Dateline: Saturday, July 31, 1999. I just finished a four-week programme at the International Institute of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France and was eager to get back home. My flight, Air France number AF 052 was scheduled to depart Charles De Gaule Airport, Paris by 10:20 am.
All the passengers were seated in the plane when I heard someone making a consistent, faint protestation at the back of the aircraft. I discovered that the lady was a Nigerian and was about to be deported from France. She was protesting her deportation and she was being held down by four French police security personnel (three men and one woman). They held her down, held her neck and were gagging her while she kept protesting as the Air France cabin crew looked on helpless.
Remembering the episode of Samira Adamu, a Nigerian lady that died under similar circumstance in a Belgian flight a year earlier, I was thoroughly incensed and went to protest to the policemen and the airline officials over this inhuman and degrading treatment. I knew there was no way the lady would have survived the journey in that condition.
When the policemen would not relent in their deadly grip on her, I became very angry and told the airline crew that I would make sure the plane would not take off if the lady was not deported like a human being or in the alternative, be taken off the aircraft. I insisted that the flight would not take off and told the policemen and the airline crew that it was embarrassing that such a callous breach of human rights could be happening in a country housing the European Court of Human Rights. I was shouting at the top of my voice in English and the policemen were replying in French. The lady said she had not eaten in three days that they kept her in custody.
In the midst of this bedlam, one funny Nigerian passenger was supporting the policemen, saying said that what was the lady doing in France without papers. I was livid. I momentarily left the policemen and confronted the Nigerian. “What kind of silly statement is that? So, if she had no papers, her punishment is death sentence. Looking at how scruffy you are, I’m just wondering how they managed to give you visa. Nonsense”, I shouted at the Nigerian and we exchanged verbal missiles before l returned my attention to the policemen and Air France crew.
After a rowdy scene which lasted one hour, the police had to take the lady out of the plane.
Excerpts from FLASHBACK: A PREFACE TO MY MEMOIR, by Richard Akinnola. The 316-page book is scheduled for release on April 1, 2021