Ed Balls (FT 1990-1994, now UK shadow chancellor)
As a young FT leader writer in 1993, the opportunity to fly out to Nigeria to interview the new civilian president, Ernest Shonekan, appointed by the military dictatorship to head the “transitional council”, was not to be missed. So how could I have been so stupid? As I cut it too fine to get to Gatwick, the BA flight left on time with the FT’s Africa Editor, Michael Holman, and photographer, Ashley Ashwood, on board – but not me. I got a late flight on Nigeria Airways. And 18 hours later, I found myself alone, at 4am, in Lagos airport, conspicuous in a stupid white suit and unnerved by the security guards who were insisting I went with them. I was taken into a windowless room where a man dressed only in shorts rose from the sofa as I entered. He sat down at the desk, pulled out a gun and laid it on the table before me and said: ‘Mr Balls, welcome to Nigeria’.
I was held there for six hours, hoping I was going to be deported – other options seemed less attractive. Eventually, around mid-morning, Michael and Ashley arrived. We were all to be expelled. But as we were taken towards the BA aircraft by the head of airport security, there was a phone call, and the mood changed radically. A terrible mistake had occurred. Representatives of the Financial Times were most welcome after all.
Three hours later, after flying to the federal capital Abuja, Michael (pictured left with me on an internal flight) and I were interviewing the president. The transition to civilian rule was under way after all – someone had just forgotten to tell Nigeria’s secret service.
Two words. Nai. JA. Loving the in-flight armchairs there.