On a ghost flight to Dubai

On the Monday night of the penultimate week, I happened to find myself on what is generally referred to in the Aviation industry as a ghost flight. For the uninitiated among my readers, a ghost flight is a euphemism for an empty, or near empty, plane. I didn’t take a count, but I doubt it if the plane was thirty percent full. Even though I was a budget passenger in the economy class, I found myself with the luxury of a choice of a range of four empty seats, to lie comfortably down and stretch myself to my full length. It was very convenient but I guessed wholly inconvenient to the airline as this translated into loss of revenue, which if allowed to go on for days would spiral into a financial disaster.

As the plane taxied, found speed and zoomed up into the skies from the Abuja Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport that night, I sadly ruminated on what I could see was happening to the airline industry. The large number of empty seats were the starkest indication of the coronavirus effect on the multibillion Dollars industry. Obviously, as the virus that causes COVID 19 is said to be invasive, the surest and fastest means for it to travel from one country to the other was by air travel. And as proactive governments responded to make their people safe, the first-line action would be some form of restrictions on air travel. Restriction with no timeline put a damper on the enthusiasm of travellers.

By the time we landed in Dubai on Tuesday morning, the virus was still referred to as an epidemic, though in countries like China and Italy it had plainly gone beyond that. In China, factories, offices, markets were closing down. In parts of the country, whole cities were being quarantined. The effect was not far to register globally. It is an interconnected world. I learnt that many manufacturers would have to cut down or totally close down because China is their main source of the raw materials. Conversely, China is also the main buyer of many commodities from several countries. Italy was also in the news as one of the worst hit countries where the same China scenario was re-enacting itself.

Early morning in the next day affairs in the airport, we touched down appeared brisk, though more frequent travellers told me that it was evident that business was on the low side. In the dazzling airport, one could see measures taken to detect carriers of the virus. There were hooded screens here and there and personnel kitted appropriately, but they were not as elaborate as what I left behind back home at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport. For once our government seems to be ahead in containing this epidemic. It made me feel a few inches taller, and made my walk into the city a swagger.

The next day matters unravelled and events world-wide broke at frenetic speed. The status of the epidemic was raised to pandemic by none other person than the Director- General of the World Health Organization (WHO). The markets responded with a convulsion, tottering to a collapse in many parts of the world. Shares tumbled across the globe. Many commodity prices steeply fell and one of the worst hit were oil prices where over 30% was shaved off in no time. Having come from an oil revenue dependent economy I shuddered at what was in store for our naira. I didn’t wait long to hear that the naira was already having a bashing back home. It reminded one of the 2015 crises which we all recall sent off the naira into a free fall that nearly strangulated the economy. Nevertheless, deep down me I was positive that this time the naira would bounce back, as the government now seems to have the right people holding the levers of the economy.

The week ended on this depressing note. The following week, the confusion was notched even higher. Many countries closed down their borders. President Donald Trump in his characteristic manner even extended the travel ban into the USA to his kinsmen in Europe. Bethlehem in Palestine and Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia were closed. In the Vatican, the Pope had cancelled regular appearances in public and would not even appear at the window overlooking St. Peter’s Square to address the crowd, a tradition that is said to be deeply ingrained in Roman tradition. It was reported to be one of the few times in the past 66 years that the Pope would not appear in the window.

Despite all these happenings, I was not prepared for the hottest of news emanating from Kano – the sudden announcement of dethroning the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi 11. In the heat of the Ganduje/Sanusi conflict last year, I recall writing on this page a two-part article titled, The Kano Emirate Imbroglio. “I remember starting the piece thus: Even though the feud between the Kano State Executive Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje and Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi 11, had simmered for many months yet when it broke into an open conflict many were taken aback. Of course an assault on the very prominent Kano emirate is bound to raise eye brows here and there, but, for me, there were really no surprises. Many of us have witnessed this kind of conflict over the years, not only in Kano but in other parts of Nigeria particularly where vestiges of the ancient kingdoms still persist. That is why for me I just sighed, muttered to myself saying: ‘Here we go again.’”

And I concluded: “For those of us who view the happenings in Kano from a distance, we might be tempted to conclude that there is a certain inevitability in the recurrence of conflicts between the aristocracy and the political leadership there today as it happened in the 1980s between Governor Abubakar Rimi and Emir Ado Bayero. The palaver between the Governor, Umar Ganduje and Emir Muhammadu Sanusi 11 is not over yet as there are court papers flying here and there. We return to the subject when the dust settles.”

It is unfortunate that the dust settled in this way. I find it difficult to understand why there is a recurrence of dethronements in the Fulani Emirates of the North. In the last 25 years this has been visited on Sokoto, Gwandu and now Kano Emirate – the three biggest. May be it is time for the Fulani ruling houses to do some introspection, and probably ask, is there anything we are doing wrong? Why are we always the target of dethronement under every dispensation, colonial, military or civilian? I guess the answer may not too far to find. I believe they are too detached, seeming to live in a bubble, a world of their own. Their mode of dressing had gotten gaudier, their public appearances in those exotic vehicles do not help in integrating them with their people. It even runs counter to the poverty that is pervading in their emirates. Above all they need to open up their palaces so that people can easily reach them. It is the only way they can endear themselves to the citizens in their emirates and even help to find a raison d’etre for their positions in this 21st Century and beyond.

Oops: In the piece, Recollections as Keffi Government College celebrates 70 years, I mentioned that Katsina College was opened in 1912. Wrong. It was opened in 1922. I thank my elder, Inuwa Jibrin, and also Rufa’i Isa Koto for this correction.

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