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Presidential audit panel: for already wasted lives?

by Business News Report

By Omoh Gabriel

The federal government in its reaction to the plane crash two Sundays ago has set up a panel to conduct an audit of the airlines in the country. The audit panel has six months to do its work and submit its findings to government. Nigeria government is known for reacting to situations instead of being proactive.
The audit panel is coming too late after the nation was needlessly plunged into mourning by allowing mindless companies to operate airlines with “molue” kind of aircrafts. Nigerians who live in Lagos and Ibadan have experience of what molues are. They are ramshackle vehicles with mindless drivers. Many operate with expired tires; no traficators, headlights, unserviceable engines and they could enter the road at will not minding the safety of their passengers and other road users.

Several times in Lagos, these “molues” with several passengers on board have plunged into the Lagoon with all passengers drowning. Each time it happened, there will be weeping, condolences, and a promise by government to do something about them. Nobody ever did. “Molue” on Nigerian roads are phasing out, not as a result of government policy but because Lagosians have found a better alternative of land transportation. Today “Molues” are now in the Nigerian airspace. Most of the aircrafts in Nigeria air space are no better than “molue”.

The aircrafts are old, the engines are unserviceable, yet they are allowed to fly the Nigerian air space. Will the panel set up by this government bring back the lives of the 153 persons who perished in that aircraft? What succor will it bring to the families of the bereaved? Dana plane, a Boeing McDonnell Douglas 83 with registration number 5N-RAM, crashed into a building at the densely populated Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos, less than two minutes to touchdown. One hundred and fifty-three people perished in the tragedy. This is excluding those who were killed in their homes where the aircraft plunged into. The crash happened less than 24 hours after a Nigerian cargo plane crashed into a passenger bus in Accra, Ghana, killing 10 people.

Is Dana crash the first in the history of Nigeria civil aviation? Certainly not! In all the previous ones, investigations were carried out and after the mourning period, the system goes back to status quo. Nothing else caused this disaster but corruption. Those charged with the responsibility of ensuring safety in the air space have sold their conscience for peanuts. They prefer to sacrifice the lives of Nigerians for peanuts, by collecting gifts, free tickets and bribe and look the other way when operators are doing the wrong thing.

A lot has been revealed since the crash. Why must the government wait for the worst to happen before acting? Why must we wait till things go bad before we act right? Why should we watch things go this wrong, all because of corruption? The owners of Dana airline are three Indian brothers who had been previously extradited from Nigeria for fraudulent practices. The crashed plane was said to be a faulty plane known to both the owners and operators. The said plane is about 22 years old acquired some five years ago from US when Dana Company floated an air line. The Aviation Ministry is said to be in the know of its deplorable condition and said it gave a warning. After the crash, everyone is talking; Dana Staff are speaking about how the owners insisted that the pilot should fly. Governor Akpabio was talking about his warning to the airline after the plane experienced failure the week before the crash.

Where were the officials of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and other relevant agencies that should have arrested the situation? It is common knowledge in the aviation industry that operators are becoming very few and are cutting corners. Pilots are given definite instructions, ‘if you have a snag in an aero plane, do not put it on your technical logbook, write it on a piece of paper, when you land, give it to the engineer.’ Will the federal authority say they are not aware of this development- that it is the airline engineers on ground that determines the fitness of a plane to fly? According to airline operators, if the engineer is able to fix a reported snag handed over to him by a pilot, good; if he is unable to fix the snag, the aero plane goes into service because there will be no evidence in the check log. The check log is the book that shows record of complaints made by pilots, but in the Nigerian aviation setting today, such a report will not be found. What then will this audit panel do? Pass a clean bill of health on Dana airline?

Before this latest accident, the country had experienced a series of air disasters in the recent past. On May 4, 2002, for instance, an EAS Airline’s BAC 1-11-500 crashed into a poor, densely populated suburb of Kano. It burst into flames, killing 148 people – 76 on board and 72 on the ground. In 2005 alone, two major disasters occurred. On October 22 of that year, a Bellview Airline’s Boeing 737 crashed soon after take-off from Lagos, killing 117 people on board. On December 10, 2005, a Sosoliso Airline’s DC-9 crashed in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, killing 103 people, most of whom were school children. The nation had yet to overcome this tragedy when an Aviation Development Company Airline’s Boeing 737 also crashed shortly after take-off from Abuja, killing 104 people on board, including the then Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Maccido. This happened on October 29, 2006.

This particular plane that crashed last two Sunday is alleged to be over 22 years. Though the management of the airline claimed that the plane was in good condition, it is imperative to note that the former Minister of Aviation, Kema Chikwe, had directed, after the Kano crash of 2002, that no plane aged over 22 years should fly in Nigeria airspace. The management of the airline, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, Ministry of Aviation officials and the Minister of Aviation have a lot of explanations to make. Nigerians are waiting.

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