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Dana: Counting the dead and conning the damned (3)

B Tonye Princewill
HEADS definitely need to roll in the Nigerian aviation industry, in the wake of the Dana airline disaster – the deadliest in our entire aviation history.

Nor should a shakeup be contingent upon technical issues alone. It is for this reason that I have called for a judicial investigation: Because a judicial panel would have the authority, not only to command participation in the investigative process and punish recalcitrant individuals, but also to act on its own findings.

We have seen the benefits of this approach in Rivers State, which is enjoying excellent service from a judicially imposed Governor.

I am aware that judicial panels too consist of humans, who are fallible. Such bodies can and, no doubt, will, get it wrong occasionally. But a judicial inquiry could not possibly be worse than past investigations, which have yielded no results at all. They’ve just been a means of conning the people.

One major benefit will be to expedite the procedure. The Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB, has submitted a report. But it’s only a preliminary fact sheet.

It will submit an interim report sometime between September and December, with the final document due for handing one year from now – in 2013.

This is, in my opinion a little too long. I realise there are very complex issues, some of them technical, to address. But that is my point. The technical, political and administrative dimensions can, I believe, be separated – without doing violence to the investigative process that is already well under way.

Far from obviating the need for a judicial inquiry, the present situation suggests strongly that this is the way forward. A judicial panel would not necessarily interfere with or in any way disturb the work that is in progress. Alternatively, jurists can be added to the Federal Technical and Administrative Review Panel; and it can be given judicial authority.

The jurists would provide legal guidance and legitimize any punitive action the panel might be required to take.
Dana Airlines, for example, is showing no sign of penitence.

In what is possibly a hint of the struggle that lie ahead, its management has adopted a policy of denial, insisting that no engine went out when, according to almost all reports I’ve read, the pilots reported loss of power.

Aside from anything the pilots may have said to air traffic controllers though, the two main causes of aircraft crashes are loss or power and the failure of one or more of the crucial control mechanisms and their backup systems.

In the interest of fairness and objectivity, I think I should also note that the loss of power on an aircraft does not have to be due to a faulty engine

. “Bird strike” is a very common cause of engine failure. Still, Dana ought to have taken its own advice. It suggested that the Aviation Minister should not have commented on the probable cause until the investigation is completed. But this applies more to Dana’s management than to the Minister.

Let me make one thing explicitly clear: In recommending a judicial panel, I am not dashing cold water on the present body. Nor am I casting aspersions at any individual or individuals on the panel. Quite to the contrary, I am very impressed with the caliber of its members.

Group Captain John Obakpolor (rtd.), the chairman of the Technical and Administrative Review Panel, an aviation engineer, has long been agitating for change within the aviation industry; and I have no doubt but that he will prove to be a gadfly and a spur, prodding the panel when it appears to waver from its charge. Nevertheless, I would like to see the administrative and technical review processes separated.

This division of labour would speed up the investigative process and, at the same time, create a system of checks and balances, which would ensure that the findings of both panels are acted on expeditiously.

A judicial inquiry would also help protect panel members from political reprisals in the event sacred political cows have to be slaughtered. With a reduced work load, members of each panel can be focused, increasing the effectiveness of both bodies and rendering their judgments more reliable.

One way or the other though, heads need to role in the aviation industry – and not just for punitive reasons. There is simply a need to infuse fresh blood into the sector. There is need for new people, with a new outlook and a new way of doing things.

Hopefully, the Dana affair will provide the political impetus needed for the President to do what needs to be done. But he will need to strike while the iron is hot, act while the public’s sense of outrage is still sufficiently palpable to provide him with the required political support.

Otherwise, my fear is that, if a whole year is allowed to pass, the people’s rage will have subsided; and the con artists who have subverted previous reform efforts might, once more, carry the day.


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