Again, Nigeria has suffered from her continuous image, credibility and reputation challenges at the international level. This time, the incident in focus is more pathetic and leaves a big question mark on the reality of the much touted spirit of “Africanism”, which is simply in this case the display of true love and affection towards fellow African nations. Painfully, Nigerian authorities, on their own, have acted below expectations in the current situation which is the reason the perceived diplomatic breaches and lapses in the matter have passed almost unnoticed. This has always been the case with any issue concerning Nigeria, her nationals and critical international issues relating to the country in foreign lands.
Nigerians in the past have fallen victims of this setback and the latest prey is 41-year-old Remilekun Toyosi Meshioye.
The lady purportedly died in Cairo, Egypt, while travelling to the United Kingdom. Details showed that Meshioye was scheduled to resume her studies in London. She was said to have departed the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos on September 4, 2023 onboard EgyptAir MS 876 flight. The deceased allegedly took ill on board and was brought out dead from the aircraft at the Cairo International Airport.
It’s key the public is fed once again with details of what transpired from the fateful day, up until September 7, about three days after she left Lagos, when the news of her death was broken in a very crude and an undiplomatic manner to her family in London.
First, we find it very curious that the first successful contact with officials of EgyptAir on enquiry about Meshioye’s journey with its flight was met with serious suspicion. The deceased’s sister, Olufunmilola Olaniyi-Alabi, in her narration claimed that the family tried to call the airline’s customer care and all other phone details on its website, but there was no response all through September 6, 2023. Eventually, when the call was answered, the receiver quickly cut it, apparently due to the issue involved! The rest of Remi sister’s account was heart-rendering, embarrassing, shallow, undiplomatic and conflicting with the facts.
Olaniyi-Alabi related: “It was only once that a man answered the call that we put through to the EgyptAir Regional Office in London and he said the London office was not aware of what happened and they didn’t have information to share with us. We then contacted the agent who sold the ticket to her and the agent sent us proof that she did not board the plane going to Heathrow from Cairo. It was at this point we intensified our efforts as regards trying to get in touch with EgyptAir.
“The Regional Manager in their London Office made some calls on Thursday afternoon in her office to their Cairo office. She later informed us that Remi fell sick on the plane and on landing in Cairo, they rushed her to the hospital in town where she later died. Efforts to obtain more information from her were not quite successful as to how she died. She said the Nigerian Embassy had been informed and they were the ones that should have contacted us.”
She also revealed that the Nigerian Consular, Saliu Agraza, was called. When pressed further, she said the staff of the airline replied that she felt strongly that EgyptAir should had contacted the passenger’s next of kin instead of them struggling to get information.
The account continued: “We spoke to the Nigerian Embassy in person of Mr Saliu Agraza, who responded that EgyptAir only informed them on Tuesday that Remi was dead and handed over her body to them but did not have any other information or any contact of her relatives. EgyptAir further said only Agraza, being the Nigerian Consular, would be able to write and demand what happened on the plane, at the airport and request for all her things and documents that they have in their possession, including the CCTV footage in the plane and at the airport.
“I am of the opinion that EgyptAir is hiding some truth as to what happened to her in the plane and on landing at the airport on Monday night. They don’t want to take responsibility for what happened to Remi. As the family of Remilekun, we are demanding for her body to be returned to Nigeria by EgyptAir at their expense and they should return all her luggage to Lagos where she boarded the plane on Monday, September 4.”
Indeed, this is a sad and unpleasant narrative from Meshioye’s sister. We feel seriously that all parties, including the deceased’s family, were found wanting in the tragic saga. The issues in the front burner are: who does the airline reach in a situation like this? There’s a task for the Nigeria Consular in Egypt to carry out. That duty is yet to be discharged from information available to the public.
Let’s go back to the flight protocol when a situation like this arises. According to the International Air Transport Association, dealing with death or “presumed” death on board, the following steps must be followed: “Disembark other passengers; ensure family members stay with the body; don’t disembark the body until proper local authority has arrived to take care of the body and the ground personnel are available to assist the family members.” From all indications, EgyptAir failed to observe virtually all the stated protocols, if the fresh fact that Meshioye had already died aboard the flight is to be taken into account. And we dare say, this (waiving of the protocol) happened on purpose!
One issue that calls for serious concern is that while the EgyptAir’s version of the narrative claimed the deceased was still alive when the flight had its stopover in Cairo, but later died in hospital, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission in its press statement on Tuesday said Meshioye allegedly “took ill on board and brought out dead from the aircraft” in Cairo. And this tallied with the alleged foul play alarm raised by the deceased’s sister. She maintained that the airline was bent on not taking responsibility for the unfortunate incident.
Now, the real truth be told, EgyptAir has not done well at all and with its posture since the incident occurred. One is persuaded to conclude that it’s the only one that knows the A-Z of the young lady’s death. Its failure to make a formal public communication and clarifications on the saga is a pointer to insinuation that it cannot be trusted. EgyptAir should have been prompted in making available detailed information to the public, better still to the family. This is vital so that the family, the Nigerian Government and the public can ask questions. For a fact, it’s only someone that has something to hide that would maintain this manner of silence in a critical issue like this.
Now, if EgyptAir is not willing to talk, why has the Nigeria Consular in Cairo joined in the silence theory? After all, the airline claimed it had reached him and that he was the only authority that could ask questions on details of what happened. Has the Consular done the needful? What role has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria got to play in the saga? Or is there organised crime somewhere?
So far from the Nigerian Government side, NiDCOM is the only voice being heard. On September 19, the agency through its Chairman/CEO, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, demanded for justice to be served in the matter. NiDCOM’s demand followed a petition received from Olaniyi-Alabi. Meshioye’s family, according to her sister in the petition, said the airline didn’t inform them, but rather they got a message from the Nigeria Consular office in Cairo informing them of her death on board the flight. “Please we need to know what exactly happened to Remilekun and how to get her corpse back to Nigeria for a peaceful burial as well as all her belongings in the custody of the airline,” the petition had said.
Going back to the point of image, credibility and reputation in this matter, Nigeria has failed again in taking the right, prompt and proactive steps in protecting her citizens from the alleged inhuman, shabby treatment and shoddy handling of life matters relating to her citizens.
The American life mentality is: a danger to one American is a danger to all. With this mindset, nothing untoward would happen to any American from anywhere. If it does, the fellow will pay the price sooner than later! This is the reason all American citizens would be shielded and protected, anytime, anywhere. Not only this, the fear of looming and heavy sanctions against any folk who tries any mischief is enough as security for every US citizen.
Meshioye’s death saga is another national tragedy. It is because it’s few among the African nations that would accept and treat with levity, a clear case of perceived foul play against her citizen in foreign land as we have in the present case. Like some have argued, it will be difficult for Nigeria to even ban EgyptAir from its airspace because the country does not have an airline of its own, not to talk of having a viable one, and it ranks high on the list of debtors holding back airlines funds. As at the end of August 2023, IATA said the country was yet to repatriate $783 million trapped airlines funds.
Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the country, President Bola Tinubu should address his mind seriously to issues relating to Nigerians and manner of treatment by foreigners. Or what is the joy in being the giant of Africa or running the biggest economy in the continent, but keeping citizenry with little or no dignity, credibility and honour outside of the shore? Changing the old narrative is another big task for the President. Until that is done, countries and people all over the world would always throw any ‘cheat’ at the Nigerian government and her citizens at will. Pitiably, no one knows who the next victim is and the extent of likely damage, either to life or property. President Tinubu, the time to act on this sickening trend is now!