After about six years of virtual air safety in Nigeria besides minor skirmishes, the country was thrown into mourning on Sunday when the Lagos-bound Dana plane from Abuja crashed into a residential area in a densely populated Lagos suburb. Soon after the crash, the multitude that besieged turned the area into something else. Chiemelie Ezeobi and Taiwo Akintunde write
The skies wept, the clouds frowned and the air ceased as the Dana Aircraft laden with 153-passengers and crew crashed into a residential building at the Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos State on Sunday afternoon. The incident threw the residents of the area into pandemonium whilst the explosion lasted. Soon after, a motley crowd of people besieged the crash site with all sorts of motives. Meanwhile, while some people were in anguish and mourning, businesses boomed at Popoola, its neighbouring streets and beyond as the teeming crowd patronised the sellers. Not minding the accident scene or the attendant loss of lives, the traders jostled for customers. Also commercial motorcyclists had a field day as they capitalised on the human frenzy to hike up their fares.
Saddened by the avoidable killings, a businessman simply identified as Godfrey, flayed the ‘manage it’ syndrome that has riddled the nation. He said: “It's sad that these sort of unfortunate and avoidable mishaps keep recurring in this country. How come an aircraft that was not given a clean bill of health was allowed to ply the Nigerian airspace carrying Nigerians on board its flight and once again, our country's rescue operation has been called to question and once again failed as expected.
“This is the only country that is plagued with prolonged ineptitude and inefficiency; square pegs being fitted into round holes. As long as this is what is obtainable in Nigeria, then we should expect another imminent calamity of even greater proportion.
“I would have rushed in joining the band wagon calling a proper probe/investigation into this but am further saddened by the reality of such outcome that will never see the light of day. My sincere condolences go to the various families that lost loved ones in the ill-fated aircraft. Long live the suffering and smiling Nigerians.”
While expressing her condolences to the family of the victims, yet another person flayed the preventable loss of lives, Ms. Joy Otti, called on the government to step in and ensure that all aircrafts being used in Nigeria are in the best possible technological state and if not should be banned from flying the country’s air space.
One of the volunteer rescuers told THISDAY that initial efforts made to rescue the victims was abandoned at the sight of the inferno that followed the explosion. According to the male hair stylist, Ola Saheed, the plane did not crash the second it dropped, rather it took a few minutes before it exploded and roasted its occupants including the residents of the storey-buildings around.
He said: “This is the worst thing that could have ever happened in Lagos especially in Iju because it is so densely populated. The most painful aspect was that the fire fighters could not even put out the fire after hours.
“If not for the combined efforts of the volunteers, the fire might have spread to other buildings in the area. You can imagine in such a dangerous case as an airplane crash and the fire service do not have enough water to put it out.” To buttress his claims, he pointed to a green three-storey building, which was partly burnt by the fire. According to him, the building would have been saved if the fire fighters had enough water to quench the flames that were already licking the roof of the house.”
He also rued the fact that the ceaseless rainfall which had besieged Lagosians for long chose not to fall that day. According to him, the damage would have been minimal if it had rained because the rains would help put out the fire.
In a telephone conversation with THISDAY, the President, Security Watch Africa (SWA), Mr. Patrick Agbambu, said he was scheduled to fly Dana back to Lagos from Abuja but had to boycott the already booked flight when the news of the crash filtered in.
He said: “I had already paid for my flight and was awaiting the flight time when the news filtered in, myself and some other passengers quickly veered to another airline to buy another ticket. Up till now, Dana Air has not refunded the money we spent on the ticket.”
This is coming as President Goodluck Jonathan, who visited the crash scene on Monday, alongside the state Governor, Babatunde Fashola, the Acting Inpsector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, Minister of Transport, Idris Umar and other dignitaries, pledged better air safety measures for Nigerians.
Vowing to put an end to air disasters in the country, the president said they are working very hard to improve the aviation sector. He said: “This particular incident is a major setback for us. By the end of the day, I will make sure that this will not repeat itself in the country.”
However, for Mr. Segun Akinkotu, the visit does not in any way assuage the heart-rending grief of the families of the deceased. According to him, the president’s promise was just another in a series of daily assurances Nigerians are pelted with at each disaster.
He said: “It is saddening that corruption has become second skin to us and if not why would a plane that has technical faults be allowed to fly? We have an alarming way of lowering our standards to the detriment of innocent citizens.
“The aviation authorities keep touting about their enforcement of aviation rules but this incident has told the world the truth. There is a lack of enforcement and that is why planes that cannot be allowed to fly in other countries are brought to Nigeria and are used to convey passengers. It is simply stating the obvious to say that Nigeria has become a dumpster and the big question is; what role did the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authorities (NCAA) and others responsible for certification of aircraft if not to checkmate such from happening?”
Some of the relatives at the scene of the incident lamented that the airplane, according to reports was not air-worthy. They lamented that several times planes had crash landed due to malfunctioning engines and nothing was usually done to put things under control thereafter. While speaking to THISDAY at the scene of incident, Mr. Animashaun Abdul-Majeed who claimed to have a passenger on board but refused to identify the name said he had severally
warned operatives of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) severally that the condition of some of the aircraft is not safe for flight but they would always promise to check and in the end, nothing is done in respect to his complaints.
He said, “I am a regular traveller and I have witnessed several hitches even while on board. The last time I witnessed this was when I was heading to Calabar last month with Aero Contractors and few minutes before we arrived our destination, there were some strange sound from the engine that kept many of us onboard in great panic but in the end, we thank God we landed safely,” he said.
He also noted that at the time the news of the crash broke on Sunday, many passengers whose flights were due for evening returned home due to fear. “On the evening the plane crashed, I was at the airport to get a flight ticket for my next trip and I saw many people who came to buy tickets from Dana Airline returning home and I think that bother on confidence. I lost a family member whom I will not mention his name right now due to family reasons but I want the government to really look into this matter and the Ministry of Aviation should investigate this particular incident and come out with concrete result that will serve as a big lesson to all airline operators in the country,” he added.
At the Dana Airline Accident Information Centre, Murtala Muhammed Airport, MMA 2, where families of victims were waiting to receive directives from the officials of the company, some of them reacted to the cause of the crash alleging that it was an act of negligence on the part of the management of the airline. Ijeoma Enebeli, a friend of a victim on board the plane said that the plane was due to crash because it wasn’t properly maintained. She also said that she read a report about the incident on BBC website that on 11th of May, 2012, the same airplane crash-landed after spending several minutes in the air and nothing was done to check the cause of the accident. “I read a report on BBC website about this plane crash and it was disclosed that this same airplane actually crash-landed on May 11 this year but it is so unfortunate that nothing was done to revert the situation. Now our loved ones have to pay for their
negligence with their own lives,” she said.
However, the bereaved persons have asked the Federal Government to look into the aviation industry and scrap every substandard product or service that could lead to further loss of lives adding that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority NCAA and the FAAN should be scrutinized thoroughly.