The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi. Email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Upon my return from the United States in June last year with the completed manuscript of my book on the Yar’Adua years, I had some doubts about whether or not I should publish the work immediately. My concerns arose because the issues were still fresh and most of the principal characters were still around. I was particularly worried about some of the defining issues dealt with in the first section of the book (which is on governance). Then an idea came to me, that I should discuss the matter with then National Security Adviser, General Andrew Owoye Azazi. When I called to request him to read some critical aspects of the manuscript so he could offer advice, he asked me to mail it to him and I did.
For five days, I waited anxiously. Then he called to say that he had read the section of the manuscript forwarded and that I should wait for his comments. Three days after, his mail came. Not only did he commend the effort, he made comments about me getting some dates and names mixed-up and generally advised that I needed to do more fact-checking.
Although I had known Azazi since my days in government and we related very well, we were really not close. But that experience opened a new chapter in our relationship such that when the security situation was getting out of hand early this year, I invited him to provide a confidential briefing to THISDAY editorial board members at a special session where he spent three hours with us. Since then we have related very well, speaking or exchanging mails/sms regularly.
It was therefore a rude shock to me last Saturday in Port Harcourt when, on my way from the same burial of Oronto Douglas’ father (which I eventually missed, having to turn back at Yenogoa, Bayelsa State capital), I heard about the plane crash that claimed Azazi’s life along with that of the Kaduna State Governor, Mr Patrick Yakowa and four others. Azazi, as even his most implacable foes would concede, was a man of strong convictions who never shied from expressing them, regardless of how others might feel. Whether that helped him in the course of his controversial tenure as NSA is another matter altogether, but he was not a pretentious man.
Yakowa, whose remains will be buried today, made history last year as the first Christian (from Southern Kaduna) to be elected Governor of the State. And given the testimonies of recent days and the outpouring of grief by critical stakeholders in Kaduna, Yakowa was an even-handed administrator who gave everyone his/her due while working towards the peaceful co-existence of all the people of the state that once served as headquarters for the old Northern Region.
I commiserate with Mrs. Azazi, Mrs. Yakowa and the families of the other victims of this unfortunate crash, and I pray God to grant them the fortitude they would need at such a most unfortunate period as this. But as is also to be expected in a season like this, I have listened to so many ‘ifs’ in the last few days about the crash; just as there are homilies to the effect that nobody can escape his/her fate. However, while death will come at its appointed time (and nobody has control over period, place or circumstance), there is no doubt that we have become rather suicidal as a nation. Whether we want to admit it or not, some of the disasters that befall us today are classical made-in-Nigeria tragedies.
The pertinent question here is: Was the crash that claimed the lives of Yakowa, Azazi and others avoidable? Even with the on-going probe, we may never really find an answer to that question, but the fact remains that travelling to Okoroba last Saturday by chopper for all who did was not a luxury flight. It was an uncomfortable necessity, which tells the compelling story of our nation and the penchant to sidestep, rather than address, problems. If public schools no longer function well, we send our children to private schools. If the public water system doesn’t work, we dig our own private boreholes. If the security situation in our area is bad, we erect fences around our homes, put burglary proof and employ our own army of guards. And if our hospitals can’t provide the requisite health services, we seek medical solution in Germany, India, etc.
It is this kind of warped mentality that has created a situation where, with our roads practically impassable, everybody is either buying a private jet or chartering one. The larger implication is that this crazy and expensive way of living also encourages primitive accumulation, since everyone virtually needs to become a government unto him/herself. There is also an associated danger to this. For instance, I was told during the week by an operator that because practically all our big men and women no longer fly with commercial airlines on the domestic route, people now have to book for their charter flights weeks ahead, thus unwittingly putting pressure on operators who may be so desperately concerned about their take that they can easily compromise safety.
The fact of the matter today is that our entire transport sector is in dire straits-- so whether on the land, in the air or on water, Nigerians are no longer safe. Before the naval helicopter came down last Saturday in the forest of Okoroba-Nembe area of Bayelsa State, there had been four other crashes this year alone. On March 14, the helicopter conveying newly promoted Deputy Inspector General of Police, Haruna John with three other police officers crashed in Jos, Plateau State. Three months later, on June 2, a Nigerian cargo plane crashed at Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana killing 10 people and injuring several others. 24 hours later, Dana Air flight 9J 992 with 153 passengers and crew on board crashed into residential buildings in the densely populated Iju/Ishaga area of Lagos State, killing 163 people. On October 25, Governor of Taraba State, Mr. Danbaba Suntai and five of his aides narrowly escaped death as his Cessna 208 aircraft, which the governor was piloting, crashed into a farmland 38 miles to Yola Airport.
The critical issue here is, therefore, not about some spurious investigations whose outcome would never be made public anyway. What we need to do is to begin to fix the transport sector. The statistics I got from the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) headquarters on Tuesday reveals that as at last Sunday, December 16, there had been 5,838 road traffic crashes across the country this year alone; with 3,977 fatalities. Yet in a corresponding period last year, we had 4,478 crashes, which represents an almost 30 percent increase in 2012, despite the pro-active efforts of the Osita Chidoka’s leadership at the FRSC.
But the water transportation sub-sector has not fared better either. From my interactions with senior JTF officials at the Bayelsa State Government House in Yenagoa last Saturday, the other means of getting to Oronto’s village was by water which, as we were warned, was very unsafe. There was therefore no option but for most invitees to be airlifted, with all the financial and safety implications. So the real issue here is that our transport sector has broken down irretrievably; and we need to begin to fix it. The only way to do that is to look at the bigger picture, by weighing the avoidable losses of lives and property arising from this critical aspect of state failure.
For me, the only person who seems to have attempted a solution was former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. While campaigning for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket sometime early last year, Atiku had pledged that if elected president, his medium-term (a four year period) strategy would be to ensure that recurrent expenditure is financed fully with non-oil revenue while every kobo earned from oil revenue is devoted to investment in social and physical infrastructure. Not surprisingly, nobody paid attention to what Atiku said then, meanwhile it is such conversation that we need to have now if we must reposition our country to make progress.
Occasional bursts of anger over tragedies, including vacuous promises about “leaving no stones unturned”, will not get us anywhere. The nation has lost too many of its finest and best to these mishaps and these losses are not just those of the families and associates of the deceased persons. They are the non-renewable assets of a developing nation that is being needlessly drained because it is not managing its own living space the way it should.
Fatalists may argue that the tragedy of last Saturday can be explained by the embedded message in Jeffrey Archer’s ‘Death Speaks’ in his collection ‘To Cut a Long Story Short’. The narrative is of a merchant in Baghdad whose servant ran back from the market, looking very terrified and assuring his master that he saw death in the market-place and that the latter threatened him. He pleaded with his master to lend him a horse, so he could ride away and avoid his fate. “I will go to Samarra and there death will not find me,” he said. The merchant obliged and the servant rode away. Then the merchant went to the market and confronted death for giving his servant a fright. Death calmly replied: “That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
Death speaks, it is true. But writing a script for death to read, as we seem to be doing in our country today, is another matter altogether. I hope we can learn some useful lessons from these tragedies.
Buhari @ 70
Former Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) was 70 on Monday and a get-together had been put together in Abuja in his honour. But the organisers had to postpone the event (at Buhari’s instance) as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives in last Saturday’s tragic helicopter crash. Having demonstrated, over the years, uncommon integrity in the public arena, Buhari remains an icon and a testimony to the fact that even in this our country, one could serve at the highest level without necessarily compromising cherished principles. I wish the General happy 70th birthday.