Against The Ropes - A Nation's Response To Adversity

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Against The Ropes - A Nation's Response To Adversity

 

By

 

Andrew Obinna Onyearu

nasbuksaylor@nas-int.org

 

 

October 28, 2005


By quirk of unusual coincidence, the Nigerian Nation was thrown into mourning with the loss, on Saturday, 22 October 2005 of 117 persons who diedvwhen Belleview Airlines Flight 210 en route Abuja from Lagos, crashed in Ogun State, Nigeria. Literally within hours, the nation lost its First Lady, Mrs Stella Obasanjo. NAS, along with million other Nigerians, joins the
President Olusegun Obasanjo and the entire country in expressing our extremely heartfelt sympathies to their families for their huge and tragic losses. The grief experienced by friends and family of those affected has
been inexpressible. To the President, we convey our condolences, in the belief that he will find strength, resolve and fortitude to bear his and the nation's loss. It will be a long time before the nation comes to terms with what has happened. The nation needs to mourn its loss; bury its differences and unite in grief for the sake of the country and for the future. This
adversity has tested the very resolve of the country, to its highest possible limits. As a nation, we find ourselves now "against the ropes". What remains for the nation to consider is its response to these adversities. It is essential that the response is a reflective; carefully diagnosed and proactive one.

Nigeria has been sadly associated with aircraft accidents and fatalities in a manner that has called into question, the role and involvement of those managing the aviation industry in transport in Nigeria. In 1996, 142 people died when a Boeing 727 owned by ADC Airlines crashed 86 kilometres from Lagos. On 4 May 2002, 147 persons lost their lives when an EAS domestic aircraft crashed in Kano. That aircraft was a BAC 1-11-500 in respect of which the then Minister, Dr Kema Chikwe swiftly imposed a ban on its usage. 2005 has been a particularly unpleasant year in relation to airline
accidents. Indeed, this year has been the aviation industry and Nigeria's annus horribilis. On 13 March 2005, a plane crash landed in Abuja Airport. On 4 May 2005, a chartered airline plane skidded off the runway at Abuja Airport. On 11 June 2005, an EAS aircraft crash-landed in Jos. On 9 July 2005, an Air France aircraft with 196 passengers on board ran into stray cows on the runway of Port Harcourt International Airport as it touched down. On 30 June 2005, an aircraft carrying 92 passengers made an emergency landing at the local wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos. Barely 4 months later, the last incident of 22 October 2005 occurred. These, in 2005, were the publicised and documented incidents. The "close shaves" that Nigerians have come to appreciate as "normal" occur with the same regularity as the flights themselves. These remain both undisclosed and concealed.

This historical perspective on aircraft accidents is simply unacceptable. We do not believe that there is anyone who considers these statistics palatable reading and those who do are in the hopeless, depraved minority. The reality is that the aviation industry in Nigeria is in a mess. Aged planes populate the fleet. Airlines are taking risks by the day, undisclosed to innocent passengers and play "Russian Roulette" with the lives of its patrons. Cost and corner- cutting unknown in First World Countries is rife in the industry. Government- run facilities are even more deplorable. Ministerial efforts continue to be defeated by middle-level sabotage. Minimal resources are so poorly distributed that the emphasis is placed on the wrong or
undeserving aspects. Regulatory bodies either do not undertake their functions with desired seriousness or allow internationally acceptable standards to be extravagantly compromised by ineptitude and greed.

The alternative, road transport, is even more pathetic. The risk on the road is several times higher. The poor state of the roads, long distances between major administrative and commercial towns and abject lack of security at the hands of villains and the protectors all combine to reduce the viability of road travel as an option for all but the shortest trips.

The Nation's response is that enough is enough. Government should exact from its agencies and provide to the industry's patrons, the highest possible compliance with standards. It is plain that errors here have lifelong; life threatening and life loss consequences. Offending airlines should be prevented from flying - period! There should be no compromise. Actions that
place the life of Nigerians at risk should attract criminal prosecution and commercial ostracism. The aviation market is a fruitful one for its investors. It is despicable that any short cuts should be permitted. We should accept nothing less and encourage our leadership to ruthlessly eliminate these practices. The loss that we have suffered as a nation to aviation accidents must stop. As human beings, we have to accept that accidents occur. The kind of recklessness that occurs should be despatched with undisguised intolerance. Those responsible for bringing about these
situations should no longer be allowed to profit from their worthless indiscretion. As patrons of the aviation industry, they should encourage Nigerians to accept no less. These losses are now one time too many.

NAS notes that the President has directed that special and detailed investigation be conducted; that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and that the manufacturers of the plane and experts should be involved in the investigation. We commend the President for that incisive direction. Without prejudice to the outcome of that investigation, our organisation considers that the problem is significantly more involved than this one investigation can uncover. The Presidential direction and those of the legislature should go significantly further. In our view, decay in the aviation industry is significantly more widespread. Frequent air travellers repeat accounts of sheer incredulous escapes of serious accidents, almost on a daily basis. The average age of aircrafts used in Nigeria is 20. The service on the ground is even more appalling. The Lagos airport, easily the busiest, is reputed to have one runway servicing both international and local flights, the runway itself infected by disturbing disrepair. The other airports, with obviously lesser infrastructural content, have an even more appalling outlook. Ground staff is poorly trained and many of them may never have boarded any of those flights, the consequence of which is that they may never have experienced the anxiety to which passengers are exposed on a daily basis.

Whilst it is correct that airline travel benefits a small majority of the vast Nigerian population, its usage is on the increase. This patronage from Nigerians demands better, safer and more efficient service from the industry. This decay must be arrested. NAS demands a Public Inquiry to which interested Nigerians should be welcome to give evidence. The Inquiry should be headed by a sitting or retired Supreme Court Judge. Only such a public enquiry comprising technical, commercial and legal experts receiving evidence from Nigerians as a whole within a very short period of time can fully ventilate these grave concerns. A public enquiry will give Nigerians an opportunity to air these complaints and the airlines an opportunity to
defend themselves. In the interim, we also believe that it is imperative that the regulating authorities commence, without delay, a comprehensive audit of all airlines operational activities against international standards by a process that is comprehensive and transparent. These very unfortunate incidents continue to catch us completely unprepared. It is time we took the prevention process more seriously.

Signed:


ANDREW OBINNA ONYEARU
NAS Capone
National Association of Seadogs (NAS)

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