Sonnie Ekwowusi argues the need to put the aviation sector in order

Penultimate Sunday an Ethiopian Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane crashed in Addis Ababa killing all 157 passengers and crew on board. Many are yet to recover from the shock of the crash. Parents, relatives, family acquaintances and friends of the victims are still devastated. Here in Nigeria we are steeped in deep mourning too because two of our beloved sons- Prof. Pius Adesanmi and Ambassador Abiodun Bashua-lost their lives in the ill-fated flight. Consequently Nigeria has joined other countries in banning Boeing 737 MAX 8 plane from flying her air space.

Beyond banning Boeing 737 from the Nigerian air space, the Nigerian aviation industry needs urgent overhauling. Flying in Nigeria is flying in tears. The first major post-independence plane crash in Nigeria occurred in 1969. The plane was a Vickers VC-10 operated by Nigeria Airways. All the 87 passengers and crew on board died. Since that fatal crash, experts have been ascribing the causes of well over 54 plane crashes in Nigeria to human error/negligence, pilot error, wind wear, non-functional radar, over-age aircraft, poor maintenance of aircraft, lack of infrastructure, poorly maintained runway and communication equipment and prolonged delay in responding to distress. In January 1973, 176 passengers died after Boeing 707 chartered by Nigeria Airways which was flying pilgrims from Jeddah to Lagos crashed in Kano. On November 28, 1983, Nigeria Airways F28-1000 crashed at Emene, Enugu, killing 53 passengers including Dr (Mrs) Uche Offiah Nwali (33 years old) and her six children and the first daughter of Chief C. C. Onoh. On 26 September 1992 a Nigerian Air Force Lockheed C-130H Hercules crashed three minutes after take-off from Lagos, killing all 159 passengers on board including eight foreign nationals.

In September 1992 a Lockheed C-130 Hercules operated by the Nigerian Air force crashed near Lagos killing all 158 passengers on board. On 7th November 1996 an ADC Boeing 727-231 plane carrying 134 passengers and 10 crew which was descending into Lagos suddenly lost control at Itoikin/Ejinrin near Epe, Lagos at about 5:17pm and killing all passengers and crew on board.

In May 2002 72 passengers died after a BAC 1-11 jet making its way from Jos to Lagos, crashed shortly after taking off from Kano airport. On October 22, 2005, a Bellview Boeing 737-200 plane crashed near Lagos killing all 117 passengers on board. Three months after, precisely on 10th December 2005, a Sosoliso DC-9 aircraft carrying 110 passengers on board including 62 students of the Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja, crashed in Port Harcourt. About 103 people died in the crash.

Immediately after the crash, seven surviving passengers including effervescence pastor Bimbo Odukoya who survived the crash were rushed to hospitals, but only two passengers later recovered. Pastor Odukoya died on 11th December 2005. On October 29th, 2006 an ADC plane carrying about 100 passengers from Lagos to Sokoto crashed and killed, among others the then Sultan of Sokoto and President General of Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido, Sokoto State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Garba Mohammed; two senators, Sule Yari Gandi and Badamasi Maccido and Emmanuel Nworgu, my good friend.

I must confess again that I am saddened by Emma’s death. Emma was accustomed to travelling to Sokoto once or twice a year for business. It was in one of those business trips that he met his death after the ADC plane crashed shortly after it took off. Then on June 3, 2012 we witnessed the Dana Air plane disaster. The disaster occurred at Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos and claimed the lives of all 147 passengers and six crew members on board including ebullient intellectual Dr. Ike Abugu and Mrs. Chinwe Dike, our former classmate at the Law Faculty, University of Nigeria.

Therefore adequate safety measures must be put in place at our airports to avert plane disasters in Nigeria. We don’t have to wait for another plane crash before putting in place adequate aviation measures. Anything goes at our airports. Flights are delayed or cancelled with impunity. The planes are operated like Lagos “molues”. No sooner had a plane taxied to a stop at the runway than it is immediately “loaded” with passengers and signaled to fly off without any thorough checks as required by international aviation servicing and checking standards.

Depending on the passengers waiting at the airport, a plane originally scheduled to fly to Lagos, for instance, can be switched with another flying to Kano. Passengers are frequently switched from one plane to the other. Cases have been reported of side doors of some planes trying to fall off while the planes were airborne. There are also reported cases of plane tyres refusing to come out when the planes were about to land. The impression one gets is that the airlines are so desperate to maximize their profits that they care less about the safety of passengers. They pick up passengers at random from one local airport to another. The air-conditioners on many planes are out of order. All these are compromises in international aviation standards capable of causing major air mishaps.

Therefore FAAN and NCAA must ensure that all the airlines operating in Nigeria must comply with the international aviation standards to guarantee safety of passengers. Regrettably the causes of the aforesaid plane crashes in Nigeria are mostly ascribed to human error/negligence, wind wear, non-functional radar, over-age aircraft, poor maintenance of aircraft and dereliction of duty. For instance, findings and investigations reveal that the fire that engulfed the ill-fated Sosoliso aircraft could not be immediately put out at the time of the crash because there was no water at the Port Harcourt International Airport where the crash occurred.

There was also no electricity supply at the same airport for about six hours before the air crash. So, let there be water and uninterrupted electricity supply at our airports. Report also had it that the ill-fated Bellview aircraft was 24 years old while the Sosoliso DC-9 aircraft which crashed in Nigeria in 2005 was 32 years old. Likewise, the ADC aircraft that crashed in 2006 was said to be old. Three engines of the Nigerian Air Force Lockheed C-130H Hercules which crashed on 26 September 1992 were said have failed three minutes after it took off. Therefore all aircraft flying in Nigeria should be maintained regularly and any plane that is manifestly seen to be out of order should be grounded immediately.