Source: The All African Women’s Group* and Global Women’s Strike
On 6 May 2009, Ayodeji Omotade won a landmark victory against British Airways. BA had attempted to criminalise him for speaking out in defence of Augustine Eme, an asylum seeker who was being brutally deported on Flight BA075 to Nigeria (27 March 2008). As a passenger, he had intervened when four security guards, watched by two police officers, held Mr Eme, shackled and handcuffed, down on the floor and screaming.
Twenty Metropolitan police officers dragged Mr Omotade off the flight when he protested. He was slammed against a wall, mocked as he pleaded to be allowed back on the flight, then arrested and locked up for nine hours. All his money was seized – under the Proceeds of Crime Act. (Having deprived him of it for some months, his money was finally returned, with 70p interest.)BA pressed charges of threatening, abusive, insulting and disorderly behaviour towards their crew.
BA not only banned him from all their flights but refused to refund his ticket money, and flew his luggage containing his brother’s wedding suit and gifts to Nigeria. The luggage was returned a week later, in a damaged state. Mr Omotade missed his brother’s wedding.
The case took over fourteen months to come to court. BA had nine witness statements and three witnesses. Mr Omotade had to proceed with only two defence witness statements as BA had refused to provide his defence lawyer with the passenger list which would have enabled him to call further witnesses. Shockingly, he was also refused legal aid and had to pay thousands of pounds for his own defence. The NigerianHigh Commission did not help with legal costs or any assistance, as they had promised him to do.
The magistrate accepted Mr Omotade’s compelling account, and found him not guilty. She saw that the testimonies of BA’s nine witnesses – staff, police, G4 security and immigration officers – contradicted each other. Mr Omotade said: “It has been a horrific experience for me and my family, going through a year of criminal proceedings in which British Airways, the Metropolitan Police, Immigration security officers, and the Crown Prosecution Service constructed a false and malicious case against me.”
Stella Mpaka a member of AAWG* commented: “Given the overwhelming odds against him, it’s fantastic that he won. We will continue to defend people like Ayo because any one of us could find ourselves fighting for our lives like Mr Eme. When we expose the injustice of what is going on in this racist immigration system, and keep fighting as Ayo did – we can win.”
Women of Colour in the Global Women Strike adds: “Exposing BA’s alliance with the Met police and immigration services to criminalise a courageous and gentle man for protesting an injustice brought many people together – the businessman and the asylum seeker, the grassroots groups and the professionals, women, men, Black, white, with or without papers. Ayo’s victory is a power to everyone challenging racism, whatever form it takes.”
This is a great victory not only for Ayo Omotade and his family but for everyone defending themselves and others against deportation. His instinctive response to a person in distress cost him dearly. But many lives have been saved by passengers of principle like him who are willing to intervene to try to stop removals, some of which are extremely violent, where women, children and men are being forcedback to face rape, other torture and even death.
For Mr Omotade: The truth has finally prevailed, and I have been completely vindicated. I spoke out as I expect anyone would do. I paid a price because I could not look the other way. I am in the process of putting my life together again. Justice has been served. I have been delivered from the claws of British Airways corporate tyranny.”
Mr Omotade is demanding an apology and full compensation not only for himself but for his family in Nigeria who were waiting for him to bring clothes and even the wedding rings from England; all had to be re-bought for the wedding to proceed. He must also be compensated for the brutal treatment he received. He also demands that the immigration authorities report to him and others what happened to Mr Eme – they are responsible for his safety since they forced him to leave a (relatively) safe environment.
The world belongs to all of us – we all have a right to be here – and to be safe!