Saturday June 2nd and Sunday June 3rd 2012 will surely not be remembered as beautiful memorable days in the minds of Nigerians.
On those two days, the Nigerian Aviation industry once more became subject of hot breaking news in leading global broadcasting media, but not for the good reason but rather for air disasters involving Nigeria's Local Airlines.
In Accra, Ghana on Saturday 2nd June a Nigerian Cargo plane crashed into a passenger bus killing ten passengers. Underscoring the seriousness attached to the plane mishap in Ghana, the President of Ghana Mr. John Atta Mills had to abandoned all his official functions and visited the scene of the unfortunate incident and ordered high powered probe into the remote and immediate circumstances that precipitated the crash.
Barely twenty four hours after the sad news from Ghana, came another shocking story of the crash of a Dana plane in Lagos shortly before it was scheduled to land at the Murtallah Muhammed International Airport. This time the ill-fated plane crashed into residential buildings in Isaga, Agege, Lagos suburb, killing more than 160 Nigerians and a few foreigners. Nigeria's President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has already declared three days of national mourning in memory of all those precious lives that perished in that air disaster.
The moment international broadcasting media such as cable News Network, [CNN], Al-Jazeera network and the British Broadcasting corporation [bbc] showed the pictures of the Nigerian local Cargo plane that skidded off the Accra Airport run way and crashed into a commercial bus close by, my mind went straight to the numerous plane disasters that we have had and immediately I prayed God to save us from witnessing another season of air disasters similar to the types we have had right from 1969. “Oh God not again” I had muttered to myself.
Little did I know that the biggest air disaster in Nigeria was just twenty four or so hours away and this time, the plane crashed into a heavily and densely populated area of Lagos in Iju-Agege less than five minutes to the tarmac and one of the worst mass killings of Nigerians and foreigners were wasted.
Unfortunately, Nigerian governments always wait for such calamity of unprecedented dimension to occur before any concrete measure could be contemplated to ensure aviation safety in the country. Why this dangerous and deadly lethargy on the part of Government officials to enforce strict safety standards in our Aviation sector? Why did the Federal ministry of Aviation go to bed and allow private airline operators to toy with the lives of Nigerians because clearly most of the planes flying on our sky line are not properly maintained and most of them are over twenty years post-manufacturing?
This particular MD-82 Model of plane in the fleets of the local Dana Airline in Nigeria involved in this air disaster is said to have been manufactured over two decades ago and that only few days before the crash the Governor of Akwa Ibom had warned the management of this Airline to take effective action to ensure air worthiness of this particular plane following a near-air disaster incident at the Uyo International Air port in Akwa Ibom state.
The Akwa Ibom state Governor immediately the unfortunate plane accident happened on Sunday June 3rd 2012 issued a media statement restating that he had raised objection to the neglect of safety standards by the same local Airline.
Godswill Akpabio, the Governor of Akwa Ibom state and a versatile lawyer of over 15-years post call to the Nigerian Bar, said he spoke with the managing Director of DANA Airline expressing his disgust and displeasure at the apparent poor safety standards. Akpabio also called on the Aviation Authority to always ensure strict adherence to global aviation operational standards. He had given the warning in the wake of an averted air disaster involving Dana Aircraft enroute Lagos from Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, which had technical problems that forced the air craft to hover for hours before finally making it to Lagos. Most other local airlines are as guilty as DANA and these allegations must be probed transparently.
Governor Akpabio is not alone in making these damaging allegations because several persons have posted complaints online concerning the poor state of the particular aircraft that has just killed several precious lives.
Some sources even stated that on that fateful Sunday, the station manager insisted that the particular aircraft was not air worthy but the managers of the airline allegedly insisted that the plane must fly to Lagos. But why did the pilots who are also technical persons not openly refused to fly the faulty plane instead of believing on hope and some strange reasons and proceeded with this fatal journey?
The litany and comedy of errors in the Aviation industry is so pathetic that virtually all previous air disasters have not be sufficiently investigated and even when some of the past aviation accidents are probed, no white paper has so far been implemented and not a single person indicted in these unfortunate events has been known to have been prosecuted and punished.
When the current Aviation minister Ms. Stella Oduah came on board, diverse groups called on her to issue the white paper on some of the most recent air disasters especially the incident whereby scores of students of Jesuit Loyala International College in Abuja were killed on a local flight from Abuja to Port Harcourt, but it is not clear what steps have been taken to bring culprits of that incident to Justice.
To a lot of Nigerians, the reason why these air disasters are happening is due to corruption on the side of the persons in authority in the Aviation sector especially the regulatory agencies whose officials are accused of collecting huge bribes from unscrupulous and callous local airline operators and look the other way while operational standards are not regulated properly.
The problem of corruption in the Aviation sector came to the front burners after the exit of the President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration when facts emerged that several Billions of public fund said to have been released for upgrading the safety of the nation's airports to meet international best standards, were stolen.
Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, who was the Aviation minister at the time that the total radar coverage project of the entire airports commenced claimed he left several billions of naira in the accounts of the Aviation ministry but the current administration has failed to arrest the real culprits who stole these monumental amount of money said to have been left by the past minister-Chief Femi Fani-Kayode who incidentally is a lawyer of many years of practice. Why sweep such sensitive reports of past looting of public fund meant for aviation safety in Nigeria under the carpets only for the same Government to hurriedly declare three days of national mourning in the wake of the latest air disaster as if we are condemned to remain perpetual mourners who have in the last two years being mourning the continuous massacres of several persons by armed insurgents?
For Nigeria to get it right in securing the safety of our Aviation sector, the Federal government should publish white papers concerning all previous air disasters; identify and prosecute persons fingered in the ruining of the country's aviation sector and ensure that these persons are sanctioned sternly to serve as deterrent.
The Federal Government must ensure that all 'tokumbo' or second hand planes that are over ten years are immediately banned from flying on our skyline to save Nigerians from these kinds of despicable air disasters. The management of the defaulting airlines must be made to face the full wrath of the law even as the National Assembly should look at the ways and means of amending relevant laws to impose heavy fines against airline operators in Nigeria who jeopardize the safety of the lives of passengers.
The fact that Nigeria Aviation industry is unsafe should concern the government because if passengers should lose faith in the local airlines then that segment of the nation's economy will suffer irreparable damage thereby inflicting mass unemployment on Nigerians.
The Federal Government must declare state of emergency in the Aviation industry and ensure that strict enforcement of safety operational standards is maintained. The practice whereby local airline operators spends several tons of money funding birthday advertisements in the Nigerian media for Aviation ministers must be outlawed and the Aviation ministry must be administered professionally because of the consequences of imposing politicians with little or no professional knowledge to such a technical field.
It is a notorious fact that Nigeria's Aviation industry is one of the worst.
In a recent data released by African Airlines Association covering 1998-2007, Nigeria ranked 5th among the 10 African Countries with the highest air accidents.
* Emmanuel Onwubiko is head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIAITON OF NIGERIA and writes from www.huriwa.blogspot.com.