Kano - A Tragedy That Was Waiting To Happen
Mobolaji E. Aluko, Ph.D.
Tuesday, May 07, 2002
IN MEMORY OF THE DEAD IN KANO’S AIR DISASTER MAY 4, 2002
First a plane crash with hundreds of fatalities, then an aborted plane flight (with no fatalities) due to fire on board - both in Kano, within days of each other: the first, May 4, the second May 7, 2002!
When it rains, it pours!
On Saturday, May 4, 2002, at about
1:30 pm local time
, an Executive Air Services British Aerospace [EAS Airlines BAC 1-11-500 twin-engined jet crashed upon take-off from Kano International airport, killing 75
and crew on board as well almost 70 more on the ground into whose houses the plane had crashed. Four survivors (3 passengers and one crewman) were reported. One prominent victim was Sports Minister Mark Ishaya Aku. From the flight manifest released, five families lost two members each - the
Usenis (wife Julie and son Danjuma of former FCT minister General Jerry Useni), the Eichholzs mother and child, the Alabas father and son, the two brothers Jafere S. and S. and the (French) Seyrats husband Pierre-Olivier and wife Aurelie. More families must have lost loved ones on the ground.
According to reports, Nigeria’s last major air disaster was in November 1996 when a Boeing 727 operated by ADC airlines lost control on its descent into Lagos airport and crashed, killing 143 people on board. Since then, a series of more minor ‘accidents’ has killed eight people. Consequently, this was the first major air tragedy
of this civilian regime (since May 29, 1999)
Furthermore, this is the second major tragedy this year (after the Ikeja Cantonment bombs and related drownings in Lagos canals), and has resulted in the tragic death of a second current minister (after Chief Bola Ige in December 2001). When to the above facts we add the deaths at Zakin Biam and Gbeji, Odi and Jesse, coupled with riots in Kaduna, Jos, Ife-Modakeke and Warri
environs, quite a lot of Nigerian blood has found its way in an untimely manner onto our soil during this civilian regime.
Too much blood.
“BOLEKAJA” MACHINES, MAINTENANCE CULTURE & FIRE-FIGHTING FACILITIES
There is danger every time one embarks on a journey: whether you walk, ride in or drive a car, take a train. However crashes in these ground-based travel modes are eminently survivable. Not so with planes, which, for me, despite my scientific and engineering background, still cause me to marvel on every occasion,
how planes take off and lands. I still marvel that planes don’t crash the more. They carry with them so much mass, with so many living, breathing people keeping the faith that their Maker is not about to meet them just yet.
But sometimes He chooses to – like for those who died May 4. When a plane convulses and falls to the ground, that margin to delay that meeting is next to nil. It is therefore miraculous that there were four survivors on that plane crash.
However, what happens when perhaps old age of aircraft, a poor maintenance record of machine, and incompetent (or inadequately-trained) pilots “collide” with respect to monstrous flying machines? Can we afford to continue to have “Bolekaja” planes? What happens when a fire accident that happens on the ground
cannot be quickly combated by efficient fire-fighting service?
What we get is heightened probability of plane crashes and preventable deaths, what we get probably is Kano - two times within almost as many days!
I write "probably" because the full investigation is yet to be carried out, but I daresay that I am probably right 75-90% with respect to old age. As far as BAC One-Eleven aircrafts are concerned, their first flights were in 1963 (39 years ago), and 245 such planes have been produced. However, production ended in 1982, meaning that the AES plane
that crashed in Kano was at least 20 years old. Besides, that was the seventh major - and most fatal - lost-hull incident involving the BAC One-Eleven since 1989:
1 September, 1989 Port Harcourt Okada
Airlines 0 (92)
26 June, 1991 Sokoto Okada
Airlines 3 (55)
16 September, 1991 Port Harcourt Kabo Airlines 0
23 August, 1992 Sokoto
Kabo Airlines 0 (57)
29 August, 1992 Kaduna
Hold Trade Airlines 0 (72)
29 July, 1997 Calabar
ADC Airlines 1 (55)
4 May, 2002 Kano
EAS Airline 73 (79)
Aviation Safety Network
Nigeria air safety profile
BAC One-Eleven safety profile
A quick digression: On my last trip to Nigeria in March 2002, I once saw along a major Lagos street about thirty human beings, young men all, high atop a lorry travelling in from Northern Nigeria, young men probably all headed to Idi-Araba or to Mushin or to some other Lagos Sabo joint. They were all covered with
dust – and precarioulsy seated on ledges atop the lorry. I thought to myself that were this lorry to have an accident, every last one of them would be dead instantly, that animals should not be transported in this fashion, that this lorry should not have been allowed to go a one-mile distance before being turned back by a more caring law-enforcement regime.
It was scandalous. Wallai tallahi, we need to be more life-sensitive in Nigeria.
A POLITICAL DIMENSION
One of my very first thoughts upon hearing about the tragedy was President Obasanjo’s whereabouts: which of course I knew was somewhere in southern Africa, between Angola, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa. Would he cut short his eighty-something-eth trip or would NEPAD take priority over Kano?
So you can imagine the welcome relief when the news was reported that he cut short his foreign trip, returned Sunday to take charge of the situation rather than go on to Mozambique and South Africa , addressed the nation, visited Kano (to the crash site and the Emir) and Jos (to visit late Minister Aku’s bereaved family) on Monday May 6 without much
controversy, and donated N10 million on behalf of the Federal government with a promise to rebuild damaged homes. Some complaint that the visit to the site was too short is certainly better than it was long and resulted in controversy and stone- and insult-throwing.
It appears that the Lagos-Ikeja Explosions Tragedy of January 27, 2002 has sensitized us all a bit more to tragedy at home.
It may sound politically incorrect to discuss it at this time, but there are political dimensions to the story: first, the unfortunate incident gives Obasanjo, as a civilian president , a third opportunity to do a thorough investigation of a major tragedy and report it to the nation in a manner to prevent its recurrence.
We are yet to get reports of the Ikeja explosions investigation, or of the murky Bola Ige assassination. Secondly, the death of another one of his ministers – Mark Aku from Plateau State – as well as Brigadier General N.T.H. Bozegha (Commanding Officer, 3 Division Medical Centre, Jos)
in this plane crash also should wonderfully concentrate the president’s mind, that if indeed this crash is a result of lax safety standards, then this particular kind of death is a no respecter of persons. Thirdly, we also have an incumbent president seeking a re-election mandate from his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who has now been given an opportunity to demonstrate compassion, concern and positive action to salve the
unfortunate circumstances of his Northern opponents. This is in the face of serious and increasingly loud opposition from the Northern establishment, as for example embodied in the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and presidential hopefuls General Muhammadu Buhari and Ahaji Abubakar Rimi, a former governor of Kano State – or of Alhaji Wada Nas.
It is arguable who exactly benefits more from a more politic and successful response this time around – whether the Nigerian state or the president himself - but certainly he should take heed of this new opportunity, if only for his own good.
“Nuff said about politics, as we turn to how to prevent this tragedy from recurring – or at least put as much time distance as possible between this and the next one.
WHAT TO DO?
Political will must here merge with technical imperatives to snatch the victory of societal advancement from the jaws of this particular tragic failure. We must demand:
1. PUBLIC investigation of the specific circumstances of this particular flight: for example, the aircraft’s maintenance record, the competence of its pilots, etc. If in fact former Vice-President Chief Ekwueme was “miraculously” called by phone away from the flight from Kano to
Lagos after boarding in Jos – as one report has it – was this happy occurrence (for Chief Ekwueme) fortuitous or did somebody know something that the rest of the world did not know? If so, when did he know it? Was there any insistence from any official quarters for this particular flight to take off, despite concerns for its safety? No matter its sensitivity, the investigations must start with these three questions.
2. That ALL private airplanes on domestic commercial flights be grounded until they disclose the professional training records of their pilots and the maintenance records of all their planes. They should remain grounded until these records are brought up to date with international
standards. When it comes to air travel, there can be no lowering of such standards – no “this na Nigeria; make we manage am so!” - because the consequences are too grave.
3. A blue-print for fire-fighting in Nigeria: purchase and deployment (by population density and/or area) of fire-fighting equipments, and training of fire-fighting personnel in all airports AND cities across the nation must be embarked upon
without further delay. With four survivors and reports of some victims screaming for help without succour from within the plane, it appears that more people would have been saved if fire-fighting equipments were adequate – including the availability of fire-dousing water.
4. An air flight re-routing at all airports that directs flight paths AWAY from heavily-populated residential centers to prevent a situation where so many people on the ground can die from a plane crash that occurred within minutes of take-off. This is similar to the demand
whereby army munition dumps should be relocated away from high-density population centers.
All these demands point to one thing: that Nigerian lives must not be taken lightly by either government authorities or commercial entities who are ever ready to cut corners, and exhibit an arrogance that nothing might come out of it if Nigerian lives are seriously compromised. In more litigious climes with more independent judiciaries, law suits would have shut down many of the domestic airlines – and many government concerns too - long before
POST-SCRIPT: A CALL FOR ASSISTANCE
This is getting uncomfortably too familiar, but as with the Ikeja Explosion, Relief Fund, it is completely apropos for the same organizations to collect and disburse funds to assist the Kano air disaster victims, particularly those whose buildings were demolished. Consequently, you can again send your tax-deductible donations in check, cashier's cheque or money order:
The Nigerian Democratic Movement (NDM)
C/o ECANN P.O. Box 43531
Washington, DC 20010, USA
Memo: Kano/Nigeria Relief Fund [NDM will receive donations until May 31, 2002]
And/or the newly-set up relief fund at:
American Red Cross
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, DC 20013
Telephone: 202/639-3520 (Office of Public Enquiry) or
Memo: Kano/Nigeria Relief Fund
(Please be specific to avoid confusion with other relief fund accounts)
Aku, Useni's wife 78 others killed in plane crash
10 homes, 2 mosques destroyed; ground casualties unknown
Sunday5th May, 2002
By Nathaniel Ikyur & ALBERT AKPOR
ANOTHER sad chapter in the nation’s aviation history was recorded yesterday when about 130 people were feared killed after an aircraft, on a domestic flight, crashed into residential buildings shortly after taking off from Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano.
Reports claimed Sports Minister, Mr. Ishaya Mark Aku and wife of former Federal Capital Territory Minister, Lt-General Jeremiah Useni (rtd) were among victims of the crash which occurred about three minutes after the ill-fated aircraft took off from the Kano airport.
The breakdown of victims showed that 80 persons — 70 passengers and 10 crew members — were on board the aircraft while at least 50 were residents on ground.
10 residential buildings, including two mosques and two schools into which the aircraft crashed, collapsed.
At press time, officials of Executive Airlines Service (EAS) which operated the ill-fated flight confirmed two survivors.
The two survivors were described as a lady crew member and an unidentified passenger.
The aircraft crashed at about 1:30 p.m. into the highly populated civilian residential area at Yan Kosai Line in Gwammaja Quarters in Dala Local Government Area, close to the Kano airport.
The aircraft on Lagos-Jos-Kano-Lagos round trip, said to have been piloted by one Captain Ena, according to reports, had just taken-off from MAKIA after picking some 22 passengers when one of the engines caught fire.
Reports said the plane then went down and burst into a huge fire. Eyewitnesses spoke of a ball of fire and thick smoke rising from the area, moments after the crash.
Fire fighters from the state fire service and those of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) were dispatched to the area to put it out.
The crash site was cordoned off by security agents late yesterday as rescue operations continued. However, correspondents who visited the area said corpses of dead residents were still being removed from the debris of the collapsed buildings affected by the crash last night.
They claimed that the death toll in one of the collapsed buildings was high as it was playing host too a naming ceremony when the plane plunged into it.
Residents were quoted as saying a local government councillor, attending the ceremony, was one of the residents killed.
Bodies of dead victims were being deposited at the Murtala Muhammed Hospital, Kano, yesterday evening while survivors were being treated at the emergency department of the same hospital.
The manifest of the flight was not available as at last night.
But EAS spokesman, Idris Adama, told Sunday Vanguard on telephone that the Sports Minister and Useni’s wife were among the crash victims.
"From the information I have now, the Minister of Sports and General Jeremiah Useni’s wife were on board the aircraft. There are other prominent Nigerians also on board. But I have not ascertained their identity", Adama said.
The Sports Minister was said to be on his way from Jos to Lagos to watch the friendly match between the Super Eagles and Harambe Stars of Kenya.
EAS operates a fleet of four British Aerospace 1-11-500 twin engine passenger jets, carrying up to 96 passengers plus crew. More than half a dozen privately owned airlines operate at airports around Nigeria.
Safety standards in the country have been widely criticised by air travellers, and some foreign embassies forbid their staff from flying with some of the firms.
Nigeria’s last major air disaster was in November 1996 when a Boeing 727 operated by ADC airlines lost control on its descent into Lagos airport and crashed, killing 143 people on board. Since then, a series of more minor ‘accidents’ has killed eight people.
NIGERIA-CRASH from AFP / Aminu Abubakar
Nigerians bury air crash dead in mass grave
Mon, 6 May 2002 16:36:02 PDT
KANO, Nigeria, May 6 (AFP) - The grieving families of Kano buried their dead Monday, consigning many to a mass grave two days after an airliner crashed into the northern Nigerian city, flattening homes and killing 149 people.
Many of the dead were burned beyond recognition in the disaster and could not be claimed by their families, forcing the city to take emergency measures to prevent the spread of disease.
"The government delayed the burial for as long as possible," said Ibrahim Ado, spokesman for the governor of Kano state Musa Kwankwaso. "But we could wait no longer because the bodies are decomposing."
Of the dead brought to Kano's hospitals, 66 were unclaimed on Monday. Ten were held back because relatives had identified but not collected them, but 56 remained anonymous, Tahar Adamu, the governor's religious adviser told AFP.
Ahead of the burial hundreds grieving relatives, some sobbing uncontrollably, gathered in front of the palace of Emir Ado Bayero, Kano's traditional ruler, for the Muslim prayer ceremony.
"I have lost everything I suffered for," said Alhaji Malamai, a young textiles trader who blinked back tears as he told how his wife and child had been buried beneath the rubble of his shattered house.
Six trucks brought the dead from the nearby Murtala Mohammed hospital wrapped in white shrouds.
At the cemetery the dead were lowered into two freshly dug trenches, laid down side by side and covered in Kano's baked dusty earth. A sombre crowd looked on.
"May God give them eternal rest and forgive them their sins. I feel for them like for my own relations. This has been a catastrophe," murmured 32-year-old Muhmad Mustapha as the crowd dispersed into the twilight.
A stench of death hung over the hospital, where earlier families and reporters had seen mangled, blackened bodies -- many of them children -- lying in the morgue.
During the day the rescue operation had ended and one more body had been found, bringing the final death toll from Saturday's tragedy to 149, Patrick Bawa of the Nigerian Red Cross said.
Earlier President Olusegun Obasanjo had made a brief early morning visit to the scene of the crash, a ruined group of around 30 tin-roofed homes and a Koranic school in a low-class suburb.
He promised compensation for the victims and vowed a full inquiry into why the twin-engined passenger jet nose-dived shortly after take-off and scythed through a residential quarter.
In Murtala Mohammed, one of the handful of passengers who survived the flight, retired Brigadier General Emmanuel Ikegwoha, told AFP about its final moments.
"As we took off the plane began to wobble, to shake from side to side. Just by military instinct I bent myself double.
The next thing I knew I was here," he said.
Ikegwoha, who is in his fifties, remained in a coma for 24 hours after the crash, and suffered serious burns to his head, hands and thighs, medical officials told AFP.
According to conflicting reports between two and five of the 79 on board survived.
Monday was an officially designated day of mourning in Kano, flags flew at half mast and many stayed away from work.
But the accident investigation went on, as questions were once again raised about safety standards in Nigeria's motley array of private air carriers.
The head of the federal government's investigation team in Kano, Remi Faminu, told AFP that the plane's black box flight recorder would have to be sent outside Nigeria for analysis.
At least one Briton died on board the plane and officials were attempting to find out if another boarded the plane in Kano, a spokesman for the Deputy British High Commission in Lagos said.
The Nigerian airline industry was deregulated in the 1980s and more than half a dozen private carriers now criss-cross the skies of the large west African republic.
Travellers often complain of overloading and poor maintenance. As recently as last month, the government vowed to force the firms to retire aging airframes.
Foreign diplomats are also concerned about safety standards, and many are banned from travelling on Nigerian domestic flights