Eric Osagie: Madam Minister, that was NOT an act of God

by Eric Osagie

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Truly, the Nigerian airspace behaves like the Abiku, a spiritual child that dies one moment and resurrects the next. One moment you believe that our air space has become safe and reliable, the next, a fatal crash shatters your optimism and confidence: Hundreds die. Hearts are forever broken and the nation weeps.

Man and machine. A deadly romance. A chilly irony. Incomprehensible and unfathomable. Man makes machine, only for machine to unmake man. To kill man. To send showers of tears to man at the end. Man’s greatest technological ingenuity has become for him, one of the greatest harbingers of sorrow, grief and the tragic, especially in our country.
Think of this: In a fit of technological conquest, man makes telephones for communication; he manufactures vehicles to ease the burden of traversing territories, that the ancients found cumbersome, and nigh impossible to reach. Then he moves to conquer the skies. Here comes the huge metal bird, with wings and snouts, piercing through the clouds, shortening distances in a manner that confounds even the inventor.
Because it is a precision machine, those who designed the aircraft intended it not only as the swiftest means of mobility but also the safest. Planes are not expected to drop off the skies, like leaves in dry season. But not so in our part of the world.

The aircraft, sadly, is fast emerging the nation’s quickest means of death. Here, death in the skies comes a dime a dozen. You fly the aircraft with your heart literally in your palms. Every flying experience for many Nigerians has become an ordeal, until the plane touches down the tarmac.

Truly, the Nigerian airspace behaves like the Abiku, a spiritual child that dies one moment and resurrects the next. One moment you believe that our air space has become safe and reliable, the next, a fatal crash shatters your optimism and confidence: Hundreds die. Hearts are forever broken and the nation weeps.

A deluge of condolences. A probe panel is set up by the authorities to unravel  “the remote and immediate cause(s) of the crash.” The probe ends up in a sack at the government aviation ministry.  A cul de sac. A dead end. End of story. Business goes on as usual. Until another crash and the ritual of condolences and probes and condemnations. What a country!

When a car crashes in an accident, sending many to their hurried exits, or the big bird, an aircraft, suddenly drops from the skies, making human barbeque of its occupants, to what do we ascribe the occurrences: Failure of man or failure of technology? Do we blame the aircraft for crashing or man that has failed in his duties of keeping the machine in top shape? Is it an act of God when an accident occurs or a plane crashes or the devil’s, who the Bible says, ‘cometh to kill, steal and destroy?’

For me, we blame man. We blame machine. Of course, we blame the devil. When Minister Stella Oduah said the recent Associated Airline crash, was ‘an act of God,’ she was only trying to behave like many of us, Nigerians, by imputing supernatural reason to what ordinarily could pass for human error and negligence.  Yes, accidents will happen. But something can also be done about the regularity of accidents. If man fails in his duty, fails to do the right things, fails to stop moving coffins from flying the airspace, would we be right to pin the tragic occurrences on God?  Certainly not.

With the report that the Associated Airline aircraft was old and dysfunctional and the pilot flouted aviation rules, how could God have been responsible for what happened?

Just over 12 months ago, we grieved the sad loss of beloved Nigerians in the Dana plane crash. Tears flowed freely again when a military helicopter conveying the Kaduna State governor, Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, the former National Security Adviser, Gen. Owoeye Azazi, alongside their pilots and aides, crashed, killing all on board. Before then, we have had series of crashes in this country, which broke our hearts.

With the Associated Airline’s crash in Lagos, almost 200 souls have been lost in the past two years. In the recent past, we have seen planes either crash landing, overshooting the runway, losing a tire or barely managing to land on account of a faulty engine.

No pretences about it: Our skies are not as safe as it should be. Princess Oduah still has a lot of work to do, despite her modest efforts at upgrading the facilities in our airports. Three major crashes in less than 24 months is not a record to be proud of. No useful purpose is served by the defence being put up by the aviation authorities on Associated Airline’s crash or any other crash. Lives have been lost. And as it has now emerged from the preliminary reports by the Accident Investigation Bureau, the aircraft ought not to have been cleared to fly. The aircraft was old. The pilot flouted rules. Newspaper reports say inquiries are being made into where he trained. All these point to failure of the regulatory agencies.

We weep when crashes occur. And as I once observed in this column during the Dana, ADC and similar crashes, we must go beyond tears if we can ever hope to find a lasting solution to these festival of plane crashes that cast a mourning blanket every now and then over our beloved country. We must move beyond rhetoric to decisive action.

First, we must admit that the problems, besetting the aviation industry, like in other sectors, is basically leadership problem. As in other sectors: energy and power, roads, industries, health, education, among others,  what is happening in aviation is pure and simple, inefficiency and on the part of those charged with the responsibility of ensuring safer skies.

We must start by holding heads of regulatory agencies responsible for crashes.  Beyond firing them from their jobs, any time a crash is linked to failure of the agencies, the persons, manning those organisations should be prosecuted and jailed for negligence of duty, leading to loss of human lives. And, of course, no supervising Minister of Aviation should ever be made comfortable enough to make statements or engage in rationalisations anytime a crash occurs, once it is established that he or she failed in his or her duties. If everything that is humanly possible is done and seen to be done, will the  ‘act of God’ theory begin to make sense.

To be sure, we don’t need to hold another stakeholders’ conference for the country to navigate its way to air safety. Government knows what is wrong.  All it needs is the will to do what is right.  For example, it is notorious fact that most airlines side track basic maintenance routine. They invest little and want to reap bountifully. Many airline operators, if they want to be honest with themselves, don’t have the financial muscle to delve into the highly capital intensive aviation business. They manage everything, not minding risk to lives. Then, there is the issue of alleged corrupt regulators, who would certify a sick or dead aircraft fit, if the price is right, thereby turning our airspace into what the CNN describes as ‘notorious in the world.’

Government would also need to seriously consider the merger option for airline operators, which will hopefully produce stronger, efficient mega airlines, instead of the malfunctioning ‘one-man, one-aircraft airlines’ currently providing poor services and endangering innocent lives.  The time to act is now. Not tomorrow!

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Read this article in the Sun Newspapers

 

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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