June 3rd 2012 was just like any other day, but it was indeed another horrific Sunday, maybe termed it a black Sunday to Nigerians following the crashing of the Dana Air McDonnell Douglas MD-83 with registration number 5N- RAM at Iju – Agbado, a densely populated neighbourhood in Lagos killing all 153 people on board, as well as 16 others on ground.
However, in a manner typical of the Nigerian government, there was a dissonance of noise and a fury of sound designed to deceive the masses. This noise started in the form of placing a ban on the operating license of Dana Air and for those of us who wondered if certain government officials were not complicit in the escape of Dana Air’s senior managers from the country, it is enough to observe that there was no window dressing that could hide the rot in the aviation industry. That a foreign company operating in Nigeria would be given the free hand to toy with the lives of Nigerians exposes our leaders for what they truly were – a bunch of greedy, unpatriotic, and visionless individuals content to sacrifice their countrymen to the gods of power and influence.
Now, three months after the crash affected families are yet to get over the tragedy that claimed the lives of their loved ones. Three months after some relatives have gone through the trauma of physical altercations over dead bodies of the crash victims. But after all said and done, the federal government in a magnanimous move still deemed it fit to lift the ban on Dana Air with the claim that the ban was a mistake. But the government is not the only one applauding Dana Air for its air worthiness. According to the secretary general of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (A.O.N.), Muhammed Tukur, and the move to lift the ban by the Federal Government was commendable. He was quoted as saying since the government discovered that “Dana was not at fault, the next thing was to act positively.” Really? How did the Secretary General of A.O.N come to the conclusion that Dana Air was not at fault?
For the records, it is indeed surprising to see that this is an airline that has already been indicted by the investigations conducted into the crash, which showed that there were pre-existing safety issues with the doomed McDonnell Douglas MD-83 plane which first flew in 1990. Assuming we choose to ignore the history of the plane while in use at Alaskan Airlines where several near mishaps caused the plane to be grounded, and then assume that Dana Air took diligent steps to ensure that the plane bought from Alaskan Airlines in 2008 was airworthy before it was allowed into service in Nigeria, it still remains pertinent to ask why were there reports of safety issues while the plane was being used in Nigeria?
If the Minister of Aviation is saying that suspension was done in error, what does she make of this report by Channels TV Monday morning a day after the Dana Crash on Sunday 3rd June 2012? What happened to the report monitored on Channel’s TV on Monday morning which indicated that the management was informed that the plane developed a fault shortly after it left Lagos and stopped over in Calabar? According to the Dana Air staff, who spoke under cover, “instead of sending the aircraft back to Lagos for repairs, the owners decided that it should go ahead to Abuja to pick passengers.” The lady also stated that in the recent past, the plane had a number of problems with its hydraulics.
The official said “the plane has been having faults for a very long time. There was a case when it was on ground in Uyo for over six hours because some delicate issues that had to do with its functions. And then in Abuja it happened a few days ago, then some people went with the aircraft but they could not come back, because it had a fault there and it couldn’t leave Abuja.”
Speaking further, the official said “(the aircraft) was not supposed to leave Lagos at all, but it left and then got to Calabar, gave fault and it was fixed and then they took it to Abuja, when they should have returned to Lagos but because they didn’t want to part with the little money they will make, they took it to Abuja, loaded full passengers, and then it couldn’t get to Lagos. It has been having faults over time, continuously, hydraulics or one thing or the other. That aircraft kept having problems and they were not ready to park it” she stated.
Moreover there is more to this than meets the eye as just few days before the suspension of the airline’s licence was reversed, the management of Dana Air had began campaigning and appealing to government and the aviation authorities to lift the suspension. So the question which this paper and every other reasonable Nigerian is asking remains, what is the implication of this? The answer is this; it means that Dana Air has been given a clean bill of health to resume commercial flight operations, subject to a final clearance by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
However, it is pertinent to ask these questions; why the hurry to re-admit Dana Air into Nigerian airspace even when many bereaved families are yet to get over the trauma occasioned by the death of their loved ones? Why also the lift of the suspension when the technical and administrative panel set up by government headed by Capt John Obakpolor (rtd) is yet to present its report?
With this act by the Nigerian government, one will be quick to point out that the much-needed confidence that the aviation sector is in dire need of, cannot be restored in a hurry. A lot of Nigerians including stakeholders in the aviation sector believe that the way and manner this lifting of the Dana suspension was executed was indeed untidy and shabby. For instance, the Obakpolor led nine – member probe panel was mandated to, among other things, assess the effectiveness of the regulatory authority in ensuring compliance with safety standards and to examine the management practices and safety culture of domestic scheduled carriers and make far reaching recommendations.
The panel is far from concluding its work before government took the sails out of its investigation. Many concerned Nigerians believe that government’s decision may have prematurely terminated all investigations into the ill-fated crash and even as we see it as a disservice to the memories of those who perished in the crash. A lot of salient points raised during the Dana air crash may come to a close due to the sudden return of Dana air. What is seen here is that the government has sacrificed safety at the expense of extenuating factors such as employment opportunities which Dana Air is said to have offered some Nigerians. However, we ask the following questions: How many high level personnel of Dana Airline were subpoenaed to provide answers to the lack of routine maintenance and hence the airworthiness of the doomed aircraft? To lift the suspension on Dana Airline’s operating license does it not remind Nigerians how the Nigerian government wantonly risks the lives of Nigerians with impunity?
Every day, we see old and retired aircrafts always finding their ways to Africa and Nigeria in particular. These junk aircrafts are meant for the scrap yards in Western Countries but they end up back in the hands of shady business operators. Nigeria has had so many air-mishaps and we hear nothing about the findings from the investigations.
It always seems to us that monies change hands amongst criminals in government and the lives of Nigerians are sacrificed and deemed worthless.
We do concur with the victims of the crash, who claim that their agony has been worsened by the fact that the government restored Dana’s licence even when investigations into the crash are yet to be completed and the remains of some of the deceased yet to be buried. To them, Dana Air, which they accused of negligence, should not be allowed to fly any of its aircrafts in the Nigerian airspace ever again.
It is now obvious that impunity in Nigeria is assuming a morbid form because as some families are yet to bury their loved ones killed in the Dana air crash, the government returned the suspended operation licence to the airline. More so, where are all the reports on the aircrafts that have crashed? The plane was sold to Dana Airlines in February, 2009 by Alaskan Airlines. Checks from the Aviation Safety Network revealed that that particular plane, an MD-83, was manufactured in 1983 and it had its maiden flight on December 17, 1984. Alaskan Airline bought the plane on 13th November, 1990 and it had the registration number N944AS.
If all these issues don’t make sense to the Aviation Minister, who said that the suspension was given in error, then we see that the Nigerian government doesn’t value the lives of its citizens. The unbanning of the airline is an affront to the people’s will and we condemn it in its totality.
We are however shocked how the Federal Government could within three months, even without concluding preliminary investigations, lift the suspension placed on the airline. The same government that stated in one breath that the preliminary reports on the crash show that the crashed plane lost its two engines, now in a shocking move, says it has conducted a rigorous technical, operational and financial audit of Dana Airline and found it to be airworthy. If Dana Airline was airworthy, why then did it lose two engines during the June 3, 2012 flight?
There is no way the government can convince the people that it has their interests at heart after this debacle, because even as it hurries to vindicate Dana Air, some families who lost their loved ones are yet to be given the money promised to them. In saner societies, Dana Air and its management would have had a lot to answer, but this is Nigeria where anything goes. After all, this is a country where the regulating body of telecoms operations is hapless to defend the people against high tariffs because some of its officials enjoy free rolls of recharge cards. A country where legislators cannot query the substandard services provided to its citizens because they enjoy freebies from corrupt foreign companies.
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