By Jude Atupulazi
Some years back, a governor of this state was trying to convince me to work for him as a speech writer. While I was hedging on giving an answer, he came out with what he must have thought would force me to jump at the offer. He told me that I was going to be travelling with him all the time. For sure, this would have had many in my position crooning; but not me.
Since travelling entailed flying, it gave me the goose bumps just contemplating the prospect of being airborne all the time. If there is one thing I dread, it is flying. Not that I’m claustrophobic or afraid of heights, but the thought of a likely crash is one that always gives me the horrors. In fact I’ve dreamt many times where I was airborne and the plane about to crash. Thus, rather than helping me to make up my mind because of the prospect of flying with my governor, his offer of flying with him instead aided my resolve to reject it.
This piece was triggered by the crash of an Ethiopian Airline last Sunday in which all the passengers and crew perished. I was particularly touched because the last two occasions I flew, which happened to be the only times I did such, were with the Ethiopian Air. Hearing the news, I thought what could have happened if it had been the times I was on board.
Indeed, memories of those two occasions came flooding back as I assimilated the news of the crash. The two occasions were my journeys to Ethiopia and back in 2013; August 14, to be specific. The occasion was the formal opening of Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu as an international airport. As part of the opening ceremony, the governors of the five Southeast states had sponsored some of their people to be part of the inaugural flight from the airport. The governor of Anambra State then, Peter Obi, had sponsored some people drawn from different walks of life. I happened to be among the only three journalists nominated to be part of the show.
We left in a convoy from the Governor’s Lodge in Amawbia to Enugu and were in time to witness the brief ceremony at the airport which involved speeches, declaration of the airport open and traditional dances.
Soon it was time to board the plane. I followed others like a Salah ram going to the slaughter house. All the time, I was wondering if it was the last time I would be seeing Mother Earth. Memories of past crashes filled my mind. Shortly after getting seated, I sent a text message to my first boy, telling him how petrified I was. He told me it was too late to back out. I kept asking myself why I ever agreed to be part of the show. I then turned to my colleague from the Daily Independent seated beside me and told him that I would never board a plane again. He chuckled and asked me if I would trek back from Ethiopia on the return journey. I resigned myself to fate and mumbled some prayers, asking God to forgive me my sins.
As the plane taxied off to the runway, preparatory for take-off, I said to myself, ‘Lord, if this plane must crash, let it do so before it rises beyond tree top level.’ At least, I thought that from that height, I could only break some bones but would live.
But it didn’t crash. It rather gathered speed and climbed and climbed and climbed. Soon it was cruising. I began to relax, remembering what I once read that the most dangerous time on a plane was when it was taking off, followed by when it was landing. Well, the rest is history. I landed at my destination, stayed a few days and proceeded back to Nigeria. Although I enjoyed the trip eventually, I resolved that it would take a lot to convince me to ever fly again.
But one thing I noticed was that I wasn’t alone in my trepidation. When we successfully landed in Ethiopia, many people on the flight started clapping, while some thanked God openly or made the Sign of the Cross. If those actions weren’t signs of relief, I wonder what else were.
If you ask me, flying is the most dangerous form of transportation. It is the only one, perhaps, where there are hardly survivors, depending on the height reached by the plane before crashing. On land, many people have survived road crashes, no matter how bad. Same applies to rail transportation and sea (as long as it is on one of the big ships). In these ones, people always almost survive. A ship takes a long time to sink and invariably more are saved than lost. Ditto rail and road.
I’m not the only man scared of flying. A famous footballer, Denis Bergkamp, who once played for Arsenal and Holland, never travelled by air. When his country played in Europe, he would go by road or rail and join his team mates who had earlier arrived at their destination by air. Any time he couldn’t make it by road or rail, he stayed back and missed the match. Club and country respected his decision. So you can see I’m not alone.
But there are those who have no such qualms. They crisscross the globe all the time by air. To them, I doff my hat. They are indeed brave men and women. I’d rather, however, be called a coward and live, than be called brave and die. The choice is mine, no be so?
So, when news of last Sunday’s plane crash came to me, I kept imagining how people feel when they learn their plane is about to crash and kill them. I tried putting myself in their shoes, so to say, and what came up didn’t lift my spirits. It is not even just about one’s plane crashing but about the mangling of bodies which sometimes get completely burnt.
I once googled pictures of crash sites and what I saw of the bodies of victims put me off. I hate situations where I’m in no position to save myself or control what happens to me. Being on a plane is one of them. It’s so very scary. I have a friend who said he usually gets drunk whenever he flies in order to sleep heavily and wake up at his destination. For me, I doubt that even if I drink I’ll be able to sleep. Fear, obviously conquers sleep for me.
It’s not as if people don’t die by other means but I wouldn’t want to see my death closing in on me as it does to passengers on a plane.
To the families and friends of the Ethiopian air crash, I give my condolences. What a way to lose loved ones. May their souls rest in -peace.
Kudos to my victorious brother, friends
The elections of 2019 have come and gone but I’m happy that some of my people are not among those licking their wounds in defeat.
To my brother, Sir Pete Ibida, who represents Njikoka State Constituency 11 in the State Assembly, I say congrats. Ibida will now be returning to the House as a ranking member. There is no doubt that he deserved to be re-elected, if not for anything, but for his robust representation.
I also hail Hon Tim Ifediora of Njikoka State Constituency 1. This affable and humble minister of God will equally be making it back to the House as a ranking member. He did well enough to win the confidence of his people.
I also have the man mountain, Hon Obinna Emeneka of Anambra East. He would have gone for something higher but was stopped by forces that had the same interest. But not to worry, Obinna; everyone knows your worth in your place. Nke iru ka.
I will not fail to hail Hon Barr Val Ayika. His emergence was divine. He only got clearance from the Supreme Court at the last minute as the authentic candidate of his party, PDP. But he still went on to beat the bookies favourite. It is simply your time.
Finally, I hail the people’s senator, Uche Ekwunife, the woman who fights like a man. She will be returning to the senate after she was sacked by the courts last time in highly controversial circumstances. An action woman, she has already hit the ground running. Last Monday, she trained many youths on skill acquisition, even before her inauguration. That’s Iyom for you.
I urge all of you to march on and do us proud!