Nigerians want to halt a British TV series: what a cheek!

The Nigerian high commissioner requires that Channel 4 cancels Lagos Airport at once. The series gives the country a bad name, he says, at a time when it is eager to attract foreign investment. Instead, he wants a PR job in which Channel 4 tells us that, since it finished filming early this year, the "fledgling democracy" has done its very best to improve conditions at the airport. He has also threatened a lawsuit claiming damages for the harm done to his country. This shows a remarkable ignorance of British jurisprudence but, more than that, a hell of a cheek.

I take a serious interest in such complaints about documentaries that reveal blinding incompetence and corruption in third world countries. You see, I almost lost my life in one instance and was pilloried by the entire cabinet.

I had made a documentary in my home island of Trinidad for Channel 4 around 1989 entitled The Gathering Storm. Word got back to the Trinidadian authorities that I had undermined the country on foreign television. I travelled to face the music.

Where somebody tried to shoot me at point blank range; it was a miracle that I survived. The prime minister went so far as to call a special sitting of the Trinidadian parliament to denounce me as a traitor. For three murderous weeks, one of the national daily newspapers was full of letters written at the ruling party's headquarters. They threatened to take away my citizenship and exile me permanently. And for what? Speculating that the country was heading for a big social upheaval and providing the evidence to support this hypothesis. Within eight months of the documentary, Trinidad experienced the most violent revolt in its history: a group of fundamentalist Muslims attempted to seize political power, shot the prime minister and held the entire parliamentary membership as hostages in the debating chamber.

Lagos Airport is mild stuff compared with The Gathering Storm, yet the temper of the reaction is equally ruthless. I have seen tapes of the first four episodes. They show that porters have to pay to get their jobs and in turn are paid in tips, which are not guaranteed. In such circumstances, suitcases disappear and all manner of rackets are set in train.

Because governments change hands at the cock of a pistol, the airport assumes strategic importance. It is the first place that the military dictatorship makes secure when seizing power. With the Nigerian military now wiping out whole villages, I have no doubt that troop movements are an integral part of the airport's activity and that this would have added to the pressures on the camera crew. One of the baggage handlers, because she was favoured by the Channel 4 film crew, was dismissed for being an American spy.

Even so, the film-makers spared us nothing in their docu-soap format, including the howls of pain from a prisoner who, a police officer had warned us, would make a statement. He duly signed. Then he was paraded before the camera, limping after a thorough going over.

Yet the shouts of protests about this programme did not come exclusively from the Nigerian High Commission. They also came from Nigerians who waltz through Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted. They accuse Channel 4 of trivialisation and much else.

What struck me most, though, was the demand from the high commissioner that the series be stopped forthwith. Perhaps he recalls another television programme, Death of a Princess, once banned by a humiliated BBC upon the demand of the Saudi Arabian regime.

In those days, oil was king and the purchasing power of the oil sheikhdoms was at its height. Not now.

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.