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Can we take several seats already?


Wole Soyinka and Airline Passenger

“A young man walks into the business class cabin of a flight…” already sounds like an intro to a good joke, right? Well, unless you’ve been under a rock, you would have heard about the incident that quickly descended (no pun intended!) into a bad joke when a young man walked into the business class cabin of a flight, got to his assigned seat, and told the grey-haired octogenarian in his seat to vacate it. The old man gave up the seat with no persistence and moved to his own. So far, so ordinary. Considering the amount of times I’ve witnessed similar conversations that escalated into passive aggressive debating, fervent arguments and even into blows.

Except, the old man is Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laurette, celebrated playwright, poet, and essayist. The young man was wearing a “baseball cap, t-shirt to show his muscled chest and tattooed biceps” (And the point is?). And Rivers gubernatorial aspirant and co-founder of Sahara Group,Tonye Cole, who happened to be on the same flight, decided to stir up gratuitous social media frenzy. And of course, this is Nigeria (said with Falz the Bad Guy cadence) and it worked!

Cue social media debates with celebrities like Kate Henshaw and Mo Abudu, also offering their two pence, describing incident as “sad.” Mo Abudu said, “That young man will get what he truly deserves.”


Abeg, what exactly did the young man deserve – except the seat that was rightfully his? Should Oluwa strike him for his audacity to not let the Professor stay in his seat because Mr Cole and the cabin crew pleaded with him?

As we thought the debate was finally fizzling away, on Thursday the Nobel laureate’s son Olaokun Soyinka penned an open letter to Tonye Cole, thanking him for ‘standing up for’ his father and reminding that Professor Soyinka he has never ‘demanded’ respect, but ‘earned’ it.

While I agree with Mr Soyinka that the Professor may not intentionally have wanted to usurp someone’s allocated seat, I am confused as to why he feels Mr Cole stood up for his father. As far as witness statements are to be believed, there was no altercation, no debate, not even a hint of a passive aggressive grunt.

Regardless of what he may look like and what he might be wearing, a young man had paid for a seat, he got on the flight and found his seat taken and asked the person to move. The person who was in the wrong seat – whether he was ‘chancing it’ as I am sure most of us have tried at some point in the hope that the flight won’t be full and we can stay seated, or he had simply relied on the occupier of the seat to give in – moved without a fuss. Case closed.

The reason we are taking Panadol for what’s no longer anyone’s headache –as the young man got to enjoy it after all and Professor Soyinka wasn’t pained to move to his allocated one – is because Mr Cole shared this narrative drawing attention to the seat owner’s dress sense, Professor Soyinka’s status, and their respective ages.

I agree with Mr Soyinka when he writes the young passenger was entitled to his seat which was rightfully his. But I disagree with the following statement:

“The seat owner had a right – that is enforceable. But the elder, though he or she is entitled to some deference and respect, can only hope for it. In this case, it was not given and WS, unhesitatingly moved seat.”

Respect, Mr Soyinka, goes both ways; while an elder may hope for respect, any passenger, whatever their status or age, is entitled to the same level of respect. Did this young man disrespect Wole Soyinka? From all accounts, he respectfully demanded his seat. So must one assume that, in your opinion, respect means giving up the seat you have chosen for a particular reason, because the person you find in it is older and/or a public figure?

I would have given my seat up, but that’s because of the respect and admiration I have for Professor Soyinka. This, however, doesn’t give me the right to measure someone else up with my yardstick, then boo them when they don’t measure up.
So can we all just take several seats please and fasten the zips on our mouths?


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