It is at a time like this that man actually appreciates the saying that he is nothing more than a mere pencil in the hand of God. Many have been the testimonies since Sunday of how some people missed the DANA AIR flight from Abuja that crashed into a crowded Lagos suburb a few minutes short of its Ikeja airport destination. Ekerete Udoh, a journalist based in the United States, was bent on taking the flight but he missed it because he had an outing on Saturday night that lasted till the wee hours of the morning. A lady billed to wed in August was scheduled with her friend to take that flight. On their way to the Abuja airport, their cab was hit by another vehicle. The driver stopped and demanded that the culprit should make amends. When they eventually got to the airport, DANA AIR was about taking off. It was a disappointed duo that decided to postpone the journey. They were still on their way home, when information reached them that the plane had crashed. Consider the case of the lady who had boarded the plane with her child and sister-in-law. When she insisted she must carry her child on her lap, a member of the crew was said to have marched her off the plane. Today, she is alive with her child while her sister-in-law is gone. What of the narrow escape of the Okwuchukwus. Joel is 11, Chisom is nine and Esther is seven. They were all on an errand for their father. They returned home to meet their house in ruins and their parents trapped in the rubble.
Many of the relatives of those who perished in this tragedy would wish that their loved ones had had some miraculous escape. For instance, the family of the Anyenes must still be wondering what hit them. Six members of that family, husband, wife, four children, not to talk of four other relatives perished that Black Sunday. They had all come to Nigeria from their United States base for a wedding. The Onita sisters too were in the country for a wedding. Instead of a wedding now, their shattered relatives would be planning how to lay their remains to rest. And it will be a while before the pall of sadness hanging over the National Universities Commission, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation passes away both the three lost several members of their staff to the crash.
While the nation grapples with this tragedy, many would not stop wondering why it happened. There has been no major air crash since that of a Boeing 737 owned by Aviation Development Corporation, ADC in October 2006. Only six people survived out of the 104 on board. In fact the previous year, 2005, was exceedingly tragic for the nation’s air space. There were nine air crashes in all, thus raising fundamental questions about air safety in Nigeria. Perhaps, alarmed by the rate at which planes were dropping out of the nation’s sky, the federal government moved urgently to rescue the situation. Recognising that the ugly situation needed handling by an aviation expert, government appointed Harold Demuren, an aeronautical engineer of international acclaim, as director-general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA. This appointment was widely hailed in the aviation circle. It brought so much expectation since Demuren’s appointment was seen as that of round peg in a round hole. He moved swiftly to reposition the authority. The reforms he instituted soon got the approval of the International Civil Aviation Organisation; thus Nigeria soon found its way back in the good books of the organisation. Demuren’s five-year tenure ended last February. And surely impressed by his performance, President Goodluck Jonathan approved a two-year extension.
Against the backdrop of Sunday’s tragedy and the many ifs of history since then, many would wonder whether that confidence was misplaced. Since the DANA AIR crash, there had been many stories making the rounds about the ill-fated plane, a McDonnell Douglas MD-83, which is about 22 years old. Its two engines were said to have packed up, which resulted in the crash.
Those who understand the nitty gritty of airline business argue that it is not the age of a plane that matters, but whether it is properly maintained. So was the DANA fleet, especially the one that went down, properly maintained? Oscar Wason, the airline’s director of operations, would want the world to believe that the plane was in top form. In fact, according to him, he had taken the plane on a flight check to Ibadan earlier that day. However, there are claims to the contrary.
The tragic plane is said to have had several emergencies of late that should have necessitated its being grounded. But with an eye on the profit motive, the owners are said to have turned a blind eye. It is amazing that such rickety plane, a “molue in the air”, should have been allowed by the NCAA to remain in service. Their negligence has resulted in the rude termination of the lives of more than 150 Nigerians and foreigners. Beyond that, many Nigerians who are on the payroll of DANA are culpable for their silence in the face of the alleged grave irregularities in the operations of the airline. Perhaps, if they had played the deep throat, that avoidable disaster would not have happened.
As the families come to grips with their losses, the federal government must get to the root of what led to the tragedy. It is not just enough that the airline should compensate the victims and their families, those found culpable in this gory business ought to be prosecuted. They include officials and owners of DANA AIR and even staff of NCAA. The President has vowed to deal with all those who contributed through their negligence to the disaster. It should not just be a mere pronouncement. He should walk his talk and that should be in the immediate. For this is not the first time those in government will promise to probe an air disaster. The nation is yet to have an official position as to what led to the rash of air crashes between 2005 and 2006. So will the latest incident be treated differently? The government cannot afford to do otherwise. Getting to the root of the crash and dispensing justice in this matter is the only befitting epitaph for those who died on June 3.