By Ofonime Honesty

The symptoms are glaring. Nigeria is apparently sleep-walking into a dungeon. A fatal aviation mishap seems imminent. Label me not a pessimist but recent goings-on in the aviation sector offer no optimism. Heart-wrenching but true tales are emanating from our airports. Heart-wrenching tales of gross ineptitude, carelessness and unprofessionalism.

The yesterday of Nigeria’s aviation sector is a horrific timeline. We’ve seen all manners of mishaps hereabout. 261 pilgrims returning from hajj in Saudi Arabia perished in one fell swoop. 108 persons mostly students of Loyola Jesuit College in Abuja perished after a Sossoliso aircraft crashed during landing at the Port Harcourt International airport. We’ve also had the Danas, Bellviews, Airforce jets and their likes sending Nigerians to the land of their ancestors. In fact, checks reveal that Nigeria has witnessed a little over 60 major air accidents since 1952.

Dear reader, aren’t you fed up? The underlying rot in the sector is worrisome. What we do is playing to the gallery and sometimes cobble words, give them new contextual meanings just to ensure that the deficiencies in the sector are shielded. Did we not hear how Stella Oduah, while serving as Aviation Minister, described plane crashes as ‘an act of God’? Hear her: “We do not pray for accidents but they are inevitable, but we will continue to do everything to ensure that we do not have accidents. But an accident is an act of God.”

God has really ‘suffered’ in the hands our countrymen and women. We fail to perform routine checks on aircrafts, when they crash, we attribute same to God. We purchase expired or aging aircrafts, when they crash, we take the blame to God’s doorstep.

We neglect doing the right things at our airports and always hope for ‘miraculous’ safety in this religious but very sinful nation. Was it not revealed that the “Pilot-in-command of the Dana Air jet that crashed on June 3, 2012, Captain Peter Waxtan, had earlier been suspended by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for violating safety regulations”, according to a report released by the Nigerian Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB)? We are used to the short-cut approach to everything, but when the short-cut cuts us short, we drag God into our self-inflicted predicaments.

Over the years, we’ve configured the polity to absorb our self-inflicted woes without puking. That’s why you still hear gory goings-on in such a delicate sector. In 2018, the story remains the same. The operational competence of airlines is on the front-burner. Confidence in the sector has eroded alarmingly.

Cattle have been occupying runways, aircraft emergency exit door has fallen off; plane has landed in the bush after overshooting the runway. These incidents continue unabated even as airlines are hiking fares for passengers.

We are just three months into 2018, but no fewer than three local airlines: DANA Air, Delta Airlines and Arik Air have been in the news. A DANA Aircraft had its emergency exit door fall off while landing at the Abuja airport on February 7, 2018. Dana Air crawled into the news again on February 20, when its aircraft overshot the runway of the Port Harcourt International Airport.

The plane found itself in the bush, minutes later. Delta Airlines, on February 13, carrying over 200 passengers developed an engine problem about one hour after take-off from the Lagos Airport. According to reports: “the pilot, sensing that the aircraft engine has caught fire, initiated emergency landing and made an air return to the Lagos Airport. Though no casualty was recorded, some of the evacuated passengers sustained injuries.” On March 6, 2018, Arik Air took its turn “when smoke was detected in the cabin of its Dash 8 Q400 aircraft that was on flight W3 304 from Lagos to Accra. The discovery forced the pilot to declare an emergency, 81 nautical miles to the airport of disembarkation.”

A Dana Airline veered off the runway into the bush at PH Airport
Tell the powers that-be that all is not well, and they would quickly draw your attention to the fact that “Nigeria has retained its United States Federal Aviation Administration (USFAA) Category One safety certification for the third time.” Dear reader, it is not unpatriotic to posit that safety in Nigeria only exists on paper.
These problems did not just spring up overnight like mushrooms. 2017, the preceding year, was gorily familiar to what we are experiencing now. On April 18, 2017, smoke engulfed Aero Contractors’ flight NG316 from Port Harcourt airport to Lagos, triggering panic among the passengers. “The smoke engulfed the cabin some 20 minutes after take-off and continued until it touched down in Lagos”, according to reports.

Days later on April 20, 2017, two aircrafts belonging to Air Peace collided with each other on the tarmac causing damage to the airplanes. On April 21, 2017, a Dana Air flight from Lagos to Port Harcourt made an air return after it collided with a bird mid-air.

No doubt, air disasters are not peculiar only to Nigeria, but righting these wrongs isn’t rocket science. These are surely ominous signs of a looming fatal predicament. School kids were wasted years ago but here we are still playing this dangerous game of double standards. I can hear them crying from their graves, all they ever wanted was to go to school and become productive adults, but we watched them being roasted to death in a fiery furnace of a crashed aircraft. Who knows what those kids could have become. One of the two survivors of the Sossoliso mishap, Kechi Okwuchi, overcame all odds to reach the finals of the music reality TV contest, America’s Got Talent. She is tipped as the next big thing in the American music circle. Kechi has underwent over a thousand surgeries but she remains determined to live on.

Nothing has really changed: Kechi’s schoolmates died preventable deaths in 2005; today, over 100 girls school girls in Yobe State are abused on daily basis in the den of Boko Haram insurgents. Theirs come on the heels of the Chibok girls’ abduction in 2014. Are Nigerian girls not an endangered specie?

This self-induced coma shouldn’t last forever. Our mumu don do, apologies to Charles Oputa of the Charly boy fame. However, I grew up to hear that ‘a dog destined to be lost in the forest does not listen to the whistle of his master (the hunter).’ Is Nigeria’s aviation sector that proverbial dog? God forbid, but serious tasks lie ahead if we are to crawl out of this mire.
May I pause awhile!

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