No doubt, emotions are running high to effervescent level over the recent decision by the Ministry of Aviation to lift the suspension imposed on Dana Air. The airline was suspended in the aftermath of the crash involving its aircraft at Iju-Ishaga, a Lagos suburb, on Sunday, June 3, 2012.
Since the crash that claimed about 163 lives, the aviation industry has not been the same again. Quite a lot has happened ever since as passengers on domestic flights have been finding it hectic travelling with the few operating airlines. By the last count, only three airlines—Arik, Aero, IRS—were operating. It is obvious that they have been trying their best to cope with the volume of passengers but their efforts have not satisfied demand. Departure times are in several instances, not kept while there have been frequent cancellations of flights. All these point to the fact that the existing airlines have been spread thin to the limit of their elasticity.
So, ordinarily, it is a great relief that Dana Air is coming back once again. But the wounds are still fresh. Very fresh. Some people might want to say that the timing of their re-entry is bad enough. Not exactly so. For those who lost loved ones, there is no better time even if the suspension is lifted in another five or 10 years’ time. The memory of the dead will continue to be everlastingly fresh.
My major concern here is the disdain with which the airline has been treating the victims’ families and other victims whose property and means of livelihood were destroyed in the crash. So much has been written about the plight of the bereaved families, some of who are even yet to take possession of the corpse of their relatives for a befitting burial. We are told that some of them have received $30,000 each as compensation, awaiting the balance of $70,000 each as stipulated by International Law.
Last Friday, one of the victims, Daniel Omowunmi, the owner of the storey building, the warehouse and the factory destroyed by the ill-fated aircraft, granted an interview in one of the national dailies. Going through the interview, one could see ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ in its raw form. Unfortunately, but quite expectedly, some Nigerians, including lawyers and one or two Lagos State government officials, were fingered as collaborators. If three months after the crash, the owner of the building on which the aircraft landed before bursting into flames had not received a kobo as compensation, one wonders what type of a country is ours.
“If Nigerians are up in arms against Dana Air today, it is because of the notoriety Indians have acquired by their predilection for cutting corners and not playing by the rules”
According to Omowunmi, who said he had written the management of Dana Air, claiming about N500 million as damages for the destruction of his property and business, what the airline offered him was a miserable and ridiculous N500,000. The N500,000, he said, was referred to as “a temporary settlement”. What is more, the airline’s management brought some forms that suggested that anybody that took the money actually applied for it. The letter, he said, was such that it was addressed to Dana, looking as if it was Omowunmi who originated the form or letter to Dana’s management. Not only this. Dana’s management has not had the courtesy of acknowledging Omowunmi’s letter of claims in writing. All he has got was a casual, verbal acknowledgement.
In a country that has a functional government, Omowunmi’s case and that of other bereaved families of the victims of the Dana Air crash should have been speedily pursued. I am not a lawyer, but even if Omowunmi’s house or property had been destroyed, say by earthquake, which is a natural disaster, it is incumbent on the government to provide respite. But this is not a natural disaster. An aircraft lost its twin engines and instead of landing at an airport designated for such, it landed on somebody’s house and destroyed his livelihood in the process.
If Nigerians are up in arms against Dana Air today, it is because of the notoriety Indians have acquired by their predilection for cutting corners and not playing by the rules. I am sure if we have to visit all the bereaved families and listen to their stories, they all have sad tales to recollect about their encounter with Dana Air officials. This is why I believe that it is the responsibility of the government whether Lagos State government or the Aviation Ministry to ensure that the right thing is done for the families of the victims of the crash. Precious lives have been lost and there can never be any replacement or compensation that will be adequate. But then, both Dana Air and the government can minimise the agony of the bereaved through prompt and adequate payment of compensation. The recourse to paying any ridiculous amount, as is being alleged, smacks of indifference and outright wickedness on the part of the airline. It stands condemnable by all right-thinking human beings.
I am not against Dana Air reentering Nigeria’s airspace but the right thing must be done. Otherwise, no amount of public relations or propaganda will douse the tense situation now prevalent among the bereaved families.
And the government officials and other Nigerians who are colluding with these Indians to short-change their fellowmen must all bear in mind that the incident could have claimed the life of anybody. That we are still living today is by the grace of Almighty God. Nobody knows tomorrow. I can give countless examples of people who inflicted unimaginable pains on people and ended up miserably and tragically themselves. That is where the law of karma or retribution comes in. Whatever you do in life, good or bad, there is a reward for it. The only thing is that when the time to reap the reward comes, no one would remember what had happened in the past.
Surely, we need Dana to resume its services, although, as for me, I am still skeptical about its safety records. There is need for more players in the airline Industry, especially now that two others—Air Nigeria and Nation Airlines – have suddenly gone asleep. In the case of Nation, we were told that the aircraft in its fleet had gone for routine maintenance ostensibly to stave off any danger in the nearest future. As for Air Nigeria, the airline had been “wobbling and fumbling”, to use Coach Fanny Amu’s words, for quite some time until its management decided to do the needful – take a break and reorganise.
While Nation airline had only operated for a couple of months before it disappeared from the skies, the case of Air Nigeria is quite pathetic. The airline had been around for some time. When it operated as Virgin Nigeria under the aviation wizard, Richard Brandson, it was the toast of many a traveller both within and outside the country. Then came the bang: for one reason or another, Brandson decided to pull out his investment. The airline was later renamed Air Nigeria. Since then, things have somehow gone awry. Many stories about the airline have been bandied but most of them border on uncouth management practices. A situation where the airline takes money in cash in ‘Ghana Must Go’ bags to purchase aviation fuel and all that cannot be said to be smooth administration after all. Now that the aircraft have been wheeled to the hanger for what its management termed “Corporate Surgical Operation”, Nigerians are waiting to see whether a truly improved airline will emerge at the end of the exercise.
Until then, all hands must be on deck to ensure safety in the skies. We cannot afford another disaster after all we have experienced in this country. Not anymore. Our philosophy, for now and forever, should be: “No more air disasters”.