Fela Anikulapo Kuti, instrumentalist musician and composer, human rights activist and political legend may not have envisaged the air crash that nearly saw the dead dying again in Lagos when he sang the song “double wahala for dead body”. The crash of Associated Airlines aircraft bearing the remains of Chief Olusegun Agagu, former governor of Ondo State on Thursday, October 3, 2013 in Lagos has remained very pathetic as like many other air crashes before it.
Available reports show that the aircraft, a Brazilian manufactured Embraer 120 is about 23 years old and was last flown in August 2013. Effectively, in the whole of September up to the day of the ill-fated flight, the old aircraft had been on ground. This is the fact and not to suggest that there is something sinister about the time of inactivity of the aircraft here.
We watched the airline crash debate in the Senate two weeks ago and the resolution to summon the Aviation Minister Mrs Stella Oduah to explain the reasons for the recurring air crashes in Nigeria.
This is not a new scenario. The Senators reacted in the same vent of furry and anger when the Dana airline crash took place in Lagos last year, killing both boarded passengers and innocent people on ground.
Ironically, despite such public outpouring of bitterness at even the highest levels of government, only very little is done to avoid a repeat, making a caricature of our professed regards for the lives of others.
Nigerian airspace hosts a small percentage of the world’s flying aircraft and to imagine that we cannot even manage that is scandalous fact. For Nigeria to record a total of seven air crashes since 2011 is shameful and not acceptable at all.
It is even to the glory of God that the Kabo airline conveying Sokoto Muslim pilgrims successfully diverted to Kano after losing a tire. Taraba State pilgrims were equally lucky to be alive to tell the story of their own diversion. IRS Airline does not have a better story. This is extremely worrisome but what this tells us is that instead of making improvements, we are deeply sinking into the abyss. Aviation is an international concern and whatever happens here tells much about what we do and value. It portrays us as a nation that never learns from the things that happen to her. We learn nothing and forget nothing, as historians will say.
No nation can survive this alarming disaster frequency that wipes out eminent citizens in manners that were clearly avoidable. Something must be done to stop this fall. The fault and failures for all these must be found in our shores. Regulatory authorities are not proactive enough just as aircraft owners and operators are cutting corners to reduce costs and increase profit margins.
In situations like this, the country can speak in one voice or declare an emergency in the aviation sector and ensure that only certified and airworthy aircraft enter our airspace. This is possible. It is no rocket science. We can achieve it if we are determined to.
To do this well, the aviation regulators must sit up and discharge their statutory duties without favours or fears and officers must be made to face dire consequences for failures on their part. All manner of things go on in the aviation industry and some of the regulatory authorities and their officers contribute much of the rot.
The Associated Airlines crash could be an eye opener. The preliminary report released by the AIB is nearly faultless. It confirms some of the media reports earlier released that the aircraft was visibly old and looked unworthy as some of the survivors were quoted to have observed. In the same vein, Senator Smart Adeyemi also came close to that in the senate when he said that the aircraft was on a test flight and not supposed to carry passengers. It was for that reason, according to him, that there were more technical officers in the flight than usual.
If this is true, then the issues to still be addressed by the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) would be handy. The ongoing restructuring works going on in many of the nation’s airports will be meaningless if firm and effective measures are not put in place to ensure safety in the air. This calls for sober reflection and not the kind of altercation going on between
Mr Femi Fani Kayode and the Minister of Aviation. This is not a time for politics because human lives are involved. Equally uninteresting is the story credited to the Agagu Family that they did not hire the ill-fated aircraft as all that was left for the state government and MIC to handle. Although it was needless for the state government at this stage to speak on the matter as they said, stating their own side of the story has opened a new chapter. The question for the humour box remains: who hired the aircraft?
We submit that the most important question we face today is not about who hired the aircraft or who suggested Associated Airlines in the first place. The issues are simple: was the aircraft airworthy before it took off? Did Associated Airlines do enough to ensure that it presented an airworthy aircraft to the public to hire? Did all the regulatory authorities do all that was required to ensure due compliance and observance by the operators of the aircraft? A proper resolution of these issues and the visitation of appropriate sanctions will go a long way in moving our aviation industry forward.
We must admit that the growing cases of impunity in our national life have manifestations in different areas and the only way things can work well and rules respected is for the nation to agree that nobody is above the law. In this search for a new aviation regime, there should be no sacred cows. Adequate punishment must follow wrongs in sensitive sectors. If we had our way, a death penalty should be imposed on anybody who by his actions and or inactions exposes air travelers to danger or indeed cause them harm or death results therefrom.
This is a devastating case for which we must sympathise with the Agagu family and all the bereaved families. May God comfort them all. Truly, this is a case of double “wahala for dead body”