Tears in heaven By Ose Oyamendan

Would you know my name

If I saw you in heaven?

Would it be the same

                                                                  If I saw you in heaven?”

You can say the Nigerian nation has been crying since last Sunday and you won’t be wrong. The tears may not be visible on their faces but their souls are flooded with tears. How can you not cry when a big, metal bird fell from the skies, killing scores of people?

How can you not cry when you know it’s a disaster that could have been avoided? How does your soul rest when over two hundred souls are flying into heaven? How do you shake Eric Clapton’s song from your head when you know life, death and hope are intertwined in it?”

“I’ll find my way

Through night and day

‘Cause I know I just can’t stay

Here in heaven”

You reach into the hearts of the relatives of the victims of the Dana Air Crash and you know there’s one thing on their minds? Why? 

Nigeria is one of the few places in the world where the skies are littered with flying coffins. The government doesn’t seem to care because if you’re somebody in Nigeria, you fly your own private jet. And, those in charge sometimes are like comedians at a wake. Or, how do you explain the Aviation minister appearing to initially disclaim the fact that the plane crashed because its engines packed up mid-air?

Travelling by air in Nigeria is always an adventure. Sometimes, you hear strange sounds where there should be quiet. The airlines cancel flights at whim minutes before departure. The airline counters at the airports resemble a bus stop at rush hour. The Aviation ministry is so toothless they can’t even regulate the industry, airlines laugh off their fines.

“Time can bring you down

Time can bend your knees

Time can break your heart

Have you begging please

Begging please”

The government once realized that the airspace is packed with Tokunbo planes and made a laudable policy to forbid airlines from acquiring aircrafts older than twenty-two years. But, the airlines soon found a way around that. They snuck in airplanes days and weeks before the set deadline. 

In most countries with oversight, the government would have modified the law and make sure the airspace is safe. But, this is Nigeria. The lawmakers are also the lawbreakers. The boards of directors of airline companies are littered with ex-government officials, their friends and relatives.

Why on earth was a plane like the crashed Dana Air plane in the skies? In most countries, a plane with a fraction of the technical fault it had and with that many red flags would have been retired. But, the airline decided to play a game of Russian roulette with innocent lives, hoping against hope that they would make a few more bucks.

And, how does the Nigerian leadership mourn the dead? By instructing or encouraging the ministers to wear black attire to the Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday? A noble gesture, no doubt. But, a nobler gesture would have been a plan to stem all types of preventable accidents in a Nigeria where life has become very cheap.

Air accidents are tragic, wrapping a country in a cloud of grief. It also helps that the elite and the rich fly in the skies. The poor ride on the roads where more people die every week than die in a plane crash every decade. A plan from the FEC planning an end to the carnage of the roads, air and Boko Haram would have been stronger than a show of black fashion.

At least the ministers made an attempt at public mourning. What do you say about Sule Lamido, the Central Bank’s governor, and his colorful turban ceremony a few days after some of his staff died in the crash? You wonder what those staff are thinking in heaven. In most cultures, the dead are mourned for at least seven days. You wonder if the party in Kano was Lamido’s own unique way of mourning his departed staff?

“Beyond the door

There’s peace, I’m sure

And I know there’ll be no more

Tears in heaven”

It’s a great start for the Senate to ban Dana Airlines, or is the word suspension, which means they’ll be flying again in a few months with re-painted airborne coffins? But, the Senate and indeed the presidency must go farther. They need to genuinely inspect every aircraft in the country. They need to get buses on the roads and trains on the track. Nigeria needs roads that are not expressways to the grave. Good roads take the weight of airlines.

I wish you can send e-mails to heaven because God knows I would like to write one now. It would be great to tell my old teacher, Levi Ajuonoma, that I’m sorry I never made a better effort to get through after meeting him after a long time some months ago in New York and promising to call. Goodbye, friend, teacher and an inspiration to a lot of people.


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