A pall of sorrow, tears and grief descended on the entire country last Thursday. This was triggered by the unfortunate death of 13 people on board a chartered aircraft which was carrying the body of Olusegun Agagu, former governor of Ondo State, to Akure, the Ondo State capital, for his burial ceremony.
The aircraft crashed a few minutes after take-off from the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. Apart from the 13 victims, seven other passengers of the ill-fated aircraft who sustained injuries, including Feyisaye Agagu, the son of the late governor, were rushed to various hospitals in Lagos for treatment. One of them later died bringing the total death toll to 14.
Reports have it that the crash afforded some bad boys and hoodlums the opportunity to prey on the victims of the disaster.
This group, comprising mainly youths from Mafoluku area of Lagos where the crash occurred and their accomplices from nearby Nigerian Aviation Handling Company, NAHCO, motor park, were the first to arrive at the scene of disaster. As soon as they got there, they turned the whole arena into a stealing spree. They battled with the thick smoke that bellowed from the wreckage, with the ulterior motive of stealing from the victims while pretending to be on a rescue mission. It was as if the unfortunate incident provided them with the needed opportunity for self-enrichment.
This group successfully robbed the victims dry. The boys simply picked any item they could find around like phones, laptops, handbags and money. A guy was said to have started it all. In an attempt to rescue the injured pilot, the guy stumbled on his laptop and picked it. That degenerated into a frenzy as others started looking for what to steal.
In the melee that followed, the whole place erupted in fisticuffs as the boys fought one another over who should own what. While this ugly scene was going on, the victims were left burning inside the aircraft until fire-fighters and the police came and disperse everybody.
That was not the first time an incident of this nature happened in the country. On October 22, 2005, when a twin Engine Boeing 737 belonging to Bellview Airline crashed at Lisa Village, Ogun State, killing all the 117 passengers on board, rescuers who thronged the scene literally stole the victims blind.
Many of the youths within the vicinity of the crash, were said to have made bountiful harvest from stealing money and other valuables from the victims. Most of them were said to have used the proceeds from the satanic act to buy motorcycles, popularly called okada, which they converted to means of transport for commuters.
Such immoral behaviours are common scenes at accident spots all over the country, including scenes of fire disasters and collapsed buildings. While the victims of such unfortunate incident ruminate over their losses, majority of those who come around pretending to be pacifying them, often turn the place to an opportunity to loot and steal whatever they could lay their hands on. This bad behaviour is not limited to hoodlums alone as law enforcement officers and other government officials are known to engage in such nauseating acts.
By and large, it goes to show the incalculable damage our value system has suffered in this country in recent times. Today, if your car is stuck in the mud or on a sandy terrain which are the hallmarks of some of our roads, you dare not beckon on people around, whether youths or adults, to help free your car from the trap. If you do so, you should be prepared to part with some hard-earned money as compensation for these commercial sympathisers. All is about money and nothing else. This is dangerous to the future of our youths and the future of the country as a whole.
It is a pity that nobody, not even the elders of our society or even the government at whatever level, is paying any attention whatsoever to this irritating attitude that has gained currency over the years. If all people think about anywhere they are is how to make money by all possible means, whether fair or foul, to the extent of even robbing the dead, then, there is no other way to explain it than to say that we are a cursed people. I have no apology for that.
However, the news of the crash has continued to grip the whole country with fear and trepidation. It was one crash too many.
Since 1969, the country has witnessed more than 40 air crashes and close to 1,000 deaths in the history of its aviation industry. On November 20, 1969, a Nigeria Airways BAC VC10 from London crashed on landing in Lagos, killing 87 people on board. This was followed by another one on January 22, 1973, when a Royal Jordanian Airlines Flight 707, carrying 171 Nigerian Muslims returning from Mecca and five crewmen, crashed in Kano, killing all on board. Since then, it has been a litany of crashes culminating in the Sunday, June 3, 2012 air crash involving a Dana Airlines Flight 9J 992 with 153 passengers on board.
Four months after, precisely on October 25, 2012, Danbaba Suntai, the governor of Taraba State, and five of his aides narrowly escaped death when a Cessna 208 aircraft piloted by Suntai crashed into a hill in Adamawa State. On December 15, 2012, the nation was again thrown into mourning with the news of the death of Patrick Yakowa, who was then the Governor of Kaduna State, and General Andrew Owoye Azazi (rtd), former National Security Adviser to the President. A total of six persons were burnt in the helicopter crash which occurred in the forest of Okoroba community in Nembe local government of Bayelsa State.
From all indication, it is as if the nation has not seen the last of these unfortunate air crashes that have kept on occurring every now and then. With the frequency of air crashes in the country, one might be correct to conclude that Nigeria ranks highest among African countries or developing countries with the highest prevalence of air crashes in the world.
Speaking at an aviation forum in Lagos recently, Tony Tyler, the Director-General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), disclosed that 50 per cent of global plane crashes in 2012 occurred in Africa. According to him, African airlines recorded one accident for every 270, 000 flights for 2012, while the industry average was one accident for about 5, 000,000 flights.
Tyler, who described the figure as shocking, therefore urged African governments to invest in safety, infrastructure and capacity building for the personnel working in the aviation sector.
The Civil Aviation Act, which was passed into law in 2006, sufficiently empowered the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, to effectively regulate the operations of airlines and ensure that they adhere strictly to the rules.
But some airline owners have been accused of disobeying the same rules. Most of the airlines operating in the country are believed to be in the habit of skipping maintenance checks. They are possibly aided by some unscrupulous officials of the regulatory bodies who either allow them to postpone the checks or settle for below-the-level types for pecuniary gains.
However, the latest plane crash raises a question about the implementation of the recommendations of a report on the causes of plane crashes believed to have been submitted to the federal government by the Accident Investigation Bureau a long time ago. Perhaps, if the government and relevant aviation authorities had promptly acted on the content of the report, it is possible that last Thursday’s incident could have been averted.
It is high time airline operators in Nigeria noted that the safety of the flying public is first and foremost dependent on the proper functioning of the aircraft and its components. Maintenance plays such a crucial role in flight safety and it is the responsibility of the aircraft owners or operators to ensure that the aircraft in their fleet are properly maintained.
‘If all people think about anywhere they are is how to make money by all possible means, whether fair or foul, to the extent of even robbing the dead, then, there is no other way to explain it than to say that we are a cursed people’