By Bisi Lawrence
There is hardly anyone who has traveled with any of the local flights on more than ten occasions who does not have some harrowing experiences to recount. I have lost count of how many times I have found myself in the midst of crying, praying, and, screaming passengers inside a plane which had developed some mechanical fault or the other.
Sometimes, it would be a turbulent weather which gave the fears and anxieties of the hapless men, women and children that chilling expression that should be so hard to forget, and yet which turned out to be so easily forgotten when “terra firma” had been achieved in one piece. Once safety was assured, these same people who had been in tatters a while back, are already busy planning for the flight back, or further ahead ..
There is a thrill in flying that poses a challenge along with the pleasure. No matter what, people will fly. They will run up the stairs of an aircraft without a trace of anxiety and nonchalantly strap up their seat belts, without showing any anticipation for whatever peril might lie ahead. And, as we all know, it is always there. But then may come a day, as it did in my own case, when you say, “That’s it!” It was on my fifty-third flight, and the journey was between Lagos and Abuja.
Permit me to here explain that the history of my flying dates back to 1952, in the days of those “Dove” six-passenger “crates”, operated by the West African Airways Corporation. I was then a Meteorological Observer, Metob for short, and we had observational fights as part of our training. We found it very interesting, though frightening at first, and then individually began to keep a count of our flights.
The tally increased when I went into sports as the Chairman of the NFA Technical Committee at one time, and the Publicity Secretary on several occasions, while serving as the Head of Outside Broadcasts (Sports) the same time. It meant traveling with the national sports teams, especially football, all over the world. There were also other opportunities for air travel in other spheres of life. That is actually why my flying record may appear somewhat high.
On that particular flight to Abuja, everything was smooth as silk until we got to the airport, and the wheels got stuck—the under-carriage refused to roll out for the landing. The pilot went into a repertoire of aerial maneuvers without any success. Eventually, he announced that the ejection of the wheels would have to be manually accomplished, and indeed it happened that way. So we landed. It took us about thirty years— which might have been minutes on a normal clock. And so I said, “No more!”
That was in the latter part of 1998. The business that took me to Abuja was the fortnightly meeting of the Organizing Committee of Nigeria 99, the Junior World Cup Competition which took place here. From then on, I attended subsequent meetings by road. Two other sub-committee chairmen, Austin Akosa and “JB” Ogufere, were also of he same mind. So we *flew” to Abuja by road for the meetings afterwards. (By the way, “JB” celebrates his eightieth birthday anniversary today. Isn’t that something? Here then is wishing the time-honoured sports administrator many happy returns.)
I have traveled by air only twice since then. Some two weeks ago on this page, I declared that God was always in control. Why then have I consistently concealed my refusal to fly behind a nebulous doctor’s advice that it is not good for my health? I find myself at the bar of my own conscience. Is the genuine reason for my refusal – not just reluctance—to fly not an outrageous lack of faith in what I declare with my own lips? I wonder how many of us make such protestations of trust in God but whose actions fall dismally below our declarations. God have mercy.
But there was someone in that tragic Dana flight which accounted for the loss of so many lives recently. Alvana Ojukwu was a young Christian worker. She was indeed on her way to attend a Christian conference when she became one of the victims in that heartrending incident. There were no doubt outpourings of fear, anguish, despair and great consternation around her, but this young lady was in no way dismayed. In the midst of that terrible uproar, she calmly stared death in the face and sent a simple message of great faith to her loved ones: “Take strength in the Lord; few minutes from now, I’ll be going to meet the Lord”
I believe there are still saints in the world, even if it would appear that the number is diminishing. I believe SAINT Alvana is indeed right now with the Lord.God is control.
**black-out”on black box
The echoes of the Dana flight will take a long time to subside. Alvana Ojukwu’ s text message clearly indicates that the crash was by no means sudden. If we can start from there, it would be instructive what the subsequent developments were. The activities surrounding an incident of that nature are reckoned to be paramount in guarding against a recurrence. That is why the recovery of the “black box”—the record of the tangible events leading to the event—is always held at a high premium. Fortunately, it was found in this case. But the public has been officially informed that the information contained in the recorder will not be made public as it is, because the “international conventions” of the International Civil Aviation Organization, to which Nigeria belongs, forbids it.
That raises a lot of issues. Foremost is why? That would be interesting to know. Such data were preserved, in the first place, for the benefit of the people, especially the survivors of the victims, and then the rest of us. In what way is the hoarding of all the information contained in the “black box” useful to the people? Even if some of it has to be kept away for “security” reasons—which are a favourite ploy—why not release the rest? If there are human errors involved in the management or conduct of the aircraft, the people should know and some measures should be taken as a deterrent. But to be deliberately kept in the dark about information that may reassure the members of the public about a square deal from the authorities leaves room for doubt about their sincerity.
We demand information from the “black box” about the disastrous Dana flight, and that at once. It is fast becoming the norm to withhold some facts that grieving survivors of the victims of air tragedies may find some solace in. Not one of the many air crashes in the past has had the cause of the tragedy exposed. It smacks of a callous cover-up by the authorities. The “international conventions” of the ICAO is binding only to the extent that each nation finds it convenient for her interest and welfare.
I see nothing wrong in President Goodluck Jonathan flying off to Brazil in the wake of a triple bombing incident. After all, our security officials assure us that they are “on top” of the situation. What else?
And, in any case, these incidents are now occurring almost every Sunday. Are we to order him to stay put every week-end, with those dazzling craft of the Presidential Flight gleaming in the sun?
Anyway, tomorrow is another Sunday…