Of Achebe, Abuja and Airplanes

Of Achebe, Abuja and Airplanes

You know you have arrived in Abuja by the slack in activities and movement. The place is calm and laid back, at peace with itself. Hausa is in the air, subliminally present; one can almost see the sonorous language floating above the tree tops. Upon my arrival, I breathed in the air of the land of my birth. My Eastern name can say what it will, but I am a dan arewa, a son of the north.

An hour earlier I was in the animal kingdom of Lagos, western Nigeria, a hobbesian state of nature like no other. Yoruba, the language of Western Nigeria swirled around like a tornado punctuated by loud curses, blaring horns and sounds of haste and struggle. In Abuja, I was in a city of relief and contented sighs. I could almost touch simplicity. The calm ambience of Abuja is inspired by the philosophy that “one gets only what Allah wishes to give.” So why hurry? Why struggle? Why leave your home by 4am and return at midnight? Lagos needs this philosophy. The quality of life here affirms its truth.

Outside the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, I was surprised not to be overwhelmed by cab drivers promising to drive me to anywhere, even to my own living room, as I was used to in Lagos. I wondered, briefly, if Abuja cab drivers were also on strike like the airport authorities who made me sit for four hours inside a steamy airplane. But this was Abuja – cab drivers here had style and clean air-conditioned cars.

A man in a danshiki approached me.

“Taxi?” he asked.

I nodded. “International Conference Centre.”

“The China Achebi program?”

I nodded again. Even though he pronounced Chinua Achebe wrong, I was still impressed at his knowledge. Cab drivers back in Lagos wouldn’t have known. They know only their enemies: Governor Fashola and LATSMA (Lagos State Traffic Management Authority).

The ANA symposium organised in honour of the late Chinua Achebe was to have started at 10am. My flight from Lagos was scheduled for 6.45am that morning. I should have gotten to the ICC in good time to cover the event for ZODML, but Nigerian air travel is characterised by “unforeseen circumstances” – something frustrating always truncates one’s best-made plans. This time it was an industrial action by the air traffic controllers. My flight was delayed for six hours.

So there I was, at 2pm, urging the cab driver to speed up and hoping that somehow ANA would obey the Nigerian time rule and start the event late. We arrived the ICC in minutes (Abuja roads encourage and inspire speed). I walked through the wide doors of the conference centre and met everyone standing for the national anthem closing the event. My anger and frustration was palpable. The airport authorities were to blame, but how does one go about fighting an airline? They were not like the road transporters in Lagos, where you can cuss out the driver or beat up the bus conductor. Hours before, in Lagos, our hostesses had borne the brunt of the frustrations of the passengers. When the air traffic controllers finally took pity on us and cleared our plane for takeoff, people had expected the flight to begin immediately; they were not in the mood for the pre- flight demonstrations and security measures. One woman told the hostess that everyone knew how to buckle the seat belt, could the pilot just lift off? Another voice from the back, an Igbo man by his accent, told the hostess to shut up about that nonsense about emergency landing on water, and that if the pilot stupidly decides that the water was the best place to make an emergency landing then there really would be no point.

For some minutes passengers debated who thought up the silly policy of making emergency landings on water, and why they didn’t consider tree tops (which would presumably provide better cushioning). My neck developed a kink from twisting to put faces to some of the frustrated voices.

Then another hostess committed, from the furor it caused in the economy class, a treasonable felony. As she stood between the business and economy classes, holding the curtains apart, she paused to make sure we all saw her, then dramatically drew the curtains closed. People flared up again. “Mumu girl,” said one traveller. “How much will they dash you?”

“Nonsense,” said a bearded man beside me, “Shegia! If the plane crashes we will all not die?” Voices rose up in protest at him.

Haba! Why are you talking like that?”

“God forbid, I reject it.” “Blood of Jesus!”

“We will land safely, Insh’Allah.”

A baby at the back had had enough and let out her frustration in wails. I didn’t fully understand the angry reactions, so I asked the bearded man what the hostess had done.

Kai, you didn’t see what the shegia did? The way she closed the curtain to make us feel like, like, talakawa, you know, poor persons, because we are in economy class? Irin, like there is something special happening in the business class seats. Instead of them to signal the pilot to move, they are… they are showing off!”

I felt his pain. As far as I was concerned we were all in the flying container together:those sitting in business class could still hear the baby crying at the back of the plane.

Thankfully, the plane did not crash and I even got a wink from the hostess when she handed me my snack of juice and a cake.

But as I stood looking foolish and trying to pretend that I hadn’t arrived ignobly at the close of an event for which I had travelled across the country to attend, I wished I had shouted at the hostess like everyone else and maybe broken something in that aircraft to prove my point.

With Elnathan John (L) and Abubakar adamu Ibrahim (R)

The trip was not entirely fruitless, however. Part of my mission at the event was to interact with authors and raise awareness about ZODML.

“A free private library in Nigeria, in Lagos? Eziokwu! Ah, but if only Nigerians read,” said a professor who asked for my card. I told him Nigerians actually read. He beckoned two of his colleagues over to hear what this young man was saying. They came. We argued. I won. They promised to visit when next they came to Lagos. I discussed business with Richard Ali, a co-founder of Parresia Publishers and took pictures with friends and Caine Prize finalists, Elnathan John and Abubakar Adamu Ibrahim. I also had a good time with the poets of Words, Rhyme and Rhythm, Kukugho Samson and Su’eddie Agema, and some of the Association of Nigerian Authors top guns (Mallam Denja Abdullahi and BM Dzukogi). Oh, and did I mention that Chinyere Obi-Obasi took me out to lunch? The trip ended up being not so bad.

Being Nominated by Elnathan John for the next Caine prize.
From left to right: Su’eddie Agema, kaycee, Abubakar A Ibrahim, Richard Ali, and Elnathan John

But we live in a strange country.

As I got into a cab to head back to the airport, the driver glanced at the programme of events and a magazine I had with me and then asked in broken English, “The man come?”

“The man? Which man?” I asked. “The man, now… Achebe come for the programme?”

My mouth dropped open.

“Driver, don’t worry, I am not going to the airport anymore.”

“Ah ah, bros why?…toh, come pay 2,500…”

I ignored him, alighted from his cab and hailed another. The cab driver had dispelled my illusion that Abuja Cab drivers knew things other than destinations.

 With @Xikay(L) and @sueddie (R)


My return flight to Lagos was scheduled for 5.45pm but of course, we landed at Murtala Mohammed Airport at 11.20pm. That return flight and my ordeal at the hands of the Nigeria police on my way home from the airport is story for another time.


First Published in ZODML News letter

26 thoughts on “Of Achebe, Abuja and Airplanes” by kaycee (@kaycee)

  1. @ogaoga, @admin. I had 3 pictures in the post. Could you please address this situation so that all of them can show up?

    1. Picking beef with @Admin

  2. Oh, Lord. ‘Achebe come for the programme?’ I am laughing my ribs sore as I write this, both in reaction to the driver and your response. But come to think of it, Achebe was at the conference. Was the programme not meant to honour him? Good show.

    1. @ezeakwukwo, thanks. Been a while.

  3. I have read this piece somewhere two days ago. Can’t remember where. But I had a good laugh while reading it like the others. Truelly, is there a free private library in Lagos? Btw, what happened to that Lucifer story of yours Kaycee?

    1. @francis, if one more soul asks me of that book again, i will kill something!
      But, the book is chilling.

      1. Lol! For your info I’m ten souls put together… Nice pics by the way. Didn’t know you guys can actually smile-except I know @sueddie always does…

        1. We smile only when facing the camera. @francis.

  4. @francis: hey man! You noticed? :) How are you?
    @kaycee: I’ve followed this from the original newsletter to your blog and now, here. It’s still as refreshing. C’mon man, you are still owing @xikay and I those pictures? If na negotiation, tok jor!

    :) There are lots of grounds to cover with ZODML (I got it right, abi?). Well done man. Well done

    PS: the launch went well. Thanks for asking…

    1. @sueddie, I think I’m fine. Thanks! :)

      I forgot to mention that @kaycee looks to gentle to be Kaycee and it’s nice to see the face behind Premium Times contributor and of course our notable poet…

      1. @francis…I don’t know why you like to insult me! How dare you say that I look gentle? What kinda talk is that?? See…

        1. @kaycee… you don’t have to pretend you are not gentle for us to see that. No matter what kind of mask, or how many masks, you wear, You are still you, and that’s what we see.

    2. What pictures? @sueddie. I sent some to facebook. You can save them from there.
      Ok, I will send some later to your email or wherever. So the book launch was great? Awesome.

  5. I dont even know what to say to you my @kaycee.

    First of all, why did you not put a cutline on the picture where I appeared?
    Secondly, did you credit the cameraman that took the pictures?
    Thirdly, why did you REFUSE to send my *youruba intonation* FOTOS?

    Lastly, next time, attempt beating up the pilot and that American Visa will come…you’ll be in Guantanamo.

    1. @xikay. I did put a…cutline O, I don’t know who stole it.
      And I forgot the cameraman was you. But do you credit the photogragher even when the camera isn’t his?
      The fotos are many. I don’t know when I can finish sending them to you. Let’s see in Lagos when you show up.

      1. Dem no dey hire equipment?

  6. @kaycee, thanks for an amusing write up. I enjoyed it very much.

    I’m curious about ZODML… I had heard about it a while back, and I was pleasantly surprised that it had been going for so long. One challenge is that it is limited by geography regarding who it can serve, since many people won’t want to come down all the way down to Ikoyi just to borrow a book. I wish more people were motivated to leave a legacy like this so that those wanted to read would not have to travel so far.

    1. @TolaO
      Thanks for your comment. Its been a while.
      You will be surprised that even those around Ikoyi do not take advantage of the free library.
      But there are lots for book lovers to read from the online library at http://www.zodml.org

      1. I guess the e-library is the way to go to get around distribution issues, @kaycee.

        But the content will be limited to works that aren’t subject to copyright issues.

        1. @TolaO. True talk.
          But the world has gone digital anyway, physical libraries now have to make changes to suit the new trend. I just wonder if there could be a way people can borrow a book from the library without having to go physically.
          But we do need to get more people reading especially to those who need it most. You should see the impact of the ZODML Prison library and computer centre, and the Internet learning centre the NGO sets up in schools. A lot of young people, seriously lack the means to acquire the knowledge and education some of us take for granted.I didn’t know that before.
          I am personally excited about the Book Corner Project that seeks to set up llibraries in schools all over the country. Those who need books must find it. But there is much work to be done, ZODML is just scratching the surface, others must join in.

  7. Pls where’s this free library?

    Did the man come?
    Hehehehehe…can’t stop laughing.

    1. @itsabum
      Or if you are in lagos visit the library complex at 196, awolowo road, Ikoyi, Lagos.

  8. “…and I even got a wink from the hostess when she handed me my snack of juice and a cake.”
    Mumu, wink ko, wank ni! mtcheeew!

    You don finish our Lagos abi? You will see, you will know. The same Lagos that has bestowed madness on you? Do you think an Abuja resident could have such wild imaginations you display in your writings? ol boy, leave Lagos o, we like it like that! hehehehehehehhehehe.

    Good one bro. I would love to meet eljo someday, likeable chap.

  9. Animal kingdom indeed!

  10. Looks and sounds like you had lots of fun.

    As to the Lagos life, yes we are wanting for peace. A taxi man who took me home one day marveled that my house was so far within the estate that if trouble reared it’s head in the metropolis, we wouldn’t hear a pin drop. In truth we don’t, (we hear generators however). The hustle and bustle of life, plus the Yoruba language swirling around like a tornado punctuated by loud curses and blaring horns makes Lagos what it is.

    I love our opening statements, and the way the literature flowed. Do I get to know more about ZODML on your site, I’ll go check.

  11. this is an intigue

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