"I am still very angry as I think of my daughter for whom I had exceptionally taken this vacation... I was treated with contempt and brutalized just because for one moment, I was the voice of a misfortune which did not have a voice; because I had come to the aid of a human being who was being ill-treated and needed help."
On March 27, 136 Nigerian passengers were ordered off a British Airways flight to Lagos after they complained about the brutal treatment of a man who was being deported to Nigeria. One of the passengers, Ayodeji Omotade, whom police considered the ringleader of the protest movement, was arrested, abandoned at the airport and banned from flying on British Airways. One momth later, the outrage over this incident is still growing.
Last week, Nigerian President Yar’dua launched an investigation into the incident. Nigeria’s foreign Minister also met with the British high commissioner in Abuja to inform him in no uncertain terms that Nigeria “would not tolerate the inhuman treatment of any Nigerian for any reason, even when there are allegations of criminal activities” and that “Nigerians must be treated with dignity within and outside the shores of the country.”
Unfortunately, BA is not the exception as many European Airlines are guilty of what has been described as “casual racism”.
It was, therefore, business as usual last weekend when three passengers, (two of them Cameroonians) were kicked off a Brussels Airlines flight heading for Douala for protesting against the brutalization of an African who was being deported back to the continent. One of the passengers, Serge Ngajui Fosso, was not just kicked off the plane, but also beaten up by the Belgian police, detained for over 10 hours. Unlike most people in similar situation, Mr. Fosso is not going quietly and is raising quite a ruckus. In fact, his story has already been broadcast on Belgian TV and he does not intend to stop there.
Here is an excerpt of Serge Fosso's first person account of his ordeal in the hands of the Belgian police:
I am writing this message from Mons in Belgium. I arrived here yesterday, 26 April 2008 shortly after midnight, after having been violently expelled from a Brussels Airlines flight heading to Kinshasa via Douala, and locked up in a cell at the Brussels airport from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. without food and water, without being able to contact my family.
Here is a narrative of the drama as it unfolded.
It is the 26th of April 2008 and I am going to Cameroon on vacation. At 5:30 pm, I leave Clichy by taxi for the Charles de Gaulle airport. At 7:40 am I leave Paris for Brussels on a Brussels Airlines flight, to catch a connecting flight to Douala at 10:40 am with the same airline. The trip to Brussels is uneventful and I make it to my connecting flight on time. Trouble however begins when I get to my seat at the rear of the aircraft. I notice men in uniform trying to subdue a black man who is struggling and shouting “Help! Leave me alone! I don’t want to go!” The men smother him as they try to prevent him from crying out. The young man struggles as much as he can and continues to scream as the four huge fellows restrain him. Other plainclothes policemen cordon off the area while helpless passengers watch the unfolding drama. I realize immediately that this is a repatriation. As the cries of the individual, who is still being pinned down, become muffled, I instantly recall the case of Semira Adamu, the young Nigerian asylum seeker who was suffocated to death with a pillow by two Belgian officers in 1998 on a SABENA flight.
Thoughts begin racing through my mind; What should I do? Do nothing like the others? Take action? As someone interested in human rights and the rights of foreigners in Europe, I get up, and call on the closest flight attendant. I protest firmly and loudly, reminding her that we are on a commercial flight and that we cannot fly under such conditions. The other passengers who have been silent until then join in. I begin videotaping the unfolding drama. Other passengers do same. Faced with the mounting protest, the uniformed men leave the plane with their passenger.
A few minutes later, police officers board the aircraft and plain clothes cops identify three passengers (me included) as ringleaders of the “disturbance” on the aircraft. The officers ask us to leave. As soon as I ask them why, they throw themselves at me, raining punches and kicks and throwing me to the ground. I am handcuffed and dragged, bleeding, through the aisle, down the stairs and then thrown into a police van. While in the van, I notice one of the officers watching the video of the original police brutality from my camcorder. A long and difficult day has just begun for me as I am insulted and mistreated all the way to the airport holding cell.
At 1: 35 pm I am set free along with the other Cameroonian. I do not see the third person kicked out of the plane, a Caucasian. The police inform us that that we have been barred from flying on Brussels Airlines for the next six months. When we ask how we are supposed to get to Douala, the police send us to see the Head of Security. As we wait for the security boss, I think about my little daughter who is impatiently and enthusiastically waiting for me in Douala and who would be very disappointed if I don’t show up. I become angry, very angry.
The head of security finally arrives and confirms that we have both been blacklisted by the airline. I ask her how we are supposed to get to Douala but she brushes me off and insists that the airlines will not reimburse us. My anger rises and I tell the lady in no uncertain terms that I don’t care if I never travel on Brussels Airlines, that I intend to return to Paris, and that I should be reimbursed because the company has not fulfilled its contractual obligations towards me. My tone is loud but courteous. Passers-by stare at us. The lady then calls the police who arrive and drag me back to the cell where I am locked up until 10 p.m. without food or water and without contacting my family.
Finally, the police contact my nephew who lives in Mons. He arrives with his wife and the police officers inform me that I am free to go. I tell them that I don’t understand why I was detained for an entire day under such conditions and that I do not intend to leave until after my problem is solved; either I am allowed to travel to Douala or I am taken back to Paris and my air fare reimbursed. Realizing that I don’t intend to leave, the cops push me out of the cell and hand me my belongings but I refuse to take them. One of them grabs me by the neck, pushes me out of their office and throws my belongings after me. I leave without picking them up. My nephew’s wife finally goes back to get my things; my sunglasses are missing, so too is the video of the police brutalizing the African on the plane, which has been erased. Luckily other passengers filmed the incident.
Eventually, my nephew and his wife convince me to go with them to Mons.
I am still very angry, very angry as I think of my daughter for whom I had exceptionally taken this vacation. I am angry because I am generally a calm person, courteous and definitely not violent. Yet, throughout the day, I was treated with contempt and brutalized just because for one moment, I was the voice of a misfortune which did not have a voice; because I had come to the aid of a human being who was being ill-treated and needed help.
I don’t know when and how I will get to Cameroon… I don’t know where my suitcases are… But I don’t intend taking this lying down. I will file suit against Brussels Airlines.
They haven’t heard the last of this incident.
On April 28, Serge Fosso was interviewed on Radio Television Belge Francophone. Click here to view the report (in French).