For one whole year, they have struggled in vain. Families and friends of the departed in the ill-fated Dana flight 992 that crashed into the densely populated Iju-Ishaga neighbourhood of Lagos State have continued to cry out. In this incisive report, Godwin Haruna, Chinedu Eze and Chiemelie Ezeobi write about the agonies of families who lost loved ones and property to the June 3, 2012 Dana air crash
Those who lost loved ones and valuable property to the Dana air crash of Sunday, June 3, 2012 have spent the last twelve months agonising and today they will remember again the sad memories of how their loved ones died in the ill-fated aircraft. But such memories will be more bitter this year as the compensation due to many of them have been denied them.
Yes, the workmen hired by the Lagos State Ministry of Works to erect a cenotaph in memory of the victims of the ill-fated Dana flight 992 busied themselves at the crash site last week, but that will still not substitute for the lives lost, neither will it take away the sad memories.
When our reporters visited the site last week, Okusanya Street which was impacted the most and all the neighbourhood streets adjoining the crash site, such as Popoola and Olaniyi were being rehabilitated for use by the dignitaries who are expected for the anniversary.
All the rubble on the crash site has since been cleared and the entire environment fenced to protect whatever the government plans to put in memory of the horrid accident. A staff of the Lagos State Ministry of Works told THISDAY at the site that all the 153 names of the crash victims would be engraved on the cenotaph upon completion. He said they were working under a tight deadline to complete the construction before today when dignitaries from both state and federal establishments are expected to unveil it.
A resident of the area, Mr. Sunday Dapo, who lives on Olaniyi Street spoke about the event of last year in a subdued voice as if it happened yesterday. Dapo said: “It was a thing that should make us scared and thank God. My house is down the street, although I was not at home that day, It was a terrible thing for someone to be killed in such circumstances that we all witnessed last year June.”
Dapo remembered the people who lost their lives at home due to the impact of the crash. He said: “I am not even talking about those inside the plane, but our neighbours here who perished right in their own homes. It is not just an incident to remember at all, because it is too hard for me to come to terms with. But who are we to question God?”
He talked about compensation for the victims too. He said: “It is incomprehensible that there would be delays in the compensation to the families who lost loved ones and their property. Nobody prays for disaster, but when it happens, you would expect the organisation that is responsible to be proactive in paying compensation without putting families of victims through another period of anguish, but that don’t usually happen here.
“They will expect you to carry placards and dance through the streets shouting before they can commit to doing something. It’s a shame” Dapo said visibly furious.
Since the sad event that claimed the entire 153 persons on board and some 10 residents in the neighbourhood where the flight crashed, quite a number of the families of those that perished have not been compensated.
As stipulated by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Act, following the crash, Dana Air was expected to pay the sum of $100,000 each to the victims who lost their lives starting with the initial payment of $30,000 of the total sum, while $70,000 was meant to paid after full verification. However, the airline seems to be more interested in how to get its aircraft back into the air rather than pay compensation to the victims.
Just about three weeks ago, Daniel Omowunmi, the owner of the furniture factory and warehouse, in which the airplane plunged into on the fateful day, shut down the offices of the airline on Allen Avenue, Ikeja, for failing to compensate him for the losses he suffered.
Omowunmi became angry after it dawned on him that nearly one year after the incident, not much has been done for him beside the $30,000 (N4.8 million) was handed to him as rent subsidy to relocate his family from the shattered building. On May 8, 2013, Omowunmi created a scene on the highbrow Allen Avenue, where Dana Airline has its office, when he locked the staff out.
It took the intervention of the security agents before the offices could be reopened after several hours that day. He lamented: “My property included four plots of land with a detached six-bedroom building, two standard warehouses, a bungalow at the back of the warehouses and four fish ponds.
“Everything was destroyed, including my jeep parked inside the premises. My furniture, six containers of books and five containers of kitchen utensils were all destroyed. Up till today, they have not said anything tangible and yet they are flying. If they think they will carry on with business like that, I can tell you it is not going to be easy for them, they must be joking.”
He added: “The claim I put before them is about N500 million and up till now, the only thing they have made available to me after much pressure was $30,000 dollars to rent a house. After that, they have not been forthcoming. My lawyer actually persuaded me to collect the money at that time, but I wanted to collect my money in full.”
Omowunmi said he took the action because of the indifference of the airline after he had inundated them with reminders on his plight. “It’s now a year after the plane crash. I have not been working up till now. They destroyed my property and rendered me jobless since June 3, 2012. Dana has commenced operation, they have moved on but the company has not said anything meaningful about my case.
“Officials of the company have been going on air with all sorts of propaganda claiming that they have settled all those affected. That is why I have come here so that they can come out to tell me the arrangements they have made, the amount they paid and who they gave it to,” said Omowunmi determined to get full compensation for his losses.
Omowumi explained that he waited until a year later to seek redress over the gross insensitivity of Dana Air to his plight as a mark of respect for the 153 passengers that perished in the crash.
He explained that since June 20, 2012, following the request of the airline, he forwarded a comprehensive letter of claims through his solicitor, Messers Dele Adesina and Co, but several months after, the airline is yet to respond, but gave a paltry N500,000 as temporary relief for those who had nowhere to go after their homes were damaged.
Another bereaved person Mr. James Okafor, a driver also spoke to our reporters on the efforts his family has made so far in getting the financial compensation due to them.
Okafor lost his elder brother, Nwabuwa, who left two of his kids behind. His wife had died earlier through childbirth. In order to give adequate attention to the children left behind, they have been taken to the village to be cared for by elderly parents of the deceased.
Like a man at peace with himself and the world, Nwabuwa had gone to bed but did not wake up as he was burnt to death while sleeping in his residence when the plane plunged into his house.
According to Okafor, Dana Air had promised to take care of the burial, among other sundry expenses, but he said the airline did not fulfill that promise. He disclosed that he spent over N350,000 on the burial.
He added: “Today is the memorial service for my brother but we have not gotten a dime. All the money I spent at the burial was mine. We buried him in the village and when we got back, I showed my lawyer the details of the expenses.
“Then the lawyer had assured that they would pay but that I needed to get some papers ready for my father to handover the power of attorney to me. They requested for the pictures of my six siblings, my wedding pictures too and driver’s license, which we all submitted but they didn’t pay anything.”
Another victim, an interior decorator, Mr. Iloka Chima, lamented that the crash had reduced him to nothing. For weeks, he was in the hospital before he was discharged. “The crash reduced me to nothing. I lost everything,” he said. He lamented that despite all the promises made to the ground victims, he was only paid N200,000.
He said: “After the crash, I squatted from house to house with my family. It took the efforts of my brother to raise money to pay for another home which cost us about 500,000.”
Another victim, Uchechukwu Okoye was injured in the crash and also spent weeks in the hospital. He is yet to be compensated for his injuries.
Dana Air’s Response
Reacting to the allegation, Head of Communications, Dana Air, Tony Usidamen said: “Dana Air would like to reaffirm that all claims are being handled by our insurers in accordance with the law. Cogent efforts to provide temporary relief to the displaced Iju-Ishaga residents were made on July 3, 2012, when the airline presented cheques to the affected residents; two families declined the offer citing personal reasons. We would like to, once again, reassure all affected residents that compensation shall be paid by our insurers in accordance with the law.”
On why it has taken this long for compensation to be paid to the ground victims, Usidamen said: “In order to ensure that just and fair compensation is paid to the affected families, several processes have to be followed by law, and settlement reached by all parties concerned. These processes usually take time but our insurers are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that all the matters are resolved.”
He said that the airline’s insurers have also continued to deal with claims by families of passengers and crew on board the ill-fated flight, adding, “Over 84 families have received advance payments of $30,000 and payment of final settlement to families who have produced the requisite letters of administration (and letters of guardianship, in the case of minors) has since commenced. With the waiver of statutory fees and fast-track system, families will have the requisite documents expeditiously. This will enable the insurers to settle all claims within the shortest possible time, and in accordance with the law.”
But Omowunmi countered the airline’s claim, stating: “I have waited till this moment so that families of our dear Nigerians and other nationals killed in the crash could be attended to by Dana Air. Today, I have come to realise that the management of Dana Air are killers and satanic.
“How could you destroy all that I have worked for in my life, yet be comfortable to turn deaf ears to my plight. My lawyer clearly indicated in my letter to Dana Air that my property served as my residence and business premises, as I used the place as a furniture factory, warehoused goods for people and ran a fish pond.”
An aviation lawyer told THISDAY shortly after the crash last year that in law and in accordance to Nigeria Civil Aviation Act, those who lost their lives on the ground and whose property was damaged by the crash are to be compensated as well as those who died on board.
Omowunmi said he would now embark on a series of actions to seek redress. He urged President Goodluck Jonathan, the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola and the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, to put pressure on Dana Air to discharge its responsibility to him as required under the law.
Heading to the Courts
Perhaps Omowunmi may have been the most vocal voice in the country over delayed compensation. However, there are other victims who have taken the battle before a court of competent jurisdiction.
The former NCAA Director General Harold Demureen told journalists last year that only 14 families out of the 146 families received full insurance compensation of $100,000, six months after the crash while 85 families could only get the initial $30,000 at the time.
Demuren reportedly said that for the families that are yet to access full payment, they must submit letters of administration (LOA) for the reinsurance company to process their claims.
The breakdown provided then indicated that 131 families submitted documents for compensation, while families of 12 victims were yet to submit all the documentation and families of two victims were yet to submit full documentation. He also said families of 53 victims had gone to court (including families of 23 victims who had collected the initial payment of $30,000).
Demuren had stated that the documentation for 24 victims was awaiting authentication by the insurers while letters of administration for 48 victims were still being awaited.
He said issues of multiple claims were also being carefully handled, adding that NCAA had held several meetings with some of the families of the victims and their lawyers, alongside the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) and sought the assistance of the Lagos State Government to fast track the process of the issuance of the letters of administration (LOA) which it had agreed to do.
“An official letter was written to the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice of Lagos State and an official letter was also written to the Chief Judge of the state. A visit was made to the Chief Judge requesting for fast tracking of the process of the issuance of LOAs and waivers on levies to be paid,” Demuren said.
For the ground victims of the crash, NCAA said that it would ensure that all of them, including those who died, wereinjured and whose property were damaged receive full compensation. However, Omowunmi’s resort to self-help three weeks ago to recover his losses indicates that enough grounds had not been covered in meeting the promise made by the NCAA.
And though Dana Air claimed that it was making progress with payment, the company spokesman confirmed that it was slow and pain tasking. Indeed, at a press conference held in Lagos by the company to preempt a backlash during this first year’s remembrance for the victims of the plane crash, Usidamen said: “As of Friday, May 24, 2013, 95 of the 125 families who completed claim forms had received the interim compensation of $30,000 following legal verification of documentation and next-of-kin status while 11 have received full compensation of $100,000; about 21 more, whose grant of probate had just come through, will receive full payment shortly, upon execution of release.
“The delay in completion of the payment process is due to incomplete documentation, multiple claim cases, challenges in securing grant of probate/letter of guardianship (in the case of minors) and legal suits (62 persons have legal representation overseas). Our insurers are, however, sparing no efforts at processing all the claims in accordance with the applicable law.”
He claimed progress was also being made to compensate the ground victims and negotiations were ongoing with affected residents to settle all genuine claims within the shortest possible time.
“How would our wounds heal, when the harbinger of our pains, heartaches and sorrows do not show empathy for our losses? We are trying to move on but I tell you the truth, it’s not been easy,” was the way Michael Uchegbu,, whose brother Chukwuebuka died in the Dana plane crash, responded to the delayed compensation by Dana Air, even as the memory of the sad incident was etched on his face as he spoke.
Dr. Ben Anyene, whose youngest brother, Onyeka Collins, died in that unfortunate incidence with his wife, four children, mother in-law and two cousins of his wife, said the family was yet to come to terms with the tragedy. The Anyenes had the highest number of members of their family that perished in that crash.
According to him, Dana Air had tossed them from one insurance firm to another, yet the bulk of the compensation is yet to be paid.
On this day, last year, the Dana air crash incident threw the residents of the entire area of Iju-Ishaga into pandemonium as they scampered for safety, just as moments after the crash, emotions ran high as families who had lost loved ones on the plane thronged the scene and realised that all had perished.
According to the chairman of the airline, Jacky Hathiramani, the plane a 9J-922 with registration number 5N- RAM, departed Abuja for Lagos with 146 passengers on board including an air flight engineer, two pilots and four cabin crew who all died in the crash.
Though the crash affected different families from different backgrounds, they all had one thing in common: grief. For instance, Resources Intermediaries Limited lost two of its staff, Ms. Aimanehi Celine Onemolease and Mrs. Fortune David-Kolawole, who unfortunately was with her little baby, Eyinjuoluwa, in the ill-fated plane.
Also the Aikhomus lost their son, Ehime in the crash. His death came as a blow to the family and friends because it occured soon after his father’s (Admiral Augustus Aikhomu) death, who was the former military vice-president under General Ibrahim Babangida.
Similarly, Mr. John Nnamdi of the Ministry of Aviation died in the crash as well as staff of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) including the late Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma; Manager, Pipelines and Depot Projects, Mr. Kayode Okikiolu; Deputy Manager, Brass LNG, Mr. Ibrahim Nagidi; and Mr. Inusa Ahmed Abba who died with his son, Faysal.
Others were a transformation officer in the Corporate Planning and Strategy Division, Mr. Lanre Fatoku, who lost his entire family comprising his wife Mrs. Anjola Fatokun, son Olaoluwa and daughter Ibukun; as well as the Assistant Director and Abuja Zonal Operations Controller of the DPR, Mr. Anthony Nwaokoagbara.
But as part of efforts to make the bereaved persons come to terms with their losses, the June 3 Memorial Group set up by Seeds, an independent non-governmental organisation, held a multi-faith memorial service for the victims at the Muri Okunola Park, Victoria Island, Lagos.
However, the bereaved families maintained that aside from the initial assistance by the state governor, Babatunde Fashola and public-spirited individuals, the airline has not been empathetic towards their plights either emotionally or by fulfilling its financial obligations it in the form of compensation.
Uchegbu noted: “Apart from the $30,000 they paid us, they have been evasive as regards the remaining $70,000. First, they told us to get some papers including that of the next of kin as well as the claimant’s details, which we did but they keep giving us excuses.
“They are playing games with us, but if they find out that you are about to take it up with an international body that is fighting on behalf of some people, they will convince you not to use the services of the organisation, and pay you off. At least, that is the latest I have been hearing.
“Instead of Dana Air to act responsibly, they organisation has been giving us a raw deal. In fact, as we speak, we are depending on the international body to do their job because we are tired of being tossed back and forth.”
On the passage of time, he said: “We are trying to move on but it still hurts. Dana invited us to a memorial service they are organising but we held a memorial service for my brother in Enugu where my parents reside yesterday so we couldn’t make it to the Dana service.
“I can say that we have moved on by God’s grace. A lot has happened and we all wished my brother was around to witness them. But who are we to question God? But truly, we wish he wasn’t on that ill-fated plane.”
Speaking on the licence given back to the airline even when the outcome of the investigations were yet to be concluded, Uchegbu said: “It is very sad that we are in a country that does not take people’s life seriously. It’s unimaginable that investigations were still ongoing and they got their licence back.
“I hold this government in disdain. It is very shameful. The government did not even consult people that were in the know before they carried out some actions. We can only pray that it gets better by the day.”
Neglected Cabin Crew
Also speaking, Nike Ini Atangakak, brother to the deceased cabin crew, Vivian, maintained that the airline had paid some people about 30 per cent, adding that none of the ground victims had been compensated.
Ini lamented that despite the remark by Usidamen acknowledging the dedication of the cabin crew who lost their lives in the plane crash, the families left behind were yet to get what is due to them.
Usidamen had during the memorial service last year described the cabin crew as some of their finest and most dedicated staff. But Dana has failed to pay the families of its “finest staff” compensation for their losses.
Atangakak said: “Aviation law is what I’ll encourage people to get conversant with because not many people are aware of the nitty-gritty involved and the airline is taking advantage of that. We have been working with this American company who has offered their services to us pro bono.
“The Montreal Convention is silent on the cabin crew and that is what Dana is using to exploit us. The Dana chairman went on air and announced that they were paying families of the crew $150,000 each but it’s not true. They paid my family only $30,000 just last week but I heard some families were paid last month.
“The airline had broken the compensation down to $250,000 $200,000, $150,000 and $100,000 for the pilots, engineer, cabin crew and passengers respectively but it is a big lie. They are not giving us $150,000, rather it’s $100,000, which we are yet to be paid.”
He lamented that things are being done haphazardly, adding that the airline was exploiting the fact that Nigeria is a country where anything is possible.
He said: “There is a two-year statute of limitation on compensation and one year has gone by. But it’s sad that the law firms in Nigeria have been treating those of us that signed up with a foreign law firm as renegades.”
On his experience so far, he said there were many times he had thought of giving up. “It’s not about the money for us, but because it’s what Vivian would have done. She hated to see anyone marginalised or maltreated.
He commended the Lagos State governor, saying, “God will bless Fashola for us, for ensuring that there was no mass burial so it helped us a lot in finding closure. I don’t wish my enemy to die in a plane crash. It has not been easy particularly with my mother.
“I thank God she is still alive. Vivian was living with her and she is still grieving over the vacuum created by her death. It was devastating but her death made us stronger as a family. Imagine, she died two weeks before her wedding.”
Atangakak pointed out that although the airline has paid some people about 30 per cent of the compensation, none of the ground victims had been compensated.
He added: “The person that owned the building where the plane crashed had to physically go to Dana’s office to lock up the place because of the lackadaisical attitude of the airline. It took the efforts of the police to restrain him. It’s a crazy situation where you are manipulated if you don’t know your rights.”