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Nigeria - Things Other than the World Cup, by Don Ford (1966)



In the 1960s BOAC operated Nigerian Airways longhaul flights to London with a BOAC flight deck crew and a mainly Nigerian cabin crew. Initially the VC10 merely had a sticker over the BOAC logo on the fuselage. This was not always very secure and one VC10 arrived in Lagos having lost the last three letters of Nigerian Airways exposing the last letter of BOAC, so the aircraft read "Nigerian Airwc." So it was then decided to paint one aircraft in complete Nigerian colours with the intention that it operated only on the route to Lagos.

Events sometimes played a part in altering the scheduling of aircraft and passengers boarding their BOAC flights in New York were occasionally bemused to see that they were flying in a Nigeria Airways aircraft - rather more than bemused in Johannesburg!

But on a fine morning in July 1966 the right aircraft was on the apron in Lagos about to depart for London. This was also the morning when troops from the Hausa north decided to undo the previous year’s coup when troops from the Ibo east had slaughtered their prime minister and taken over. The airport was obviously a first target and was taken over without too many shots being fired, although we carried several bullet holes in the office wall. Naturally the rebels did not know that the Nigeria Airways aircraft on the tarmac was not part of their spoils, and immediately took it over. It took a lot of explaining to convince them that we owned it.

The crew were sent back to the Airport Hotel, the captain kindly offering to look after their allowances as we were a little busy(!!), and, shortly after, we started negotiations with the rebel major in an effort to get permission to operate the aircraft. The rebels were worried about their families in a hostile area, and suggested that, if we would fly them to Kano, the flight to London could then leave. It was perhaps fortuitous that we had no immediate way of communicating with Ops Control and the captain was quite happy with this arrangement.

So, standing in the flight deck with the major, I pulled out an old envelope and we both signed an agreement on the back of it to charter the aircraft for three hours at 750 a flying hour - where I got that figure from I have no idea.

The families were collected and loaded and off the aircraft went with a rebel soldier and his loaded gun sitting on the flight deck - the captain really was brilliant. We heard from ATC that the aircraft had arrived in Kano and taken off again only then to be horrified to hear that it had returned. It turned out that the captain had left his rebel soldier behind!

Back in Lagos, we now had rather more passengers than we had started with, which was bad news for my wife, who had been manning the office for hours, and in addition was due to take our two little boys on this flight for the start of leave. All the Nigerian staff had disappeared, but with the help of all the other station managers we got the passengers on board and the aircraft ready.

I then found there were a couple of seats empty and told the captain that "that was a damned nuisance as my family could have squashed on to these seats." The captain had already started engines three and four, but when he heard that my family were in the office, he said “get them”. So we had a mad dash across the tarmac during which I told Mary not to talk to any reporters at Heathrow as it might look as if we were giving staff priority.

I need not have worried about the last point. Who cared about another coup in Africa, when earlier that day England had won the World Cup!! Thank God the aircraft got to London, as we had broken so many rules, and I wondered what would have happened if communication to Head Office had been up to today’s standards.

We had lots more political troubles after that and loads more violence which led to the Biafran War but BOAC kept going.

Oh, and one last thing: many months later we presented my envelope with its crudely written contract to the new government, and - amazingly - they paid up.


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