June 3rd 2012 was just like any other day. It was a Sunday, the last day of the weekend, and most Nigerians were relaxing in their homes with the knowledge that they would be returning back to work in only a few hours, but what they did not know was that in those few hours preceding the new week, they would be tuning in to television stations or computers to learn about a tragedy that would throw the nation into a state of mourning. When the Dana Air McDonnell Douglas MD-83 with registration number 5N- RAM finally fell from skies by mid – day, the people of Iju – Agbado, a dense neighbourhood in Lagos would be witnesses to an avoidable tragedy that would go on to kill all 153 people on board, as well as 16 on ground. The days following the Dana air crash were filled with stories of the victims of the crash. We saw the smiling face of an expectant mother, posing with her children, a husband and wife smiling into the camera, young girls with eyes lit with hope of the future and many heartbreaking images of a people cut down in their prime.
Following the crash, the senior managers of Dana Air, an Indian owned and controlled company, fled the country to avoid the anger that followed the crash, while junior officers from the airline did the perfunctory visits to the site of the crash, posing with children whose parents had either been killed or displaced by the crash. In a manner typical of the Nigerian government officials, there was a cacophony of noise and a fury of sound designed to deceive the masses. It came in the form of a ban on the operating license of Dana Air. For those of us who wondered if certain government officials were not complicit in the escape of Dana Air’s senior managers from the country, there was no window dressing that could hide the rot in the aviation industry. That a foreign owned company operating in Nigeria would be given the free hand to play with the lives of Nigerians exposed our leaders for what they truly were – a bunch of greedy, unpatriotic, and visionless individuals content to sacrifice their countrymen to the gods of power and influence.
Now, three months after the crash. Three months after families are yet to get over the tragedy that claimed the lives of their loved ones. Three months after some relatives have gone through the trauma of physical altercations over dead bodies of the crash victims, the federal government in a magnanimous move has deemed it fit to lift the ban on Dana Air with the claim that the ban was a mistake. But the government is not the only one applauding Dana Air for its air worthiness. According to the secretary general of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (A.O.N.), Muhammed Tukur, the move to lift the ban by the Federal Government was commendable. He was quoted as saying that, since the government discovered that “Dana was not at fault, the next thing was to act positively.” Really? How did the secretary general of A.O.N come to the conclusion that Dana Air was not at fault?
This is an airline that has already been indicted by the investigations conducted into the crash, which showed that there were pre-existing safety issues with the doomed McDonnell Douglas MD-83 plane which first flew in 1990. Assuming we choose to ignore the history of the plane while in use at Alaskan Airlines where several near mishaps caused the plane to be grounded, and then assume that Dana Air took diligent steps to ensure that the plane bought from Alaskan Airlines in 2008 was airworthy before it was allowed into service in Nigeria, why were there reports of safety issues while the plane was being used in Nigeria?
On May 3, 2012, an unnamed Lagos station manager of the airline was reported to have drawn the attention of management of the airlines that the aircraft in question needed to be grounded for general check-up, but that alarm was ignored. Then, on May 11, 2012, the same aircraft was billed for Lagos/Abuja with more than half capacity passengers and an air return, but some minutes into the air, the plane had to have an emergency landing at the Murtala Muhammed airport. Passengers on board had to disembark and seek alternative means of travelling. Again, on May 25, 2012, the same plane that was to do Lagos/Calabar flight also made another air return to Lagos after the crew reported engine fault. There was also no casualty. That was to change on June 3rd when the plane eventually fell down from the sky. So in the light of all these damning evidence that the management of Dana Air was more concerned about making money than ensuring safety of their passengers, the Federal Government as well as representatives of airline operators believe that Dana Air is not to blame for the crash?
While Dana Air continues to offend our sensibilities and insult the memories of those that perished in the crash by stating in its defence that it is losing N50 million daily from the ban (after all, money is more important than Nigerian lives), as well as joining forces with the civil aviation round table (C.A.R.T) to stop the coroner inquest into the crash, one cannot help but wonder how an Indian company, an alien company, has grown so brazen that it sees no danger in showing contempt for the entire Nigerian citizenry. Is it not clear that it enjoys the backing of government officials who view Nigerians as expendable pawns to be given up at the right price?
There is no way the government can convince the people that it has their interests at heart after this debacle, because even as it hurries to vindicate Dana Air, some families who lost loved ones are yet to be given the money promised to them. In saner societies, Dana Air and its management would have had a lot to answer to, but this is Nigeria, anything goes. After all, this is a country where the regulating body of telecoms operations is hapless to defend the people against high tariffs because some of its officials enjoy free rolls of recharge cards. A country where legislators cannot query the substandard services provided to its citizens because they enjoy freebies from corrupt foreign companies. I remember being offended by the words of an American over the Halliburton saga on an online forum a few years back. The man had responded in a rather cryptic manner to Nigerians attacking American political and economic integrity over Halliburton. The last part of his words, “You can only play dirty in a dirty place,” were scathing but to say the least, and yet they were true. Nigeria is a very dirty place and Dana Air is playing according to the dirty rules – When in Nigeria, do like the Nigerian government officials do.
Dana Air And The Complicity Of Nigerian Government Officials
Was Published On September 10, 2012.