The incident of June 3, 2012 will remain indelible in the minds of many - not all - Nigerians; that was the day a Dana airline crashed in Iju area of Lagos State killing all 147 passengers and 6 crew members on board, along with yet unconfirmed number of Nigerians on the ground.
I must admit that I have not heard much about plane crashes in Nigeria, given the level of corruption in the various Ministries and companies, and the lack of maintenance culture that pervades the Nigerian economic and social community. However, the fact that planes have not been dropping from the air like flies, since the last major one that killed the then Sultan of Sokoto, does not mean that all is well with the Nigerian aviation industry.
There are still plenty wrong with not just that industry, but many others that affect the lives and livelihood of Nigerians on a daily basis. stories abound of non-functional guiding lights on runways, traffic controllers losing track of planes on air due to inadeqate or malfunctioning control devices; of passengers on a non-stop fasting and prayer session on flights from one Nigerian city to another; of Muslims, Christians, and non-conformists calling on the name of the Lord in unison, regardless of faith and feeling. We read of planes serviced in Lagos for a flight to Port harcourt having to require additional service as soon as they land in Port Harcourt. For me, my decision never to board a plane in Nigeria was based on my observation of two mechanics working on the engines of a plane in 2002 at the Ikeja local airport, while I waited for a friend to conclude plans to transport a corpse to Enugu. In mid service, one of the mechanics went to a buka and came back with two bottles of Star beer and passed one over to his buddy working on one engine, while he perched both himself and his bottle of beer on the other and resumed work. I was shocked to my bones.
Mind you, I had just returned to Nigeria after 14 years in the US where, such behavior will earn you an on-the spot dismissal. As a matter of fact, a manager with my then employers was fired outrightly for organizing a beer and pizza party at the parking lot of the company building for some staff members that had worked late on a Friday evening - after working hours. How much more an airline mechanic drinking beer while on duty!. No one around there, and there were many people, said anything, so I just watched in horror. When my friend came out I told him what I saw, he just smiled and said; "this is Nigeria". From that day on, I was determined that though flying is faster and - in some countries - safer, my mode of transportation whenever I am in Nigeria will be ground.
Admittedly, there has been a lot of improvement in the aviation sector over the years, especially since the deregulation of the industry; our problem is laxity and corruption. We are not a people that aspires to leave a commendable legacy in public service; we are after what we can get from our place of work, how fast we can get it, and how what we get will benefit us. unfortunately, when we cut these corners, it comes back to bite us in the butt. Imagine this scenario, because I have: due to the magnitude of this Dana crash, and the social status of some of the victims -Levi Ajuonuma comes to mind, two things are likely to happen going forward; to play it safe, many high-level government and industry officials will increase their level and avenue of stealing so as to be able to acquire private planes they can maintain to their satistfaction, or some government officials in charge of the sector will ignore bribes and enticements, step on toes to not only make changes, but keep those changes progressively permanent. Your guess is as good as mine as to which of the two will happen.
President Jonathan had gone to the site of the crash and made promises, that is good; but this is a man who never really keeps any of his promises, from his days as a local government chairman to this day. So, we can take his promises of change with a grain of salt. As is always the case after every tragic incident in Nigeria, government officials have sworn publicly of changes on the way, fingers have been pointed at God-knows-who, and the air has been rife with speculations as to what could have caused the crash, even when we all know what caused it: engine failure due to lack of maintenance. Those who took the same plane to Abuja complained about the vibration - this was even before the return trip to the South, but management elected to continue to make the flight schedule for the day for maximum profit. Will that attitude ever change in Nigeria? No! As long as there is one willing enough to bribe, and another eager to accept, corners will always be cut in Nigeria, and our lives will always be in danger. Look at the road transportation industry; half of the commercial vehicles plying our roads belong in the scrap heap, yet with all the road safety Marshalls on our highways these vehicles are still going on their merry ways.
knowing what we have known about how things function in Nigeria in the past forty years, my next comment, though not appropriate to some at this time of mourning, should be given serious consideration by those who patronize our airlines; minimize your risk of loss! When you know that regulations are lax in an industry, care should be applied when patronizing that industry. I ask myself this, would the ten members of the Ayene family be wiped out in that crash if they had used more than one airline? would the two Houston-based sister be both dead now if they had used different airlines? Yes, anything can happen when God wants it to happen, but we must also remember that before God allows things to happen, He had already given us ways and means to prevent it; either we simply refuse to see it or we ignore it completely.
Nigeria is considered a great nation; the question is: great in what? Only Nigerians have the answer to that, because God is only just amusingly watching us to see what we can do with what he has blessed us with.