Which way Nigeria?
On the 2nd of June, a Nigerian cargo aircraft overshot the runway in Accra, Ghana and ploughed into a bus killing 10.
On the 3rd of June, a plane crashed into a residential area just miles away from the Lagos domestic airport killing all on board and some on ground.
As news of their loved ones’ demise in these tragedies filter through, mourning relatives would have been fortunate if the news was confirmed through official channels. The passenger list was circulated and published all over social media, so they may very well have read the devastating news online.
I’m still unsure which riles me more; the voyeuristic posting of photographs of the remains of the deceased by the Nigerian media, the unofficial publishing of the passenger manifest or the lackadaisical and nonchalant approach of the Nigerian government to air accidents. I’ll address each in turn.
From what I gathered from people who live in Nigeria, only one local TV station interrupted their scheduled programmes to announce the news of the crash when it happened. It was from the foreign press, BBC and CNN etc. that most people got wind of the news. Then when the rest eventually cottoned on, the coverage was gruesome as though the news crews lacked the ability to filter what makes for decent reporting. Rumours of still burning bodies and the charred fuselage bombarding TV screens were rife. Sad!
Twitter was a-buzz with links to the passenger list on various websites. Though I struggle to see how people can think the manifest of a fatal air crash is something to bandy around like a joke, I totally understand why they would do it. The authorities, whoever that elusive body might be, have failed us as a people. The failure of government to take control has created a vacuum and it is that which has now been filled by individuals acting as their own local government.
As for the Nigerian government, what I have to say about them could fill several tomes but I will restrain myself. The aviation minister, Princess Stella Oduah, was reported to have said she was ‘saddened’ by the crash. ‘Saddened’? I can think of several adjectives the aviation minister could use to describe their feelings at this time but ‘saddened’ barely scratches the surface! What a joke!
The Nigeria president, Goodluck E. Jonathan has declared a three-day mourning period and said the Nigerian flag will be flown at half-mast in that period. No disrespect, sir, but how does that help anyone? How about a root-and-branch sanitisation of our aviation industry? How about enforcing more stringent checks for air safety? How about thoroughly investigating accidents when they do happen and implementing measures to avoid repeat performances? How about prosecuting the guilty to serve as a deterrent?More stringent tests for aging aircraft? A three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy for failing and accident-prone aircraft? How about not turning a blind eye to the decrepit, cast-offs by way of aircraft which are allowed into our airspace when they’ve already been condemned in others’?
I am particularly aggrieved by the passenger aircraft crash and the needless loss of lives. I appreciate that accidents happen and death is the inevitable end of us all. However, I am upset because this accident could have been prevented. It would appear the aircraft in the accident was brought out of retirement and sold to Dana Airlines in 2009. There are very few countries in the world where this aircraft would have been considered air-worthy.
According to The Vanguard newspaper;
- On May 3, an unnamed Lagos station manager of the airline was reported to have drawn the attention of management of the airlines that the aircraft in question needed to be grounded for general check-up but that alarm was ignored.
- So on May 11, 2012, the same aircraft that was billed for Lagos/Abuja with more than half capacity passengers [made an] emergency landing at the Murtala Muhammed airport. Reports said passengers on board had to hurriedly disembark and sought alternative means of travelling. No casualty.
- On May 25, 2012, the same plane that was to do Lagos/Calabar flight also made another air return to Lagos after the crew reported engine fault. There was also no casualty.
- Then came the final straw. On June 3, 2012, the same MD-83 with registration number 5N-RAM was performing a flight 9J-1993 from Lagos to Abuja with 153 passengers on board when the crew also discovered that the engine had developed fault. The pilot made a quick air return to Lagos.
I am angry because though there has been a huge outcry in the immediate aftermath of the accident, the dust will soon settle and everything will be back to normal. All the grandiose promises by government to thoroughly investigate will join the sky-high heap of broken promises. Brown envelopes will exchange hands and all will be well again. That is, until the next plane crash. Then the ridiculous cycle will be replayed.
In the 56 years of Nigeria’s aviation history, there have been at least 43 accidents involving Nigerian-operated aircrafts at home and abroad. Less than a quarter of these had any survivors. What lessons have we learned from the past? What measures have been put in place to prevent the same happening again and again? From where I’m standing, I would say we haven’t learnt a thing and unfortunately there will be more accidents like this in the future.
I weep for those who died in the Lagos crash. As an air crash survivor myself, I know how their last moments would have played out if they were aware of the impending doom. Thoughts of loved ones they would never see again, children, spouses, parents awaiting them at what should have been their destination would have broken their hearts as they said their last prayers and hoped for a welcome on the other side of eternity.
The claustrophobia of staring death in the face and not being able to escape, the gut-wrenching, heart-stopping fear, the wretched helplessness in the faces of the other passengers. The screaming as the plane literally dropped out of the sky and hurtled towards earth, the shouting, crying babies and children, the sheer chaos, the smell of burning, the loud bang on impact and the ensuing deafening silence! Heart-wrenching!
It’s time our government and all the relevant aviation regulatory bodies take responsibility and ensure that air travel in Nigeria is safe for its citizens. This is the 21st century. It can no longer be business as usual.