Opinion: Why the gods are angry with Nigeria’s aviation

by Levi Obijiofor


If air accidents are inevitable, what would the minister say about countries that have better safety record than we have? Could it be that God loves those countries more than Nigeria? Is the inevitability of air crashes more pronounced in Nigeria than in other countries? If air crashes are an act of God and therefore unavoidable, there would be no need for us to have an industry regulator.

There are certain things a Minister of Aviation must never say in the public domain. The minister must not say, for example, that air accidents are an act of God or that air accidents are inevitable. The minister must not say that we have an enviable safety record in the aviation industry. The minister must not say that Nigeria has the best air safety profile in Africa. These comments are not in sync with public knowledge of the appalling record of our aviation industry. The comments portray the minister as a woman who is chiefly reliant on supernatural forces for the safety of aircraft and air travellers in Nigeria.

It is odd to hear the Minister of Aviation Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi respond one week ago to questions from journalists about the never-ending cases of air accidents in Nigeria. While briefing journalists about her ministry’s efforts to unravel the causes of the Associated Airline crash that took no fewer than 14 human lives earlier this month, the minister said: “We do not pray for accidents but they are inevitable. But we will continue to do everything to ensure that we do not have accidents. But an accident is an act of God.”

If air accidents are inevitable, what would the minister say about countries that have better safety record than we have? Could it be that God loves those countries more than Nigeria? Is the inevitability of air crashes more pronounced in Nigeria than in other countries? If air crashes are an act of God and therefore unavoidable, there would be no need for us to have an industry regulator.

If air accidents must be attributed to unknown forces, there must be something we are doing wrong in our aviation industry which other countries with better safety record excel in. Why do we blame natural elements for our incompetence and shortcomings? Accidents happen but the accidents that consume human lives in our air space are mostly preventable. And because we have not taken serious action to check those kinds of accidents, we have been condemned to experience repeat disasters.

Air accidents occur less frequently in other countries because those countries do not rely on irrational arguments or superstitious beliefs to ensure that aircraft that fly in their airspace are not the ageing types that are common in Nigeria. Countries with better air safety record ensure that airline operators, pilots and stakeholders comply more stringently to safety rules and procedures than we do in Nigeria. When aircraft is certified as air worthy in other countries, you can be certain that the aircraft were examined vigorously and approved by independent and incorruptible engineers who stick to the rules rather than those who engage in sneaky business practices.

Because our aviation industry regulator is populated by many men and women who lack professional skills, experience and commitment to their tasks, the agency is bound to do things by half. This implies we will continue to experience air accidents more frequently than other countries.

Apparently in denial of the performance of her ministry and in particular the awful safety record of Nigeria’s aviation industry, the minister tried but failed to twist facts. She said Nigeria has a very good aviation safety record and it was for this reason that the first black man (a Nigerian) had been appointed to head the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). If not for Nigeria’s immaculate safety record in aviation, she argued, such a rare honour would never have been conferred on a Nigerian. The minister said: “… we are producing the first ever black president of ICAO. It is unprecedented. Why? Because they have to judge you based on how secure your airports are, how your facilities have improved and we went through all that and every nation steps down and says that it is Nigeria’s time and Nigeria must have the first ever black president.”

How self-serving it was for the minister to attempt painstakingly to embellish known facts about frequent air accidents in the country.

It was an unusual press briefing for the minister. She was angry and she could not hide it. Her voice rose and fell as she grappled with fundamental questions about the performance record of her ministry, the poor safety record of the aviation watchdog, and the inability of the regulatory authorities to halt the increasing cases of air accidents across the country. The minister’s weird comments would not have made headline news in national and international media if she had kept silent rather than utter what she told journalists last week.

If the minister was unprepared for impromptu questions about the performance of her ministry, she could have informed journalists to await a press release from her ministry. Or, she could refer journalists to the permanent secretary or any other senior official in the ministry. When a minister says that air accidents are unavoidable or that they are acts of God, she makes the entire nation look silly in the eyes of the international community.

How could the minister explain the less frequent record of air accidents in countries with better aviation safety profile? What could explain the efficient performance of the regulatory agencies in those overseas countries? To what should we attribute the strict application of safety rules that pilots and airline operators observe in those countries with better track record? Was it by chance that other countries have better safety record than we do or could their safety history be the outcome of years of better and responsible planning, stricter enforcement of aviation safety regulations, and unflinching attention to safety procedures by staff of the regulatory agencies?

Whenever public officials fail in their duties, they manufacture excuses. They point to natural and unavoidable forces as the chief reason for their inability to perform. Because we experience regular air crashes in Nigeria, we are now informed that the gods must be angry with Nigeria.

Let us assume, for one moment, that the gods are angry with us. Why are the gods upset with our aviation industry? The gods are angry because we do not do things as dispassionately and efficiently as other countries do. The gods are angry because we enthrone mediocre people in positions of authority that require highly skilled and experienced professionals. The gods are angry with us because we do not approach our jobs with the uprightness and sincerity that other countries undertake their tasks.

We love the easy lifestyle. We don’t want to expend energy in our workplaces. Rather than examine aircraft thoroughly for traces of old age, old parts, wear and tear, and other problems that suggest the aircraft is not fit to fly, we discard thoroughness. We endorse careless and clumsy inspection routines that guarantee future and more frequent air accidents. We issue certificates of airworthiness when the aircraft ought to be grounded and written off. This haphazard approach to work coupled with our love for chaos and unsystematic methods of doing things have compromised the safety of air travellers.

Here is an irony. One week since the minister denied there were problems in the aviation industry, there have been two near air accidents. The most recent incident involved an IRS Airlines plane carrying 89 passengers on a flight from Lagos to Kaduna last Sunday, 13 October 2013. The aircraft developed a hydraulic problem which the NCAA described as “a minor problem”. In fact, the NCAA insisted the aircraft was not involved in an emergency because it landed safely in Kaduna. A statement by the director-general of the NCAA, Fola Akinkuotu, said the aircraft suffered “a minor hydraulic problem on approaching landing. The pilot, using reverse throttle mechanism, safely landed and stopped the aircraft on the runway. The aircraft was not involved in an emergency landing.” Perhaps we have an emergency only when an aircraft has crashed or exploded in mid-air. Only then would the NCAA boss admit we have an emergency.

On Friday, 4 October 2013, a Kabo Air Boeing 747 plane was involved in another incident in which the aircraft suffered burst tyres during emergency landing in Sokoto. The plane was reported to be on a flight to Saudi Arabia with 494 passengers and close to 20 crew members.

There are definitely problems with our aviation industry, regardless of the intensity of the minister’s desire to deny we have a crisis. The minister even contradicted her previous assessment of the situation in Africa when she cited the ICAO’s comment on Nigeria’s air safety record. She said: “And what saddens me really is that ICAO said just last week that Nigeria was way above the global average. We actually scored 65 per cent. Secondly, ICAO said Nigeria was the 12th most safe aviation globally. And then when you hear bad comments; people making comments that have zero bearing on reality. It is very annoying.”

Really? With all the incidents of air crashes, near accidents and emergency landings! Well, this is in conflict with the minister’s view in 2012 following the crash of the Dana Air plane on 3 June 2012. At the time, the minister said: “Africa is at the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of ensuring safety in our airspace.”

The minister showed emotion and inability to control her rage when she said in dishonourable language: “What I will advise the public really is to recognise the fact that aviation is a very professional area; you cannot listen to bar (beer parlour) comments because they are just unrealistic and totally untrue.”

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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