British Airways has been criticised over its handling of a forced deportation and its treatment of Nigerian passengers on a flight from Heathrow airport.
Passengers on board the 27 March BA flight to Lagos began to protest about the manhandling of Augustine Eme, a Biafran independence activist, who was allegedly being restrained by up to five police officers while pleading not to be sent back to Nigeria where he feared he would be killed. (Eme’s brother has already been killed and his wife and children are missing.)
The police promptly removed Eme from the flight, but returned to arrest another passenger, Ayodeji Omotade. This prompted other passengers to complain about his detention, which resulted in the pilot ordering all 136 economy class passengers off the flight.
Omotade, who is from Kent, was on the flight to attend his brother’s wedding in Nigeria but was detained by police for ten hours following his arrest. In that time police confiscated £1,603 that Omotade had on him, stating that they had strong reason to believe the money came from criminal activities. Omotade was then returned to Heathrow without any money and having missed his brother’s wedding. He has also been banned for life from travelling with British Airways.
The flight did eventually go to Lagos, but with only Eme and first class passengers on board. British Airways defended its removal of the economy passengers, on the basis that their behaviour constituted a security threat to staff.
The incident has prompted calls for a boycott of BA from within the Nigerian community in the UK. Over one thousand people signed a petition sent to the Nigerian government demanding a written apology to all the passengers. The petition also called on BA to compensate Omotade and lift the lifetime ban against him, as well as lifting any criminal charges against him. The Nigerian president, Umaru Yar’Adua, has ordered an investigation into the incident at Heathrow.
British Airways recently came under fire from one of its own pilots for ignoring racism amongst its staff. Captain Doug Maughan, who has worked for BA for fifteen years, recently accused management of failing to deal with his complaints about frequent racist remarks made by senior BA employees.