by Hauwa Gambo
Governor Godswill Akpabio faced mild criticism in the aftermath of the #DanaCrash in Lagos, when he reported that he had warned the Dana Air Management about the state of their aircraft. Why did he do no more than caution Dana Air privately? many wondered. In an attempt to contexualise the governor’s words, one of his allies has spoken up.
A member of the state’s House of Assembly and member of the People’s Democratic Party Onofiok Luke, in a piece in The Guardian today about the general state of aviation in the country, makes a pointed case: the governor did the best he could.
Read the piece below:
Our nation is yet again thrown into a state of mourning. The news of Dana Airplane crash came as well-meaning Nigerians tried to adjust to the excruciating fact that for the umpteenth time this year, suicide bombers had a field day in Yelwa, Bauchi State, when they audaciously defied our security system to take the lives of innocent worshipers for a reason they will better give to God.
Reports have it that over 150 people died in the Lagos plane crash, which in every respect was avoidable. A few weeks ago, I was in an informal meeting with the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Godwill Akpabio. Attending also were the Speaker to the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Elder Sam Ikon, Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Umana Umana, and some members of the state Executive Council. Soon the governor mentioned that he had been inundated with complains from indigenes of the state concerning the poor state of Dana planes that fly the Uyo-Abuja and Uyo-Lagos routes. In a manner that is typical of the governor, he immediately asked for the phone number of the Managing Director of Dana Airlines through Captain Olubunmi Williams, who forwarded the Dana MD’s contact to the governor.
The governor then placed a call to the MD of Dana Airlines, Mr. Jacky Hathiramani through the phone of the Commissioner of Works, Mr. Don Etim. Akpabio in the conversation with the MD insisted that he needed to have a true picture of the conditions of the planes that were conveying passengers to and fro the state by Dana. The Dana boss assured the governor that his company’s aircrafts were in good order. While agreeing that Dana was at the moment facing some pressure, the MD guaranteed that their air worthiness was never to be subject to query, as Dana had been issued a clean bill of health by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authourity (NCAA).
Having consulted key stakeholders on the issue, the governor advised Hathiramani to be sure that no stone was left unturned in ensuring that whatever issues were there to be fixed concerning his planes were so done without delays. The governor alluded to the events, which preceded the ultimate grounding of ADC airlines in 2006. I vividly remember that Akpabio informed the Dana MD in the telephone conversation that before the sad incidence of October 29, 2006, which involved an ADC plane crash that took the lives of over 100 passengers, ADC was first being criticised widely by their customers for their acts of negligence. He noted that ADC’s ostensible lax in handling those minor faults as put forward by their customers was later to escalate into the loss of innocent lives. He expressed worry that the number of complaints that were pouring in from Dana customers were just enough to elucidate that all was not well with Dana, and that such vote of no confidence deserved to be taken a lot seriously.
Not satisfied with the explanation and assurances of the Dana MD, the governor then placed another call to the Director General of the NCAA, Dr. Harold Demuren, to whom he relayed the complaints of Akwa Ibom passengers and got further pledges from the DG that the concerns raised would be looked into.
I am compelled to share this with Nigerians so that they can judge for themselves the cleanliness of the bill of health that Dana claimed the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority awarded them. I reason that it is either Dana misinformed Governor Akpabio by saying that the NCAA, having deemed their planes air fit, awarded them a clean bill of health, or the NCAA is going about issuing death warrants to local carriers like Dana.
For a number of times in the past weeks, I have personally had cause to question the competence of Dana Airline in running commercial flights in the country.
I have been a frequent flyer of Dana Airlines from Uyo to Abuja/Lagos and vice versa. On several occasions, I have had cause to decry the ineptness of the practice whereby a plane that has only just landed for passengers to disembark, is the very one immediately set up for boarding by a new set of travellers. Whether the barely 30 minutes that Dana takes to check a flight that has just taxied in from Abuja to Uyo, for example, is enough time to find and correct possible technical faults on such an aircraft is a question that Nigerians would have to ask Dana.
It is therefore unfortunate that Dana is the carrier that is adding to our sorrows at this point in time, in spite of their acclaimed daunting safety records. If they had taken the complaints of their customers more seriously, especially as championed by a state governor in the person of Godswill Akpabio, it is certain that Sunday’s unfortunate accident would have been forestalled.
It is painful that the Dana crash has cost the nation the lives of over 150 Nigerians, some of whom were breadwinners, statesmen, corporate and business leaders, as well as children, our future leaders. I must point out that being the most patronised airliner for the people of Akwa Ibom State, the ill-fated Dana aircraft could have been carrying mainly Akwa Ibomites from the Uyo International Airport to Abuja or Lagos. In such circumstance, the entire 153 passengers could have been all Akwa Ibom families.
What has happened is an eye-opener to Nigerian passengers and the entire aviation industry stakeholders. It is not enough to have confidence in an airliner only on the grounds that it carries “a-clean-bill-of-health” paper. It is time we looked beyond the clean bills of health offered by NCAA. While one is not undermining the efforts of Demuren and his team at ensuring safety in the industry, we all must not rely solely on the paper status of our local carriers. Nigerians must be in strict vigilance of the modus operandi of our local carriers and report to appropriate authorities any indecent activity within our aviation industry.
The most that a listening leader like Governor Akpabio can do within his capacity is exactly what the governor did – leaning his voice with that of his people to ask Dana to check its professional competence. The onus therefore primarily lies on NCAA to take full responsibility of the professional output of airline operators in the country. They must bear fangs where necessary and stand their ground to ensure absolute compliance with industry stipulated safety rules. We must, as a nation, hold close to our chest the hard worn Category 1 status recognition we currently enjoy from the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration, especially now that we need to solidify our business relationship with advanced nations so as to encourage foreign investments.
This sad incidence further throws one more challenge at the Aviation Minister, Ms Stella Oduah. Her ministry must do more at this point in time in order to reassure Nigerians that indeed, the aviation industry has gone past the days it was bedevilled with overwhelming incompetence. She must rise to the challenge before her, and stamp her feet against sharp practices by airliners who do not meet international aviation standards. Licenses should be withdrawn from airlines that are not airworthy, and aberrant airline companies should be prosecuted to serve as deterrent to other operators within the industry.
Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija