By Rotimi Fasan
AS I got down to write this a day after the Muslim holidays one of the items in a review of newspapers on television is the report that airline fares have been increased. Above the headline of this report in the National Mirror was a photograph of the Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, whose tenure seems perpetually steeped in controversy ranging from charges of corruption, ethnic bias to highhandedness.
These are standard accusations against public officers in Nigeria where appointment into public offices are often viewed as opportunities for corrupt enrichment in the name of such officers’ places of origin.
The only difference here is that while most public officers manage to take care of their personal interests in this manner with little attention, Mrs. Oduah seems to relish the unfortunate controversy that goes with it. Which gives one the impression she must be doing something wrong or she wouldn’t be trailed by such frequently negative publicity.
But the report on new increases in air fare was a reminder, for me, of how non-performing commercial organisations, whether privately or publicly owned, nonetheless expect to get paid for the poor and even harmful services they provide their Nigerian customers- from PHCN to the telecommunication companies daily repatriating billions of dollars out of Nigerian and, of course, the airline companies that own those flying coffins called airplanes that randomly crash out of the skies across our domestic airspace.
The bad smell created by the crash of the Associated Airlines plane earlier in the month is yet to clear up. Many homes are still plunged in the deep sorrow of that most unfortunate of air disasters in which the remains of the former governor of Ondo State, himself a former Minister of Aviation, Olusegun Agagu, was being conveyed for burial in Ondo State.
The fact that Agagu was once in charge of the Aviation Ministry caused many Nigerians to make angry statements that could at best be described as speaking ill of the dead. Several family heads and their children needlessly perished in the crash involving a plane that shouldn’t have been flying at all or a company, like many in Nigeria, that shouldn’t have been registered to operate as an airline company if some people had been doing their job.
Since that crash, the Nigerian aviation authorities have gone through the usual motions of finding the ‘’immediate and remote causes’’ of the crash. They’ve parceled out blame and sanctions like a stale meal to those thought guilty, even to Dana Air, a company that was given the green light to resume business after it had been grounded following an egregious disaster whose investigation was typically shoddy.
In a sudden access of belated anger and hunger for culprits, our aviation authorities decided to punish an airline company it had absolved of blame for a past misdeed, if one could so describe the Dana crash.
In the wake of the Associated Airlines crash, several air disasters have been averted or so Nigerians have been told. There have been such scary episodes as plane tires bursting midair, planes crash landing or being forced to land, etc.
Our air safety records must rank among the worst if not the worst in the world. Air travel is generally seen as the safest means of travel going by rate of accidents. But this is not the case in Nigeria where air disasters have become as common as carnages on our roads.
The fact that these disasters are limited to the domestic airspace is simply because Nigerian airlines have ceded the international route to foreign airlines. Yet our safety record is simply atrocious.
The initial report from investigation into the Associated Airlines crash indicates pilot error. The fact that the pilot of the plane refused to follow instructions to abort the flight following safety concerns is proof of the total lack of governance or control in our aviation sector. Are we to understand that pilots can choose what safety instructions to follow?
Or that a suicidal pilot or crew could endanger the lives of passengers without a means to bring such erring pilot/crew to order before take off? It’s crazy what our aviation sector has been reduced to.
Safety issues are simply not among priority issues at our airports. Rather than paying attention to what passengers have on their persons or luggage, security officers in our airports are always eager to beg for tips and other kinds of unauthorised tolls from the passengers.
They are not ashamed to ask passengers for what ‘’you bring for us’’. They are ready to delay passengers in long queues asking foolish and irrelevant questions until they are given their ‘’tips’’.
Passengers eager to get out of the stiflingly hot and smelly departure/arrival lounges are often obliging. And those who know what contraband they are freighting across our borders would give very generously, assured that these so-called security officers wouldn’t bother to check for anything once they’ve got their bribe.
A suicide bomber could walk through the porous security checks at our airports without anybody asking a question. Only God knows what amount of our recorded air disasters are connected to security lapses.
Once it was stray animals that graze on our airport tarmacs. Now it’s the era of stowaways who in fact ought to be seriously reprimanded and chastened but are granted heroes’ reception for their ability to breach security cordons.
Nobody in the airports is thinking of the security implication of young boys walking into airports with plans to board planes without travel documents.
We all think these are matters to joke about until some of these children start carrying bombs in their backpacks to board aircraft. Even the seriousness of the situation seems lost on people who should be alert to such incidents as the police commissioner at the Lagos airport who, on arresting two suspected stowaways, called on their respective state governments to help ‘’rehabilitate’’ them. What has youth delinquency got to do with rehabilitation?
Boys who should be spanked at home for misbehaving are being turned into overnight heroes for embarking on dangerous pranks.
Is it any wonder that more Daniels are finding their way to the airport as if that is the place for rehabilitating misguided delinquents?
The Nigerian aviation authorities, by which I mean all agencies at the airports including the Aviation Ministry, the police, the Immigration Service, NDLEA and NACA etc- every single agency connected to our airports must be alert to their duties.
They should know that they bear responsibility for the safety of millions of travellers who go through our airports and they cannot afford to toy any more with human lives in the manner they’ve been doing for so many years.