Stowaway: A Reading of Daniel’s Mind before the Flight

How time flies! When a certain Daniel Oikhena’s flight touched down in Lagos from Benin on August 24, 2013 at the end of what was possibly his first ‘air travel’ ever, some 170 million Nigerians were landed in a state of shock. Daniel had, like ectopic pregnancy, coiled his comparatively adult frame in the cavity of an aircraft’s wheels and, at the end of some thirty minutes, defied what reason, science and technology, put together, would not advance as one of the emerging adventures in today’s world.

His flight of adventure – if that phrase suffices – obviously disgusted public sensibility and provoked diverse thoughts and impressions that jarred on our threadbare sociopolitical and economic experiences. Despite our acquired profundity at absorbing growing atrocities, more than a dozen reactions strongly suggested that Daniel took us too far, stretched our experiential limits, in another direction, into a different stratosphere. And when everything is considered, that was possibly his crime.
Without a desire to betray this writer’s justifiable cynicism, certain violence and crime against humanity inspired by political and religious bigotry, like we witness with disturbing regularity, would be a more familiar, comfortable piece of news to our evolving sense of reality than Daniel’s kamikaze attempt. Not surprisingly, when a certain group awarded Daniel a scholarship, a handful of other groups and individuals reacted in ways that were construed as an explicit and unwarranted approval of the incident; the rest of us went on to reason that such gestures would encourage other teenagers to the same end and attract the same accolades and scholarships or bring such a teenager’s life to a fatal end should anything go wrong in the skies.

In many other ways, it was contested that instead of a scholarship or other similar gestures, Daniel ought to have been fiercely reprimanded; perhaps, publicly caned before thousands of his peers for daring to take juvenile delinquency to new heights. They insisted that he should not be seen or presented as anyone’s hero or champion as his acquired personality exemplified what any child should never dream to become or the child any parents should never pray to have. As the condemnation widened, Daniel’s parents were caught in the dragnet. They were blamed for their exceptional ‘failure’ in guiding their son on the road he should take and instilling in him the tendencies of building castles in the air.

Those positions came with their strengths and weaknesses but such are not the purpose of this piece. The views are not intended to credit or discredit any views, notwithstanding that Daniel’s act possessed properties that generally bring to mind the complexities of societal and familial roles and responsibilities. As a whole, the views, comments, editorials and so on and so forth were united in the conclusion that the teenager’s act was the height of all (un)imaginable dangers which anyone would willfully expose themselves to. That point admits no converse views.

However, let us be lenient for a moment and dispense with all passionate considerations, or do away with the logical and technical mysteries of Daniel’s flight. When this is granted, we are likely to be left with what this writer has called ‘psycho-existential appraisals’ of that incident. It is a position that leaves us with three elements: Daniel, his mind and man-in-the-world complexities. This re-reading shuts out such associated concerns as security breeches, parental (ir)responsibility, collapse of moral structures and such other accusations.

From media reports, at that time up till now, nothing implicating was found on the young boy: no drugs and no weapons, apart from the undeniable fact that his ectopic presence on the plane posed a primal danger to the safety of the aircraft and, by extension, lives of the passengers. This is acknowledged once again even though this writer had sought that such a line of argument be diminished which basically meant that young man was, to this extent, a victim of his own life-threatening innocence.

Obviously, Daniel did not ‘fly’ without a purpose or destination. He revealed that he desired to see and set foot on American soil. At 12, plus or minus, he was not too young to be struck and swept off his feet by the powerful force of a 20th century dream. Again, let us be generous to see the America of Daniel’s dream as the symbolic, concrete object of man’s daily dreams and aspirations. His dream of America, here, for the rest of us, or for a different Daniel could have been a Mephistophelean career in politics, especially as pursued in this part of the world; it could have been a meritorious career in the medical profession in which case it would be a choice that prides itself on saving lives.

Let us further explore a chasm of pathological ignorance or innocence in his behaviour. He had thought the flight was bound for America, whereas it is common knowledge that Benin airport does not operate a direct flight to God’s own country. If he was aided to fly in the ‘wheel-cavity class’, this writer wants to reason, would the plot have been initiated from Benin airport, thereby adding another thirty minutes of life-threatening risk as against taking off from Lagos? What satisfaction would his accomplices – if there were any – have derived from such a mission which, from investigation, was devoid of any deliberate or premeditated plot to cause the death of several passengers or any intention to use Daniel as an instrument of drug trafficking? From the evil experiences in our society today, there are numerous ‘cost-effective’, ‘lucrative’ ways of wasting the life of a young boy.

Furthermore, all dreams and the roads to them present herculean and daunting challenges. Daniel was not too young to know this. Without the financial means of flying conventionally or the professional capacity of gaining legal entry into America, he, perhaps, felt his dreams disintegrating and atrophying without help or attention. He must have been scared to death every day of his pre-stowaway life that he could go through this life without ever seeing America or – metaphorically speaking – without realizing his dreams or anybody ever being aware of what he ever dreamt of; he must have been scared to death in ‘the unreasonable silence of the world’.

His, like the average man’s mind was fraught with existential anxiety. He was smitten by the propulsive force of ‘authentic existence’ and driven to the lengths of his human capabilities. He discovered the tensile quality of human strength and stretched it to global attention. His adventure should not be construed as a young mind’s condemnation of anything Nigerian. Rather, Daniel lent weird wings to our human belief, optimism and determination. He pulled out all the stops; confronted and conquered the feebleness of the human spirit; stretched our national consciousness to a new form of reality from which it instantly recovered the moment we stood with mouth agape at this rarest pursuit of a burning desire.

‘Stowaway’ Daniel only demonstrated that it is not enough to dream and desire; it’s not enough, until the world knows that we, as individuals, have tried. He embarked on a raw, scary, dangerous journey in externalizing his inner desires. He put himself in an existential space. He never intended to endanger other people’s lives. He never imagined that his presence on the plane posed a plain, basic risk to the lives of others. The only life he thought he placed on the line was his own; sometimes, too, that may not be true. He was just blatantly oblivious of the other side of it all. His attempt reveals how much of what we suppress or hide in our daily quests and how much closer our dreams could be with just a notch more.

The gestures, which were interpreted as baneful encouragements, did not serve to reward his ‘crime’, but rather recognize – if that is the word – his foray into the uncharted recesses of human exertions. By the way, who would attempt the same unimaginable escapade for a million dollar? The ‘accolades’ merely served to salute the ‘temper’ that otherwise lies unleashed in the rest of us. We seem to have arrived at the present time too impaired to attempt the extraordinary, not least, in the context of Daniel’s flight.

No case is being made here for a repeat incident even though there have been similar attempts since. Yes, his life might have taken a different trajectory for we heard he was moved to one of the best public schools in his state. That could be considered a great gesture by those on the positive divide of the incident; but this writer considers it inconclusive to ‘flying’ ambition or ‘rehabilitation’. He should have been put on board a US-bound flight and conducted through the processes of embarking on a ‘normal’ trip of such a distance to such a country; he should have been taken there for his education or told more about America in order to remove the creases or stretch marks left on his psychological make-up.

All this, it is feared, cannot be realized in this clime where life is too preoccupied with embracing and celebrating falsities and other ironies. Except Daniel is satisfied with his post-stowaway life, the slipshod handling of it reaffirms the same socio-spiritual degeneracy that inspired the young boy’s eerie flight. If we were too shocked to believe what he attempted, his rehabilitation programme should equally shock us into the understanding that the human spirit, once stretched, cannot return to its original state and should never be the same again. In all frankness, such a life ought not to remain the same again for on that day in August, 2013, he rose above all obstacles, which the life he did not choose had placed upon him. With the whole breaking news and pictures on the front pages in mind now, the young boy wore an expression of unmitigated bewilderment that after such a ‘wheel-class’ flight and with images of America installed in his mind, he yet landed within the sociopolitical space he was taking a flight from. Having been stretched to such limits, such a mind would not completely return to its original state.

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