The drama of fury apparently sought to test her public relations credentials. A crash had occurred. The general public went wild with condemnation. They called for her head. She should pay for the embarrassment. She should be held accountable for the flip-flops that occasionally lead to loss of lives.
She understood the reason for the people’s pains. The buck must stop at someone’s table. That was true. But she followed the path of conventional wisdom. A tree cannot make a forest, she reasoned. Something may have gone wrong. But a system must remain a system. It is a network, a chain of beings and units, which can only make a whole when everything is taken together. To make a valid submission, therefore, we must evaluate this team as a whole, not as a unit. That way, we will get the hang on whether issue that is agitating us. This informs her submission on shared responsibility.
That was Princess Stella Oduah, the Minster of Aviation. She had come under fire, following the October 3 crash of an aircraft, belonging to Associated Airlines. She may have been angered by the largely misplaced fury but she did not fly off the handle. She, instead, took us through the logic and common sense of the issue with a view to having us suspend judgment. I think she struck the right chord.
The Associated Airline incident was, for many, a sad reminder of the June 3, 2012 air crash in which a Dana flight killed all the passengers on board. The Dana incident had a throwback effect. It took us back to the dark days of aviation disasters in the country, which peaked between 2002 and 2006. Significantly, Nigeria appeared set for safe skies until Dana played the spoilsport. Apart from the human cost of the tragedy, it cast a slur on the recognisable effort of Princess Oduah in the improvement of Nigeria’s aviation industry.
Regardless of the drawback, the industry under Oduah has continued to upgrade and improve the facilities at the country’s airports. Today, a good many of them have been brought up to acceptable and appreciable standards. If all things were to be equal, Oduah should be reveling with tales of triumph. But because the affairs of the world hardly admit of one to one mapping, certain unseen hands and variables must necessarily play a trick on man’s efforts.
In the face of this fact of life, those who believe in and appreciate Oduah’s efforts held their breath when the latest crash took place the other day. They went into rational analysis. They sought for reasons and explanations. In fact, a certain airline pilot came on air to draw our attention to certain possibilities. Having been in the industry for decades, he pointed out that air safety goes beyond the facilities and state of the aircraft. He brought psychology to bear on the situation. A pilot who spends the greater part of the time in the cockpit thinking about existential issues like unpaid salaries and unsettled bills at home, he said, is a grave danger to air safety. His panacea was that the regulatory authorities should revoke the Air Operating Licenses of airlines that do not meet their obligations to their workers.
Reasoned interjections such as this were yet to be assimilated when the howlers, in the usual Nigerian fashion, seized the stage. Some of them called for the resignation of the Aviation Minister. Some others introduced fetish asides into the drama. In the face of all this, the beleaguered Minister, after taking a hard look at the genuine efforts aimed at bailing the aviation sector, remarked that air crashes, sometimes, may confound human imagination or comprehension. That was a philosophical interjection coming from the Minister. I shared in her sober reflection. But because most Nigerians, under the present circumstance, will hardly have the patience for deep reflections, the minster’s remarks have been visited with undiluted belligerence. Some are poised to draw the Minister into the arena of verbal pugilism. The minister obviously recognizes the needlessness of this engagement and did not therefore bother much about the brickbats.
But relief was to come her way days later. The Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), which swung into action immediately the accident occurred, came up with a preliminary report. In it, human error and a faulty engine were cited as the reasons for the October 3, 2013 crash. According to the report, a preliminary analysis of the Cockpit Voice Recorder indicated that the crew received an automated warning that suggested that the aircraft flaps and the right engine were not in order for take-off but the pilot ignored the warning. The report noted that the standard call to show that there was problem as the flight was taking off was made by the First Officer, but the call was not heeded by the captain. The plane eventually crashed while taking off, killing 15 persons including the captain and the First Officer.
The insistence of the captain to fly an aircraft that was obviously faulty takes us back to the point we earlier made about the state of mind of certain pilots whose imagination and sense of proportion have been befuddled by human problems that are clearly surmountable. Why will a normal human being embark on a suicide mission especially when such an act also involves the lives of others? Why will someone who has a responsibility to save lives willfully throw caution to the winds and endanger the same lives he is meant to protect?
Psycho-analysts will have a field day trying to decode the reason for such willful actions. But let us for the purposes of our analysis here rely a little more on existential worries. It would appear that the Nigerian environment has conditioned the imagination of many into engaging in sharp practices. The people appear used to taking a chance. Their conducts are no longer governed by rules and regulations but by sheer instinct. Once your instinct directs, you throw the rules to the dogs. If we accept this as part of the problem affecting the Nigerian system, then we must appreciate the fact that dealing with the problem will be as serious as re-orienting the entire Nigeria. This is certainly not a job for one day and for one person.
This is where Oduah’s theory of shared responsibility comes in. Even though she was initially misunderstood over her “act of God” declaration, the fact remains that she has been as realistic as possible in dealing with issues relating to the latest crash. No one arm of the aviation industry can do the Job. There must be synergy for security and safety to be achieved. As she said, the regulatory agencies, management of airlines, the operators and other stakeholders, all have a role to play in aviation safety and security.
It is also not right to discredit the efforts made so far in putting the aviation industry in Nigeria on the right pedestal. The renovations and provisions of modern facilities which the ministry is embarking upon at present should be commended and sustained. They form part of the things that we must do if we must ensure a safe and secure atmosphere for flying. It certainly cannot be for nothing that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recently rated Nigeria above the global average.
Nigeria, we are told, scored 65 percent and was rated as the 12th safest globally. I do not think that these ratings were done in error. But we can bail the industry out of bad stories such as the one we are facing now if we focus attention on real issues instead of throwing stones indiscriminately. While we continue to strive to establish our level of culpability in this matter as a people, we must commend the AIB for acting fast and decisively. The preliminary report we are relying on was released within one week of the crash. We have never been this responsive in emergency situations before. It is also significant that we, at least, have an idea of what went wrong.
Nigeria has a history of air crashes whose causes were never really established. But this time, we have something to rely upon until full investigations into the air crash are completed. However, we must learn something urgent from our latest experience. Due diligence is imperative in the aviation sector. The regulatory agencies of the sector, in conjunction with the ministry, must close ranks. At moment, certain things appear to be taken for granted. Significantly, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has said that it will carry out fresh audit of all local airlines operating in the country. The recertification will cover financial, operational and mechanical audit of all the airlines should be a continuous exercise.
The rules here should be strictly enforced. It is better to ground as many aircraft as possible than embark on a suicide mission such as the Associated Airlines pilot did recently. If we share the responsibility as Oduah has said, we will discover, ultimately, that the worries, arising from our failures should be everybody’s affair. It is not and should not be the business of one person.