By Tochukwu Ezukanma
Again, Nigeria wept over another avoidable colossal waste of human lives. The crash of the Dana Air Flight 0092 was a direct consequence of disregard for safety standards in pursuit of profits by the management of Dana air coupled with the corruption in the government agencies that regulate the aviation industry. As in prior air disasters in Nigeria, the Nigerian government reacted. The president did the usual. He sent condolence messages to the families of the air crash victims, visited the site of the crash, promised a full investigation into the causes of the crash and declared a number of days of national mourning for the dead. And expectedly, the legislature, also, responded. It mouthed a number of traditional platitudes, and promised to conduct its own investigation on the air crash.
The objects of these investigations, governing officials said are “to make sure that this (air disaster) does not repeat itself in this country”; so that “lesson should be drawn from the incident to avoid a recurrence of such disaster”; etc. In addition, the legislators’ investigation will also “ascertain the air worthiness of all aircrafts operating in the country to ensure that they conform to global safety standards.” What did previous investigations into earlier air crashes in Nigeria reveal? What lessons were “drawn” from them and why did these lessons not ensure that avoidable “air disaster (did) not repeat itself in this country?”
Surprisingly, the Senate is demanding that “the Ministry of Aviation release, without further delay, the investigation reports on all previous air mishap in the country and prosecute all those indicted in the reports.” It then seems that the reports on earlier investigations into air crashes in Nigeria were never released and those indicted by them never punished? If that is the case, then, it is reasonable to think that the present flurry of promises and orders to investigate this last air mishap may just be mere playing to the gallery.
It should not take a plane crash and an investigation by the legislature to ascertain that airline companies in this country adhere to global safety standards. It is the routine duties of the Ministry of Aviation and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to ensure the safety of the Nigerian air space and the air worthiness of all the planes registered and permitted to fly in it.
Evidently, the Ministry of Aviation and the NCAA have routinely failed in their work to guarantee safe air travel in Nigeria. It is understandable that entrepreneurs, even in the most advanced and civilized countries of the world, may sometimes mortgage safety standards for profits. No wonder, even in those countries of the world populated by honorable and law abiding businessmen, governments still diligently labor to maintain quality and safety standards in the aviation industry. The need for such quality and safety controls is even most desperate in this vast scene of confusion that is our beloved country with an aviation industry replete with old, second hand and frayed planes.
The Nigerian aviation law prohibits the registration and operation of aircrafts more than 22 years old for ferrying air passengers. That airline companies in Nigeria continue to register and operate planes older than 22 years is an indictment of the Ministry of Aviation and NCAA. Airline passengers routinely lament the dangerous conditions of some of these old and decrepit aircrafts permitted to shuttle air passengers between the country’s airports. If passengers can notice the terrible conditions of these airplanes, including some owned by Dana Air, then their hazardous conditions must have been conspicuously evident to the aviation experts that suffuse the Aviation Ministry and NCAA,
It was one of these ramshackle aircrafts that air travelers previously complained about that crashed at Uju/Ishaga in Lagos State on June 3rd, 2012; killing all the 153 passengers on board. The crash of the Dana Flight 0992 would have been avoided if the officials of the Ministry of Aviation and NCAA have been committed to their responsibilities, and as such, conscientious in their duties. These two government agencies, that control the aviation industry, are culpable, more so than the profit maximizing management of the Dana Air, for the crash of the Dana Flight 0992. The Minister of Aviation, Stella Odua, and the Director General of NCAA, Harold Demuren, should take personal responsibilities for the crash of the Dana Flight 0992 and resign.
But they will not resign because the panjandrums that run this country are arrogant, lawless and notoriously contemptuous of the Nigerian masses. Sheltered in their cocoon of privileges, consumed by greed, giddy with power and flush with wealth, they trample the law and disregard the constitution. Consequently, they refuse to recognize that their legitimacy and moral authority derive solely from the trust reposed in their office by the people. And that once they betray this trust, they must resign.
The problem of Nigeria is not lack of the right verbal responses and display of emotions and show of concern for bereaved families in times of emergencies and disasters. It is not in the inability to order investigations or in the dearth of investigators and investigation report writers. Our problem is lack of accountability in public life. And this breeds corruption and undermines efficiency. It also imperils a sense of responsibility to the society.
Until there is a modicum of accountability and a sense of responsibility to the people within the ranks of the Nigerian power elite, all the rhetoric, exhibition of concern and the bust of investigations and probes that attended this last air mishap are wonderful, but still, pointless. Because they will not put an end this repeated preventable waste of human lives by the Nigerian aviation industry, Ministry of Aviation, National Civil Aviation Authority, and sometimes, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
It is all de je vu. Nigeria has known a series of these air disasters. They were each followed by similar government responses. And temporarily, the airlines sat up and tried to improve their safety standards. With time, they relapsed to their old and sloppy ways. The officials of government regulatory agencies, because they are corrupt and can be compromised, tolerate this jettisoning of safety measures for profit maximization. And sooner or later, there is another air crash and the same sequence is replicated again, and again and again. This is so because the reprobates and sociopaths that rule this country are, in steady but imperceptible gradations, reducing her to something of a menagerie.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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