A wonderful opportunity went a-begging

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With a roar, the chartered plane from Nigeria landed at the V C Bird Airport last Tuesday, Independence Day. We’d noticed a handful of curious folks standing under a tree on the Sir George Walter Highway, but apart from that, the arrival was a bit anti-climactic. The excitement and fanfare that one would have expected from such a historic flight, simply was not there. True, there was the obligatory water canon salute as the aircraft taxied up the runway, but not much else by way of pomp and circumstance. Well, not if you refer to the dour ribbon-cutting ceremony in the terminal as pomp and circumstance. The truth is that it left many onlookers feeling underwhelmed, and a bit bewildered. We mean, why were those in high places looking so crestfallen and out of sorts? We’re talking about the good Minister of Foreign Affairs and the good Minister of Tourism? One looked as though he’d lost his best friend, and other looked as though he was at a funeral.

Rather surprisingly, even the newly-arrived African contingent seemed befuddled and confused. They did not seem to know where they were, and why they were here. They had very little by way of luggage, and we understand that some did not even pay for their trip. Of course, to add insult to injury, some were not sure as to where they were supposed to be staying, and the arrangements for their meals, their transportation, and their entertainment /sight-seeing, seemed quite ad hoc and last-minute. The reported chaos that ensued at the airport after they’d passed through Immigration and Customs is testament to the absolutely unprofessional, incompetent and shabby manner in which this Nigeria Airways charter flight was planned.  

Then again, maybe it was all planned to be a chaotic arrival – the perfect smokescreen for the real reason for the arrival of this Nigeria Airways flight to our fair shores. After all, to this day, nobody in a high place can tell the nation the real reason why this flight was chartered to come to Antigua and Barbuda. Yes, they will tell us the patented fiddle-faddle about reconnecting with the Motherland and our African brothers and sisters, and providing more economic opportunities, and more investments, and opening cultural and historic ties, and expanding our horizons, blah, blah, blah. Nobody believes any of it. Au contraire, the prevailing sentiment is that there are more nefarious reasons for that flight’s arrival here. But not to worry, as Geoffrey Chaucer once declared in THE PRIEST’S TALE [THE CANTERBURY TALES], “Murder will out, that see we, day by day!”

Of that, we are sure. Meanwhile, all citizens of goodwill are still scratching their heads. Folks want to know what was in the containers that were stored in the aircraft’s cargo bay? Did Marvelous Mike, he of the Nigerian printing company, and one of the principal investors in the Nigeria Airways venture, ever arrive as, as was reported, he was supposed to do? What is Marvelous Mike’s real interest in Antigua? And what is our government’s real interest in Marvelous Mike? And why did the Nigerian Airways flight reportedly return to Nigeria with less than its original full load of passengers? Enquiring minds want to know. After all, there is a big disconnect between the utterances of those in high places, and the reality of what actually happened on the ground here in Antigua and Barbuda, these past seven days.

Of course, a wonderful opportunity was lost. A real opportunity to forge/renew real and long-lasting social, economic, and historical links. After all, our African brothers and sisters were visiting the African diaspora for the first time. They were voluntarily (as far as we know) retracing the footsteps of their ancestors. They were coming to see, firsthand, the enormous crime scene, where the tragedy of enslavement unfolded. This trip was going to be a somber, life-altering moment for them, much as a trip to say, Goree Island, off the coast of Senegal, the largest slave-trading port in Africa, is a heart-wrenching experience for us folks from the Caribbean.

If, and when, our Nigerian (and other African) visitors were shown our sugar mills and the remnants of the old estates, they would perhaps shed a tear. After all, those sugar mills and estates stand as sentinels to our horrific past; they stand as mute witnesses to the crimes against humanity that unfolded on their sites. The enormity of slavery would have hit our African brothers and sisters like a punch to the gut. Needless to say, they would have returned to Nigerian, and Cameroon and the others African countries from whence they reportedly hailed, a changed people.

Even the long flight across the Atlantic, would have reminded them of the trans-Atlantic horror aboard slaver ships. They would cast their minds back to those who courageously jumped overboard, choosing rather to take their own lives, than be taken to a faraway land with an uncertain future. They would cast their eyes down at the white-tipped waves that were once drenched with blood – the blood of our ancestors who were unceremoniously thrown overboard by the slavers who could no longer abide their unruliness, or by the captured, who succumbed to the suffocating heat and stench. It is said that over the centuries, sharks changed their feeding habits to follow the slaver vessels as they crossed the Atlantic. They knew that bodies would be coming overboard. Sigh!

Based on the embarrassing stories about how our African visitors were left to wander the streets of Antigua and Barbuda last week, struggling for money to buy a decent meal, and begging for a ride from one guest house to another, we suspect that there was little or no time for the rich cultural and historical exchanges that should have been a part of this Nigerian Airways charter. For shame!

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