When I read on Saharareporters that President Goodluck Jonathan had brought 120 delegates to New York for a 36-hour rendezvous, I never expected that I would encounter some of these men and women in flesh.
My journey with these Nigerian “big men and women” started the evening of Saturday, September 25, 2010 in New York and then continued through Atlanta to Lagos on Delta Airlines.
It was difficult for me to capture the scene at the JFK Airport in New York because I got there late. In fact, I almost missed my flight. However, the flight, initially scheduled for 7.15 p.m. local time, did not take off until 8.35 p.m. We arrived in Atlanta at 1l.15 p.m. or thereabout. The departure gate for the Atlanta-Lagos flight was Gate E10 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia
There was some mild drama at the airport as some Nigerian travelers sighted former President Olusegun Obasanjo who was on the flight to Atlanta and the connection flight to Lagos. Most of the travelers scrambled to take photographs with the former president and things were about to get rowdy when airport security did a subtle intervention. Call that Scene 1.
Scene 2: Hardly had we arrived at the gate than Nigerian officials (who had accompanied President Jonathan to New York) descended on the various duty free shops dotting the magnificent airport to buy up just about anything in sight. The items they crazily rushed included top of the range liquors, expensive perfumes and colognes, designer bags, high-priced clothes and wristwatches. And they did it with such frenzy that you would think that their lives depended on it.
I watched in amazement as they freely pulled out wads of dollar bills. It was somewhat dizzying, I must say.
In fact, things got so messy that Delta Airline had to abruptly introduce a weight scale to measure the weight of hand luggage. Some of the officials clutched as many as five bags filled with duty free goods. One of the shops also did not allow the Nigerians to handle their bulky purchases themselves. After purchase, they sealed up each bag and handed over a counterfoil of the receipt to the buyer. At boarding time, the shop wheeled the purchases in two trolleys to the boarding gate and called out the receipt numbers for their owners to pick.
The flight to Lagos was smooth. But I must mention here that almost three quarters of the Delta airbus was filled with Nigerians, and they comprised mostly government officials, security men and sundry Aso Villa staffers (at least I was able to identify a couple of them), domestic staff of the first family, including a chef who had served former President Obasanjo, but now serving Jonathan, businessmen and journalists – all of whom had accompanied the president to the United Nations General Assembly last Thursday.
Scene 4: Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. The flight touched down at 4.05 p.m. Sunday, and another frenzy began. This time it was the struggle to wheel tons of bags past Customs. And the officials were able to go past the Customs posts with just a flash of their ID cards. The most noticeable scene here was a top female official of a Federal Ministry in Abuja who wheeled in nine hefty bags! And these did not include her four pieces of hand luggage. At first, the Customs men pretended as if they wanted to check her excess baggage and asked her to step aside. She ignored the order and calmly fished out her ID from her bag, and waved it at their faces. The Customs men instantly stood at attention and even gave her a paramilitary salute.
Three white men who were waiting calmly to collect their bags from the conveyor belt could not help but ‘smile.’