A Dana passenger plane ferrying 153 travellers from Abuja to Lagos crashed into a densely populated settlement of Lagos, about five minutes to its destination, killing everyone on board. That was the tragic news that broke about the time the Super Eagles were tormenting Nigerian soccer fans with goal drought in the match against the Namibian dark horses in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier played in Calabar last Sunday. I caught my breath, even though this is not the first time the nation has been served with air disasters of this magnitude.
After the horrendous afflictions that characterized our air space in 2005 during which no fewer than eight crashes were recorded, and the October 29, 2006 ADC air calamity that claimed about 100 victims including the then Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Muhammadu Maccido, it had been relatively safe up there and we all assumed that at long, long last, our air space was immune to disasters.
Indeed, we all went to sleep in the belief that all was safe behind the clouds until the Dana pogrom of June 3. I never trusted the Nigerian airlines even long before 1991 when it became customary for aircrafts to melt down as frequently as birds let out droppings in flight. In fact, I cannot remember when last I emplaned. Did you say I am a coward? You can say that again. You see, there was this day I emplaned from Jos to Lagos in the early 90s.
That was before all manner of private carriers began to break into the aviation industry. No sooner had I settled in my seat than a hefty bush rat heaved itself into the open. As a lover of bush meat, I did not know when I lunged forward in an attempt to snatch it by the tail but the air lord disappeared into the cubicle from where snacks were kept. I nearly abandoned the journey or what further proof did I need to convince myself that the Tokunbo plane, in whose belly I was ensconced, could be a flying coffin? Small wonder, the rickety machine tossed us sideways, forward and backward as we ran into potholes in the sky. God was merciful; we made it to Lagos safely.
Before that Jos-Lagos experience, I had the most frightening air encounter in my life way back in 1978. I had boarded a DC 9 aircraft from Algiers to Tunis where I was expected to catch a KLM flight to Kano after a month-long official assignment in Algeria. About 10 minutes into the 30-minute flight, the jetliner ran into a terrible storm. We all became terrified as the aircraft stubbornly tore its way through the heavy clouds. Flashes of lightning inspired awe in us for close to five minutes during which death manifested at a close range. But God was on our side; we dodged the killer and survived the blizzard.
After weathering the storm, I observed that the passenger who sat next to me had peed in his pants. Before we landed in Tunis, my head was bombarded by all manner of options. One of them was to settle for a camel and embark on a Trans Sahara return trip to Nigeria. Anyway, I boarded the KLM flight and made it to Kano safely.
Until the ill-fated trip to Lagos, the Dana Airline was rated as having a matchless safety record in its close to half a decade of operation in Nigeria. Many flew Dana based on the quality of its products in the plastic and pharmaceutical industry long, long before it ventured into the more lucrative but high risk aviation sector.
Emerging claims and counter claims have dominated the space regarding the air worthiness of the ill-fated Boeing McDonald Douglas (MD)-83 aircraft. One of such claims was that the plane, said to be 22 years old and rejected in the US, had been manifesting symptoms of systemic failures lately and an aircraft maintenance engineer had strongly advised against scrambling it into space on that doomsday.
An average Indian is a product of poverty. A man who has seen poverty becomes a shrewd manager of resources the moment he is able to escape to the other side. In the 70s and early 80s, the Indians and a sprinkle of Pakistanis pre-dominated the education and healthcare sectors (as secondary school teachers and medical doctors) in the North. There was this popular joke at that time of an Indian tutor and his Beetle car.
The day after he brought Beetle home, he discovered that the engine of the car had been stolen. His heart stopped beating. When the organ picked up again, he made a dash to the nearest police station to lodge a report. A policeman was detailed to follow him home. On getting to his garage, the policeman made for the rear of the car where the Beetle engine was located. But the Indian asked him to come to the front which served as the booth. The policeman’s knees gave way under laughter. He ignored him, demanded for the key and opened the bonnet. Lo and behold, the engine was intact.
Generally, the Indians can be miserly to a fault. In an attempt to maximize their incomes for repatriation, an Indian housewife would ensure that empty tins of Peak milk, for instance, were safely kept in the store. After a good number of collections, she would ask the house help to look for “mai gongoni” (tin buyers). And she would supervise the sale herself and pocket the proceeds. An average Indian man would not serve his guests soft drinks in their concentrated form. You would not even know what you were being served until you tasted the content. The drinks would be watered down and served in glasses so that a bottle could go round as many visitors as possible.
Perhaps, that is the kind of mentality the Indian operators of the Dana Air brought into the high risk aviation business… managing things. When we were growing up, we used to be entertained by the genies ferrying mansions in the air in Indian films. That was a movie myth. But the reality in the aviation world is that planes are flown by jet or propeller engines and not by genies.
The circumstances surrounding the fall of the Dana plane meltdown should not be hidden behind the clouds like the other calamities before it. Chasing Dana away from our air space like it was done to ADC, Bellview and Sosoliso (all victims of corruption in the aviation sector), is not the solution. It has never been.
Yes, Sosoliso and Co. are all gone, taking along hundreds of victims, but the dangers still loom over our heads like the sword of Damocles. It was just a matter of time and the sword would snap… as it did on June 3. There is rage in the land just as there are disturbing rumours making the rounds. We must get to the bottom of this one. And the truth must be told, and appropriate sanctions meted out to those found culpable, no matter whose ox is gored.
Filed Under: Clem Oluwole