That is the real tragedy. That this clichéd vicious cycle has become the story of our existence; that we have chosen to stand by and watch our humanity chipped away steadily by a culture of mediocrity and irresponsibility.
There are certain traditional values by which a newspaper should abide. One that is dear to our hearts is that of balance. Even in extremely difficult times, it is important for the members of the fourth estate to reach for fairness; to keep their heads when everyone else is losing theirs. The downside to this is that, in keeping to that lofty ideal of balance, sometimes we fall into the pit of false equivalency – spreading blame so wide that it really lands the buck on no one’s desk.
But every once in a while, it is the other way round. At those times, it becomes our duty to take a stand; it becomes our responsibility to go beyond conventional constructions and point a finger.
Today is one of those days.
153 Nigerians may have died on Sunday. We say may because, at this moment, we cannot trust neither the authorities of Dana Air (whose questionable aircraft led to these deaths) nor the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (whom we must hold guilty until proven innocent for permitting that aircraft to fly) when they say all 153 are dead.
In addition to the ungodly haste with which the aviation authority announced that there were no survivors, we find it hard to trust the network of incompetent government officials who, according to eye-witness accounts, failed to come to the rescue of the crashed plane for 20 crucial minutes before it exploded (during which time those who may have survived the crash would have been rescued) and who, for more than eight hours, were unable to extract any possible survivors.
But, this we all know – many are dead. And for the deaths of these many – incinerated in that terrible aircraft or killed while on the ground – there is blame that must go round.
If the anonymous Dana Air staff who called into Channels Television Monday morning was correct – we are inclined to believe that she is – and the owners of this airline decided to fly a malfunctioning plane with a history of hydraulic faults, then the blame for this incident lays, first and foremost, at the table of Dana Air. And that is no small indictment.
We will also blame aviation minister Stella Oduah and her NCAA – which allowed this aircraft, and many other such aircraft, to fly to and from our contemptible airports which were this morning described by a BBC correspondent as “resembling bus stations”.
We will add to that ignoble list the network of agencies responsible for disaster management, led by the National Emergency Management Authority, which, though it has impressed on occasion, colossally failed to rise to this one – arriving more than 45 minutes after the incident, after which Nigerians eager to help had done more harm than good by contaminating the scene of the crash. The poverty of thought that followed the “rescue” showed fire-fighters and emergency services so ill-equipped that there is almost no justification for their existence.
Then we will blame Goodluck Jonathan, the president; not because he is an easy target, but because, after all is said and done, he is the leader of our government and he oversees this shameful state of our aviation, power, security, and emergency response.
Those we have pointed at will, of course, scream blue murder. They will ask for what they will call fairness and balance. “This is not a time to lay blame,” they and those who benefit from them will cry in the media. Then, together, they will commission an investigation – a ploy, as usual, for tempers to cool, so that the report will gather dust on government shelves, and all of us will go back to our miserable lives.
That, exactly, is the problem. There was a tragedy on Sunday: an immensely catastrophic incident – where dreams were shattered, lives destroyed, destinies and futures diverted. But huge as that disaster is – that is not what terrifies us.
We are terrified because this is not the first time that our nation will face a tragedy such as this. The history of plane crashes in Nigeria have included a tale of old planes (Aviation Development Co, 2006), employment of pilots whose previous experience was running a dairy farm for 14 years (Bellview, 2005), inefficient airports (Solsoliso, 2005), and more. And each time, little to nothing has been done to punish those who have cost us so many lives because they choose to do their jobs so terribly.
That is the real tragedy. That this clichéd vicious cycle has become the story of our existence; that we have chosen to stand by and watch our humanity chipped away steadily by a culture of mediocrity and irresponsibility; that we have become a country where anybody can be consumed at anytime.
That is our ongoing tragedy. But we must stop this cycle.
Here, the words of V.S. Naipaul give us pause. “They grumbled,” he wrote in Guerillas. “Journalists, politicians, businessmen – responding week by week to the latest newspaper crisis and television issue; they echoed one another, they could become hysterical with visions of the country’s decay.
“But the little crises always passed; the whispered political plots and business schemes evaporated; everything that was said was stale, and people no longer believed what they said. And failure always lay with someone else; the people who spoke of crisis were themselves placid, content with their functions, existing within their functions, trapped, part of what they railed against.”
That is the trap that we desperately must avoid this one time. We must, now, find those who are to blame, and we must punish them. We must stay on this issue and ensure it does not grow stale. We must reject placidity and choose no more to be content with merely existing.
We must do this not because we are courageous, but in the desperate understanding that we have no other choice. In the desperate understanding that, unless we take charge of this situation and hold those responsible accountable for this actions, tragedies of this magnitude will come our way again – and ‘again’ might be no more than 24 hours away.