The recent sudden death of the immediate past National Security Adviser (NSA), General Owoeye Azazi, Kaduna State Governor, Patrick Yakowa, and four others in an aircrash involving a Naval helicopter at Nembe-Okoroba area of Bayelsa State is bad news for Nigeria. The four other persons that died in the crash are Yakowa’s Special Adviser, Dauda Tsoho; Azazi’s bodyguard, Warrant Officer Mohammed Kamal and two Naval pilots, Commander Murtala Mohammed and Lt. Adeyemi Sowole.
The tragedy, which occurred as the victims flew back from the burial of the late father of the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Research, Documentation and Strategy, Mr. Oronto Douglas, has expectedly dampened the mood of the nation. The unfortunate incident has also, once again, brought into sharp public focus the sorry state of the transportation sector in Nigeria, especially aviation.
Although details of what led to the crash are yet to be unraveled, salient questions are already being asked, and postulations made, on the gamut of factors that could have led to the mishap. Already, the Federal Government has instituted a probe into the incident and also ordered an audit of all civil and military aircraft in the country. Some other organisations, including the Nigeria Governors Forum, have also thrown their weight behind the effort to unravel the disaster with their own independent investigations.
Reports indicate that the governors are planning to fly in a foreign consultant on the matter. The interest generated by this crash is a clear indication that Nigerians are not ready to accept frequent air crashes as a way of life in the country. This year alone, the country has recorded a number of air crashes, with the crash of a Dana Air commercial flight in June, alone, claiming about 153 lives. This is a trend that the country cannot allow to continue. So many things have been said about the crash of the aircraft that killed Azazi and others.
Questions have been raised on the state of the aircraft amidst allegations that it was visibly in poor physical shape. Although the Navy has understandably denied this allegation, the claim that the aircraft was in good shape and had actually made 15 trips on the day of the crash also raises questions on the frequency of landing and take offs considered safe for that grade and condition of aircraft.
The question needs to be asked if the aircraft exceeded the prescribed number of flights and take offs within the period in question because this is critical to flight safety management. The resort of top political office holders to jets for local travels also signposts the poverty of road and water travel infrastructure in the country. The sorry state of road and sea transportation in Nigeria makes travelling by air more attractive to the politicians, even when the nation lacks the maintenance culture that is critical for air travel.
The problem of bad roads and insecurity on our highways, where robbers and kidnappers often hold sway, is a disincentive to travelling by road. We mourn the passage of Azazi, Yakowa and the four other victims of this accident. The death of the six is a great loss to the nation. Azazi was a four-star General who did his best in the various capacities that he served the country.
He had served as Chief of Army Staff and retired as Chief of Defence Staff before he was named NSA. Yakowa also rose to the peak of his career in the Kaduna State Civil Service before transferring as a Permanent Secretary in the Kaduna State Civil Service to the Federal Civil Service where he also worked as a Permanent Secretary and a Minister.
He became Deputy Governor, and later, Governor, in 2010, following the choice of his then governor, Alhaji Namadi Sambo, as Vice President to President Goodluck Jonathan. He won the Kaduna State governorship election on his own merit in 2011. It is so painful to lose the six persons that died in this crash and we commiserate with their families on their sad demise.
The challenge before the Federal Government and the Naval authorities now is to unravel the circumstances that led to this accident. Let the incident be investigated thoroughly and the probe findings made public. Let the investigation report not go the way of aircrash investigations in the past that were either never conclusive, or had their findings shrouded in secrecy and controversy by the authorities.