On Sunday, 3 June 2012, a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft operated by Dana airlines crashed in the Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos state. 153 passengers died in the crash and over six people reportedly died on the ground.
As is usual with disasters, especially of the man-made type, that occur in Nigeria, a lot of dust has been thrown up nationwide by all stakeholders: the citizenry, government, the press, industry operators and the like.
One of the direct consequences of this development has been the re-playing of the blame game among the perceived actors in the disaster. To be sure the government quickly went on the offensive by suspending the license of the beleaguered airline. While a section of the citizenry welcomed the sanctions, others were quick to indict the government, specifically the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA and the Aviation Ministry for lax supervision and regulation of the airline industry. Dana Air, on its own part has been quick to issue a press state statement stressing its non-culpability in the disaster.
While arguments over who or what is responsible for the crash will continue for some time, the fact remains that the crash has occurred and nothing is likely to bring the dead back to life. For me personally, the Dana air disaster is another one of those negative occurrences in Nigeria for which every party can hardly be exonerated. The government-citizenry and the operator-regulator all fell short of playing the part they should have played in helping to avert disaster.
Taking the operator-regulator as a starting point, and regardless of the arguments and counter arguments that have been parried about the faulty state of the crashed aircraft, the fact remains that Dana Air’s continued operation of a twenty three year-old aircraft calls into question the willingness of the airline to streamline its operations with world standards as a means of ensuring the maximum safety of its passengers. Obviously Dana Air is not alone in this regard but it is hoped this incident will serve a useful lesson to it and its counterparts in the Nigerian airline industry.
The role of the regulatory bodies in the Nigerian airline industry also qualifies for condemnation. The regulatory loophole, allowing an airline operator to operate an aircraft over twenty years old as long as it was not twenty years old at the time of purchase, should be reviewed with speedy dispatch. More and regular maintenance checks should also be carried out on commercial aircrafts to determine their airworthiness; the fact that there is no last word on the airworthiness of the ill-fated aircraft covering the controversial week before its fatal crash is a testament to the lax supervision of the aviation body tasked with that function.
The failure of the government to take concrete executive and legislative measures to tackle the relative rot in the airline industry, despite similar disasters in the not too distant past, reflects poorly on its administrative record and calls into question its perceived bereavement at the deaths of some of its citizens. Tears will solve nothing, the right actions will, and the sooner the government recognizes this, the better.
On its part, the citizenry has reacted with shock and anguish to the disaster. Unfortunately the citizenry too, in their own way, have fallen short of fully playing their part in averting the disaster. The citizenry themselves have often been content to ignore the sorry state of affairs in segments of the Nigerian economy – in this case the aviation sub-sector, as long as they remain unaffected by the concomitant disasters. While Nigeria admittedly boasts one of the most pathetically deaf and nonchalant governments in the world, it still pays to continue trying to point out their failings to them. At the very least, our voices will be on record as having forewarned them to events such as this. Waiting for disasters to occur before raising hullabaloos, lawsuits, and the like, amounts to little more than tongue-in-cheek protests.
Also up for condemnation is the action of some unscrupulous citizens at the crash site who reportedly stole jewelries and other valuables from corpses on the crashed craft. Even allowing for unemployment and other factors, the actions of these citizens still fall short of socially acceptable behaviour.
On the side, an interesting dimension to the disaster was the news that Ehime Aikhomu, a son of Vice Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, the former Chief of General Staff under General Ibrahim Babangida, also died in the crash. That regime was largely responsible for the decay that still affects all facets of the Nigerian economy – the aviation sub-sector inclusive. At the very least, I feel this is the most important lesson Nigerian rulers of today should imbibe: when you run the economy aground when you are supposed to resuscitate it, the consequences will return to haunt you – one way or the other, sooner or later.