Accidents or policy disasters?- By Issa Aremu

On 25th of May 2008, my friend and the current media Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan did an informed thought provoking article entitled; Disasters, Crocodile Tears and the Next Tragedy. It was in the wake of serial national “accidents”. The most tragic (assuming tragedy is divisible!) then was the summary death of some returning 46 soldiers from Darfur (where they gallantly served under the auspices of UN peace keeping operation) along Bauchi-Pakiskum “road” on their trip back to their respective homes.

After much tears had been shed Abati wrote that; ”Nigerians and their leaders are very good at shedding crocodile tears in the presence of disasters that ought to compel them to hide their faces in shame.” Since 2008, Nigeria has fast degenerated into a Nation of mourners with serial tragic deaths albeit without declaration of wars. Judging by the frequency of mass burials in Nigeria in recent times, Life Expectancy (LE) being a significant success factor in Human Development Index (HDI) as conceptualized since 1990 by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is increasingly meaningless here. Longevity is proving an exception. In fact, Death Expectancy (DE) (assuming anything like that exists) is more real in Nigeria as a measure of Human Development than Life Expectancy (LE). Monthly Nigeria records thousands of human body count no thanks to “roads accidents”, “pipelines explosions” (without Nigeria being under military attacks), “bombings” and “air plane crashes”.

The legendary Hobbesian state of nature in which reportedly life is short, nasty and brutish might very well be modern Nigeria! The latest is the Dana Air flight from Abuja to Lagos which crashed 11 nautical miles to Murtala Mohammed Airport with 167 people on board and on ground dead. True to Abati’s 2008 observation, our leaders have shed another “crocodile tears” without hiding “their faces in shame” in the least. Even with adorning mourning black wears to match at the Federal Executive council last Wednesday. Did my friend recommend his 2008 for the President to re-read with an eye on managing disasters? One critical question begging for an answer is; why do the Nigeria’s ruling elite often find common ground only when disasters happen? Why do we always discover cooperation and solidarity through serial grief?

A critical look at the quantity and quality of mourning statements and condolences across all our artificial partisan divide after the Dana air carnage reveals that if there is the bipartisan will, there will be some bipartisan ways to have a common ground to overcome underdevelopment that has led to the recent mass burials of citizens. The President reportedly “joins all Nigerians in mourning all those who lost their lives in the plane crash which has sadly plunged the nation into further sorrow on a day when Nigerians were already in grief over the loss of many other innocent lives in the church bombing in Bauchi State.” Yours sincerely appreciates the singular role of the President as the chief mourner to join others.

However the President more importantly needs to join all Nigerians in preventing the tragedies in the first place through drastic policy initiatives beyond bricks and stone renovations of the airports.  With five deadly air disasters within 10 years, it is debatable whether what we have at hand are accidents or policy failures and clear absence of both political and corporate governance. When accidents (either on the road or in the air) prove addictive as we have in Nigeria they are anything but “accidental”. Addictive accidents mean incidents that are either planned for or expected, preventable. Addictive air accidents that once claimed a Sultan, notable scholars and Nigerians alike are certainly not inevitable.

With respect to Dana air disaster; there was nothing “accidental” about a crashed plane that was reportedly older than 20 years prescribed by the law! By law it has been “a flying coffin” about to drop on the innocents on the ground at it murderously did two weeks ago down town Lagos.  The average fleet age of the Presidential aircrafts is 9.5 years. The Oldest aircraft in government fleet is 12.1 years. What is good for presidential fleet is even more desirable for commercial fleet whose average fleet age is open ended double digit.
The president and governors alike need not join us to travel in flying coffins as they choose to join us in mourning. On the contrary we as citizens must join them in flying newer and safer planes they fly. There is nothing “accidental” about an industry in which all operators agree to be “in dire straits”. What with cutting corners? What with the prohibitive cost structure? What with regulators looking the other ways and even proudly acting as operators in the name of “market forces”?  What with slave un-unionized labour including hired and fired pilots?  What with taunted deregulated sector with ease of entries and exists. It was reported that Dana airline actually came to Nigeria with initial interest in iron and steel but unexplainably transformed to flying bankers, oil and gas industry officials and students it has now murderously delivered to their earlier graves. Which strategic industry turns easily into all comers’ arena? We have been long been treated umpteenth time to some deregulation melody (from Jerry Gana to Frank Nweke jnr to my friend, Labaran Maku) according to which, aviation as well as telecom industry is a success deregulation story worthy of emulation in the petroleum downstream sector.

There must some direct link between the mantra of deregulation and abysmal serial disasters which the sector has witnessed in recent times. Do we need such callous wastage of human resources, including the late 2002 pupils of Loyola college before we were rudely awakened to the gross limitations of a notorious policy dogma od deregulation?  The problems are very well familiar; addictive increases in the prices of aviation fuel; multiple taxation and high costs of funds. Neo-liberal policies of market forces have run a full cycle.

ISSA AREMU ([email protected])


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