Nigeria

 

Even for a country in continuous turmoil as ours, the past one month must pass as hellish. Early in June, a Dana Plane filled to the last seat plunged into a crowded Lagos suburb, killing all 153 on board and a yet to be correctly stated number of casualties on the ground. This country reeled in pain and anger but down did it not go.

June was the stated deadline for government’s victory over the Boko Haram and this was stated by the Commander-in-Chief Goodluck Jonathan. When, and if they are to do the math, the authorities will find out that the Boko Haram bombed more cities and more Churches in the last one month than they did since they launched their deadly campaign back in 2009.

On days when it rains in abundance, the nation’s old capital city feels it and the destruction is different from other days. In June, Lagos got more rains than any other city. These rains have descended like a boom from nature. Thousands have gone without shelter or food or medicines. Lives and property are being lost.

The President’s media chat was, to put it mildly, the worst disaster that can befall an incumbent. When he featured in the latest edition, the President made a number of things very clear. On the issue of war on corruption, there is no dilly-dallying about his commitment or the lack of it anymore. He said he will not be in front leading this war but would direct the war from the rear. As regards the declaration of assets, “I don’t give a damn about that” he said. “I won’t declare my assets. You can criticize me from heaven, you can criticize from head to toe, I won’t.” That media chat has done him enough damage, a few of them irreversible.

Then there was the saga of Farouk Lawan and the oil magnate Femi Otedola, followed by the landmark ruling of the High Court that the Parliament must disclose the earnings of legislators’ a la Freedom of Information Act (FOI). Following this victory, we won’t accept anything short of full disclosure, which much include the cost of their villas in Abuja, Police Security in the Federal Capital City and back at their homes; free water and electricity, subsidized food of parliament, free services of secretaries, free hotel/guest houses accommodation, free air travel and frequent foreign travels, all of these at the expense of the public.

The one I want to dwell upon is the Dana Air Crash. Today we are into the fifth week of that place crash. It is difficult to imagine how families of those killed in that crash are coping with the stress and agony of endlessly waiting for body parts to bury. It is definitely an awkward situation that they are in.

The Government of Lagos State Babatunde Fashola sought an easy way out for everyone when he invited the families to a meeting and offered a mass burial as an option. The families demanded a DNA test for a clear and scientific identification of each corps or body part as the case may be. A majority of them insisted that they wished to bury their family members individually. The promise by Governor Fashola to undertake the DNA test and return the bodies to family members in two weeks is yet to materialize.

Mr. Fashola is a torch-bearer who walked his talk and in all fairness, he had foreseen this and advised grieving family relations to accept their fate and allow the mass burial after a joint inter-religious service. For the fifth week running, the remains of victims of that air crash continue to decompose. They have become yet another symbol of Nigeria’s hapless citizen at the mercy of incompetent and indifferent regulatory authorities. The Dana Plane in question had been in a state of disrepair, triggering numerous incidents that did not escape the attention of passengers. The Governor of Akwa-Ibom State was so concerned that he wrote to the airline’s management. But nothing happened.

Bureaucrats in the country have enormous powers to curb these incidents but they would rather use their powers to enrich themselves. The Federal Civil Aviation Authority, FCAA for instance has magisterial powers to ensure that only sound aircraft fly the airspace. The law gives them clear mandate to take any necessary action to protect the lives of our people but do they care? What does the white elephant called the Ministry of Aviation do? I have respect for the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA but my question for them is a simple one. Why would everyone in that plane perish before help could reach them? When is there going to be a competent search and rescue capability available to Nigeria?

Many of the so-called experts managing our aviation agencies appeared evasive when they were asked direct and specific questions when they appeared before the Senate and House of Representatives Joint Aviation Committee. Captain Daniel Omale, a former pilot and a columnist with the Leadership newspaper, encapsulated the irony of our situation which was described as “many experts, little knowledge.”

Findings of past air disasters, especially in 2005 and 2006, which witnessed high fatalities are unknown to the general public. Investigations are bound to unravel the causes of accidents with a view to preventing future occurrences. When reports of accidents are shrouded in secrecy, how do you effectively punish criminal negligence or rigidly enforce safety regulations in accordance with international standards? Have we learnt any lessons? The evasive responses of the “experts” from many departments of the Aviation Ministry confirm the fact that ours is a system run on deceit. Air safety goes beyond sugar-coated assurances and lip service.

As for Governor Fashola, my best advice, out of conviction, is to reconvene the stakeholders meeting once again and push for the mass burial. This agonizing wait should end now and life, as they say, must go on for the victims’ families.