FOR a moment, I am disoriented, not too certain about the day, the place, and even the time.
I am thinking and trying, in the wake of a deep short sleep, to work out the arithmetic of my activities in the past 24 hours.
Yesterday was August 5.
We left Nigeria at 2:30 pm in a special flight for what was an almost 10-hour, non-stop haul across the Atlantic Ocean to the Islands between the continents of North and South America, a region often referred to as the West Indies, or the Caribbean, a place of great historic significance for Africans from West and Central Africa.
Some 500 years ago, these were the Islands, thousands of miles away from West Africa, where some 12 million young Black Africans were off-loaded, unknown and uncharted parts of a new world.
They were packed like Sardine into missionary and merchant ships by White traders and adventurers from Western Europe. The Africans were their produce specially selected from the human stock of the healthiest and strongest, captured by local African chiefs and their foreign collaborators, kept in cellars in camps located along the coasts of several Central and West African countries, chained and loaded into the bowels of wooden ships, and forcefully shipped to distant ports described as the ‘land-of-no-return’.
Millions of these slaves died during the long and torturous journey. Those that were lucky to survive and their offspring have suffered five centuries of enslavement, abuse, oppression, deprivation, discŕimination, and indignity.
That is a brief story of the Slave Trade, a subject I was taught in primary and secondary school. But then, there were too many gaps in that learning. I did not fully comprehend why such physically fit Africans would ‘accept’ such brutality and not turn the world upside down fighting; why such levels of dehumanisation went on for so long and the rest of the world watched and did nothing; why African chiels collaborated with White merchants to enslave their sons and daughters for ‘cheap’ material gain?
There were too many loose ends and unanswered questions about the history of Africans in the Diaspora that I was taught. I can understand what happened in the places where Blacks eventually became a minority Race after slavery was abolished. The suppression continued, of course, but differently, and till now.
The Caribbean Islands were different.
This cluster of Islands eventually became ‘Homeland’ to the Blacks that worked and survived on the farms and plantations there. They now own the land, are in the vast majority of the population, have turned the land into exotic tourist destinations, and, today, happily call the land ‘Home’.
So, many questions have always been smoldering in my mind, waiting for an opportunity to visit, to meet with my Black brethren, to physically see the land, to ask burning questions, and to bring closure to my lack of understanding of the true history of the African Diaspora in 22 countries outside of ‘Motherland’ Africa.
In my most recent of undertakings, without the Carribeans in the picture on the surface, but deeply connected in closer examination, the elements have conspired again to saddle me with the challenge of connecting the dots, using the power of ‘foolish’ physical activities described as soft-power tools, including Entertainment, Art, Culture, and Sport, to change the world.
SO, I woke up this morning in the country called Antigua and Bermuda, momentarily disoriented. Until a few days ago, this place did not even exist in my projections and radar. Yet here I am, embracing the moment, savouring the beauty of this new place and new experience.
I am here courtesy of Dr. Allen Onyema whose Air Peace airline is pioneering the opening up of a new frontier, a giant stride of establishing a new corridor for maximum collaboration between the Caribbean region and West Africa.
The prospect and opportunities of such a development are so exciting that I shall be spending the next four days here dreaming of endless possibilities..
Today is my first day here.
Yesterday, we were met by the Prime Minister and some members of his cabinet at the international airport for a short, colourful and impressive ceremony. Allen Onyema was at his best elements embracing the invitation to help the little Island in its big ambitions and marketing Nigeria as the ultimate hub for a new Caribbean/African social,-cultural, and economic relationship. Sport will play a big and integral role in building and sustaining that relationship, another piece added to the jigsaw puzzle of a new Black Consciousness and Civilisation in an emerging new World Order.
This afternoon I am preparing to go out into the city, to see and experience Antigua and its fabled annual Carnival in daylight, and have my first ‘taste’ of it at night.
This island country of some 100,000 persons of the same genetic stock as I, is what the cab driver that drove us from the airport to the hotel told us, proudly and excitedly, is ‘Paradise’.
I shall attempt to keep a daily diary that I shall publish from tomorrow, and share my experiences checking out this ‘Paradise in the Sun’.
…Antigua – a page from a world different from Nigeria
THIS trip, like everything else in my life, is the product of a divine ‘arrangement’. Life is not a series of ‘accidents’ of fate. Rather, events happen as enablers of unique experiences, each experience challenging every individual to draw from ‘freewill’ handed to everyone by the Universe, to be deployed as an individual’s choice of action or reaction. Individually, also, and differently, we reap what we sow.
That’s the only way I can explain this whole matter of this trip to Antigua. A few weeks ago, none of it existed on my radar. The elements constructed it.
Two days into my stay in this small island country, from nothing my head is already buzzing with new possibilities and new opportunities thrown up by this new totally unexpected entry into my life.
Last night, a man at the Antigua Recreation Centre where we sat, blew a red Vuvuzela intermittently. He would also intermittently, loudly, and proudly shouted out for knowledge that Antigua is the best country in the world and Mr. Gaston Brown the best Prime Minister ever. He believed both. I saw it written all over his facial expression. He wanted us to believe too.
Where he sat in our midst, Mr. Gaston was haply and bemused, a gentle smile on his face, genuinely acknowledging the young man who was merely repeating what every other person that I had met and asked their opinion in the past 24 hours, also echoed.
The people, here, unabashedly love their country and PM and; wear it on their sleeves. They are friendly, gentle, courteous, humble, and laid back people, everybody, everywhere and every time.
This was in ample demonstration during our 3-hour outing on our first night-out. Let me tell you about it.
St.John’s is one of the two sections of Antigua and Barbuda. That’s where we are staying. On our way to the recreation centre – venue of the event we were to attend; I started to take down notes.
It is a relatively small town. The streets are narrow (not even a single dual carriageway), winding like snakes through undulating hills and valleys (reminds me of parts of Abeokuta in Nigeria, where no two buildings are on the same ground level); the streets are near-empty of people or traffic; vehicles are ‘right-hand-drive’ and are driving on the left side of the road (British influence); residential buildings in town are small, old-fashioned, simple architecture and mostly constructed with wood.
The population of the country is about 100,000 people, and their biggest challenge is finding drinking water even though they are surrounded by sea water.
The country does not have any known mineral resource. Its major revenue source is tourism for which it has over 350 beautiful beaches, plus the resorts that service them as well as the millions of tourists that come and go all year round in this place of endless summer sunshine, unpolluted atmosphere, and clean waters.
Antigua is designed for recreation, fun, watersports, street carnivals, and endless entertainment.
Meanwhile, there are only 20 prisoners in the country, and in the past one year, only two recorded crimes.
The country is powered by three giant diesel generators and electricity is 24/7. There is a giant solar farm adjacent to the VC Bird International Airport powering the services at the airport.
Several traffic lights, installed to control traffic at junctions some years ago, have been dismantled and replaced with conventional roundabouts because the lights were actually slowing down the transition of cars. Can you believe it?
Antigua is a page from a world different from what we know in Nigeria.
I had to tell the Prime Minister that although the story of Antigua may be rooted in the gory tales of slavery that have lasted for five centuries, the people have now inherited, as their prize, one of the choicest, most pristine and most beautiful corners of the earth, and are about to create a global innovative model of development foŕ smart investors.
Allen Onyema is an uncommon visionary from Nigeria. With dual citizenship of both countries, he is leading a charge at unleashing an economic revolution and cultural renaissance movement in the land.
He brought in potential investors from Nigeria to Antigua as part of Air Peace’s inaugural flight to the region and for a collaboration meeting between businessmen and government officials of the two countries.
Yesterday, I experienced the power of humility and simplicity. It was at the musical performance by 10 Antiguan local calypso artists competing for a prize. It was held at the Antigua Recreation centre, downtown St. John’s, a massive outdoor facility constructed to host such shows on a regularly basis, I am told.
The night was the first event in a national series marking the annual Carnival Season here – three days of street partying on the Island. It was an all-night affair.
We arrived the venue early and had to wait for over an hour before the Prime Minister arrived. It was an uncommon quiet entry. No entourage of escorts and political hangers-on. No blaring of horns, or the ‘screaming’ of sirens to announce the arrival of the most powerful man in the land. His ‘long’ convoy had only two small cars! He was accompanied by his wife and a single orderly.
He met with Allen Onyema and the rest of us that had accompanied Allen to the event – several Directors of Air Peace, some senior staff of the Airline, some Nigerian government officials, and a few friends including ‘yours truly’.
The PM walked round and shook everybody’s hand. He shook the hand of one of the local stewards serving drinks and small chops in the small lounge and even gave another a hug.
He wore the simplest and most casual of clothes – a black tee shirt, Black jeans trousers, and riot-coloured sneakers. He was a regular guy.
He and Allen were a number. Allen had also come in casuals – dark jean trousers, a black face cap, and a T-shirt.
Although the loud public address system did not announce his arrival, the MC acknowledged the PM’s presence once.
The Prime Minister partook in the drinking and small chops, served in small paper cups, with everyone, using his fingers to munch the variety of small meals of goat meat pepper-soup, french fries, spaghetti, and other small Caribbean food in a stream of servings. There were also drinks – beer, Stout, wine, water, etc.
By the way, permit me to digress a little. In the hotel where we are staying, it is an aĺl-day and part-of-the-night meal feast, an arrangement where you can ‘chop and quench’ at your peril.
Once you are a guest in the beachfront resort, you can go to the restaurant any number of times during the day to eat yourself away. Late at night, you can even call for room service, the cost of these already embedded in the cost of accommodation per day. Ingenious.
For the three hours at the recreation centre, we sat and watched very average Live musical performances on a well-lit stage and excellent choreography of lights, sound, and fireworks that made the night memorable.
Members of the National Troupe of Nigeria also performed some Nigerian traditional dances. It was obvious they were not at their best. Tired legs from a long journey and the long wait before they were called up to perform had taken their toll. Three hours into the show most of us were dozing from jetlag fatigue and a 5-hour time difference.
We left after midnight.
The best memories for me were the unpretentious simplicity, humility, and friendliness of the Prime Minister.
It was a great thing to witness.
Where I come from, it is unlikely for such to happen in a thousand years. Tufiakwa!
All of the above is from two days ago.
Yesterday’s will reflect in today’s posting still ‘cooking’ on the fire!!!
…Baptism into International business
IF I was financially loaded, I would dig deep into my resources and immediately extend my investment to Antigua. I will do so today.
I would do so from pure instinct and conviction.
Yesterday, I had my baptism into the world of International business, a masterclass of a conversation led by Mr. Gaston Brown, the Prime Minister here, and facilitated by Allen Onyema, the Chairman of Air Peace airline. After listening to both of them at this private meeting between Antiguan government officials and a delegation of businessmen from Nigeria, I am ready for a plunge into the new frontiers that the Islands of Antigua and Barbuda offer any adventurous Nigerian. These are opportunities in a space that is virgin, ‘innocent’, unpolluted, and eager to do business with fellow Blacks from the ‘Motherland’ in a new global architecture.
The carefully selected young moguls are from different parts of Nigeria and from diverse sectors including Real Estate, Oil and Gas, Hospitality, Finance, and Manufacturing. Allen, in his wisdom, added Sports to the mix. This raised the eyebrows of the PM a notch, particularly to be introduced to the former captain of the national football team of Nigeria.
The PM and Allen Onyema led the conversations that were brief, frank, promising, incisive, and exciting.
Air Peace airline is to provide the starting block, the most essential service of connecting the ‘Homeland’ to the ‘Motherland’, eliminating the previous excessive cost and circumlocutuos connection between the two lands separated by slavery, centuries ago. The two people have been yeàrning for a ‘bridge’ to reconnect them.
Air Peace Airlines has become that long-awaited and yearned-for link. It will soon start to provide regular direct flights from Nigeria to Antigua, with Lagos as the hub servicing the rest of the continent, and Antigua as the hub servicing the rest of the Caribbean Islands.
I listened to the Prime Minister reel out the opportunities that exist in his country, the incentives available for investors from Nigeria (because of Allen), and the ease of doing business in this laid-back, tax-free, crime-free environment, and I fell in love.
I listened to him speak about the future environs of the country he leads, and I was tempted to ask to be made a citizen.
There are more magic to comè.
I listened also to the responses from the Nigerian delegation, one by one as they probed and asked deep questions. I was proud to be counted among them.
Nigerians are born ‘free’ (the freest Blacks in the world), aggressive, confident, friendly, assertive, courageous, and daring.
I start to picture the immediate future following this 4-day visit to the ‘Paradise in the Sun’.
What I foresee is too good to be true and to be missed.
Soon, the meeting was over.
We were summoned outside for an evening of music, refreshments, and Antiguan entertainment. We met with other Antiguans from different sectors of life as the National Troupe from Nigeria provided great cultural entertainment in various Nigerian dances.
It is there that I met the President of the Antiguan Olympic Committee, the Secretary-General of the Antiguan Football Association, and some other sports officials. Useful conversations have since started. It is a win-win situation for all those that can see beneath the scantily clad women of Antigua (they are everywhere on the Island), and appreciate the benefits in the virgin state of things here.
…Last Dance, last Supper, and final twist to the tale!
I AM struggling to complete this diary.
Why would people be so wicked?
Why would anyone plan such evil and perpetrate atrocities driven by greed and avarice that threaten to truncate the great work Dr. Allen Onyema, the Chairman of Airpeace Airline, is doing to advance the cause of his people, his country, and even humanity? Why?
OK, forgive me. I have jumped the gun.
Let me go back and start from where I started to script the conclusion of my Daily Diary, 2 days ago.
Today is our last day here.
It is time to head back home.
Everyone is in high spirit.
Things have gone well, almost too well, smoothly and flawlessly.
Yesterday was Day 2 of the Antigua Street Carnival. It was fun to observe female guests at the resort prepare to join the parade. I did my observation from afar, immune from any temptation, and far from any mischief. Trust me.
Baring everything is routine amongst locals here. It means nothing to them. It is a way of life here. That’s what markets the Island to most tourists. It is all around you, almost at every turn of the head. I saw what I cannot describe and, definitely, what I will not report here.
One randomly taken picture, attached here for your candid judgment, speaks louder than a thousand words.
Permit me to leave that matter jeje before I fall victim to the accusation of indecent thought and language. I saw what I cannot describe, and, definitely, will not report here.
Later in the day, yesterday, we went downtown. It was my second visit to St.John’s, the capital of Antigua.
Nothing had changed in 24 hours. It was the same meandering narrow streets decorated on both sides by mainly old bungalows As we drove farther into the heart of the town, the architecture changed, replaced by some newer, more modern, one-storey buildings of brick or blocks.
I may have missed them, but I was hoping to find a shopping mall to add to my experience. There must be but I never saw one. Big shopping malls usually define the centre of big towns.
We finally arrived our location which was strategically chosen by our guide as a vintagè position from which we would have the best view and intimate experience of the carnival parade.
The parade itself was simple – different groups in their different costumes, dancing and marching to very loud music from steel bands at the back of open lorries, or from loudspeakers mounted on cars or trucks. Each group is a slow-moving train of Calypso music dancers, twerking, shaking, twisting, and jerking.
Everything was hunky-dory until the Nigerian National Troupe appeared down the street in their varied national costumes, special dŕums, and a single flutist that directed all the movements of the dancers.
The people on that street knew that something unusual had come upon them. The once-idling feet of the few Nigerians by the roadside began to gyrate to thumping drums, just as dancers arrived in front of their ‘stand’ with short and crisp movements of Atilogwu dance-form. It was a beautiful spectacle to behold.
The watching Nigerians joined the dancers in the street for an unusual treat – five to 10 minutes of energetic and exuberant dancing by the best traditional dancers in that parade (without question) from ‘Motherland’.
In my mind, what comes closest to that feel and scenery is the arrival of the Super Eagles of Nigeria and their singing and dancing troupe of supporters to any foreign land for a match. They take it over.
Meanwhile, all attention focused on the short drama in the middle of the street. Even Chief Chuzi, a manufacturer and quiet member of the Nigerian business delegation, whose silence has been the loudest since we arrived, ďiscarded his gentle mien, joined the street party, his feet dancing in carefully measured steps. It was beautiful to watch as the girls danced around him to the rhythm of the flutist.
I watched and recorded the scene. It crossed my mind that there was only one thing absent in that perfect Nigerian presentation – someone to spray the heads of the dancers either in appreciation or in vanity. Either way, I waited and waited, delaying my recording and holding my breath in anticipation. I could have waited forever. It did not happèn.
Even Chief Chuzi ‘let me down o’. I thought I saw him dip his hands into his pocket, only to see it emerge holding a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his face.
The moment passed. My camera stopped rolling. The ‘train’ moved on and Nigeria’s cultural ambassadors at the 2023 Antiguan Carnival ‘disappeared’ into the distance.
After that ‘performance,’ there was nothing more to see or experience. It was the highpoint of our activities on the eve of our departure.
Antiguans in St. John’s were very kind, courteous and friendly, particularly as they realised we were from Nigeria.
We were truly at home.
***A twist to the sweet tale
IT is now the morning of TODAY as I write this on my phone. We are heading for the airport.
Checking out of the hotel was a breeze. Remember that here you pre-pay for everything during check-in. You are shackled with a bracelet that you must wear at all times until check-out. You can eat and drink as much as you choose, any time you want to. At the end, you are made to sign an exeat paper, unshackled from the manacle tied to our wrist, and freed to go. No refunds or additional payments, or any reconciliations. Ingenious, or stupid? Me, I don’t know o.
I am thinking.
This trip has been successful in every way. We came, saw, experienced, and got everything we wanted. It seems too good to be real, in the absence of any of the common Nigerian factors in some self-inflicted crisis or problem showing up.
We arrive at the airport, make our way through immigration and security without a hitch, get to a bar in one of the lounges, and celebrate some more. I settle down to a small bottle of Guinness Stout.
We are called to board. Our aircraft has been sitting for four days at one of the gates, a Boeing 777, the pride of the Air Peace fleet, glistering in the bright sunlight of afternoon, waiting to take us home.
We enter into it and start to settle down, the huge success of our visit to Antigua radiating on our faces.
Then it happens.
I have always known that the best things in life never come cheap or easy, or without a hurdle. They always demand a test, a challenge that can make or mar.
From nowhere, a bombshell lands disrupting the tranquility of the past four days and threatening the future of this whole enterprise. Everything that has been smooth sailing is being threatened by the wickedness of some Nigerians who would never allow their notoriety for sleaze to die in peace.
Who would have thought that behind the outward show of support for success, some persons had a diabolical hidden agenda of that own that could destroy the trust and integrity upon which this mammoth relationship can only be built?
There are ‘saboteurs’. They rear their heads in the worst possible way at the worst possible time.
Permit me to do a hop step and jump with my narration.
FOURTEEN hours have passed since the last sentence above. It has been testy for everyone except the perpetrators of this heinous crime of disappearing Nigerians that were brought on a touring package by agents from the depths of hell.
I pray to the creator of the universe to expose and punish the saboteurs of our collective project. I pray that all this will still have a happy ending, and that there shall be no more twists to the final tale.
Allen Onyema is a good man. He should be encouraged and supported, not sabotaged. For now, I can say no more until I know more.
Our plane is descending towards Lagos. I must go now.
*Dr. Olusegun Odegbami, MON, OLY, AFNIIA, FNIS