, do you think MultiChoice would treat Nigerians like dirt?
Playing in the same DSTV league is the Turkish Airlines which has created a parallel immigration and secret security desk with powers to determine which Nigerians can travel out and which can be barred from leaving their country. I took the airline from Lagos on November 15, 2021, and watched as its officials under one guise or the other, extorted Nigerians.
When it was my turn, the airline official told me I will not be allowed to board because I had only been partially vaccinated. I asked him to take another look at my COVID-19 vaccination card which showed that I took the first dose on March 24 and the second on June 22, that is five months before.
But he said he was not interested in my vaccine card but in his portal which allegedly showed I had not had the second shot. At that point, I had two options: either bribe the Turkish Airline officials as was being openly done or abort my flight.
I decided on a third option: stage a protest. So, I demanded the airline respects a certificate issued by the Nigerian government, otherwise it has no basis doing business in the country. It worked.
In April 2022, eleven Nigerian professors and professionals travelled through Turkish Airlines for an international conference in Cuba, and the airline managed to find a fault with the travel arrangement of each, so much that the Cuban Embassy was called to intervene.
But these were nothing compared to the ugly experience foremost political activist and scribe of the Joint Action Forum of pro-labour civil societies in the country, Comrade Abiodun Aremu, had in the hands of the airline. He had a two-week programme in Cuba, including representing the Nigeria Labour Movement at May Day activities.
On April 27, 2022, the Abuja desk of the airline refused to issue Aremu, who had a valid Cuban visa, a boarding pass on the excuse that he had to be cleared by the Cuban immigration!
The airline claimed that an intending passenger to Cuba must fill a form that would be scanned to the Cuban Immigration authority. He did but was told there was no response from Havana. He then placed a call to the Cuban Ambassador who had intervened in the professors’ case, but this time the Turkish Airline officials refused to speak with her.
Obviously, she had become a clog in their extortion racket. A second excuse the officials gave was that Nigerians were using Cuba as a route for illegal migration to neigbouring countries like the United States. Aremu asked who will try to migrate from Cuba to US when for six decades now America had imposed sanctions on Cuba, including travel restrictions?
He also explained that he could not be one of the Nigerians attempting to flee the country as just a few days before, he had travelled to Venezuela using the same Turkish Airlines. On that occasion, he had been delayed for 25 minutes as the airline official pored over a voluminous book claiming he was trying to locate where Venezuela is in the world!
After aborting his travel, the airline reached out to the Cuban Embassy that Aremu could now travel. The earliest date possible was Saturday April 30 so he agreed to travel on that date. But to his shock the Turkish Airline which should apologise to him, ruled he has to pay a fare differential of N280,788 which he refused to pay, so his trip was again aborted.
I am certain that but for the absence of the government, Nigerians would not be treated like orphans. So, like I said, I am on my way to the police station. My only problem is that to file a missing person’s report, the police will ask for details such as the missing government’s physical description; if it wears tribal marks, what cloth it was wearing when it disappeared and when it was last seen. Can my compatriots assist in these?
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), is a human rights activist, journalist, and author.