October 28, 2020

Flight 992 and Nigeria’s crash

When the Sosoliso Airline 1145 crash-landed in December 2005, I recall someone’s plaintive laments on TV, ‘Water! If only there was water!’ This lamentation prompted a friend to share his experience of an emergency landing in the United States of America. He said the pilot informed them of the situation and urged for calm; inversely, my friend grabbed his Rosary and prepared for an imminent painful death. But somehow, the pilot managed the situation. However, what amazed him when they exited the plane was the number of fire trucks waiting at the tarmac, hoses primed, ready to douse anything that looked like smoke, even if such came from a Cigar. Also, there were dozens of emergency workers and ambulances waiting to provide First Aid services and ferry anybody who sustained as much as a scratch to the hospital. When none of those untoward things happened, the passengers were still assigned to a trauma centre because, he said, the company wanted to make sure nothing was left to chance. He told me that for hours, his mouth was open in admiration at the efficiency displayed by the relevant governmental agencies. Another person shared how a runway was hurriedly coated with foam to prepare for an emergency landing. Six years (and several crashes) after, a recall of the heartbreaking but long forgotten plaintive lament rang out loud again: Nigeria still has a water problem. At the crash site of Dana Air Flight 992 on Sunday, it was shocking to read residents and rescuers say they tried to douse the fire from the burning aircraft with packs of sachet water, popularly called pure water. When I read this, I sat down and wept profusely for Nigeria. Pure water? Are we such a backward nation, perhaps in the Fifth World, sharing an inglorious corner with other rundown countries such as say, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen? Nigeria is one country that has a high incidence of air crashes but even with that, we have learnt little and acted on far less as far as emergency and crash landings are concerned. Pure water to stop a burning aircraft? How worse can things get for a nation that prides itself on many vain parameters and whose loud-mouthed leaders are forever promising transformation from tomorrow till yesterday? With the Sunday crash, there is a wicked sense of déjà vu clouding my mind. When disasters like this happen, the President and all those who feel important enough to talk, make balmy speeches. They make promises, like the one made by Goodluck Jonathan that there would no recurrence of air crash in the country. Like a contrite penitent, they may even weep, like Jonathan was also photographed doing or the aviation minister, Mrs. Stella Oduah, was seen doing on TV. But once they return to their cosseted official state quarters, the speeches are treated as their usual blandishment. I can see the usual outrage sweeping all over the country and which has resulted in the suspension of Dana’s licence, but give it a few weeks, the high charge of emotionalism will recede till another major disaster occurs. From Thursday till the Sunday’s crash, it is estimated that more than 250 lives were lost from bomb blasts, multiple road accidents, a collapsed building, and, then, the sickening crash in a residential area. The air crash, due to its nature, generated the biggest horror. It even drowned the suicide bombing in Bauchi State which claimed, according to some reports, about 12 lives. Most of these deaths would have been avoided if there are certain infrastructure in place. Sometime this year, the reports of the ADC, Bellview and Sosoliso air crashes were reported on the online media mostly but it was almost a non-event. In a different country, the report that the Bellview and Sosoliso crashes were caused by human errors would have landed a few guys in jail or at least, heavy sanctions but no, they didn’t generate much buzz because despite the high death rate from those crashes, Nigerians have moved on. There are too many disasters, seemingly, defining our daily existence that we cannot afford to romanticise any of the air crashes dead for too long. It’s too much of a routine to dwell on it so we reach for an amnesiac therapy. And if I know Jonathan’s standard operating procedure, he will form a dozen committees to look into the ill-fated Dana crash and, another half-dozen committee to review the “original” dozen committees. A White Paper will not be forthcoming for a very long time! While viewing the snap-shots of the crash site, reading again and again the tales of how rescue efforts were hampered by the surging crowd of spectators, I came to a certain conclusion. And this obvious conclusion was after learning that the plane, though reportedly crippled and badly wounded, did not explode immediately: what Nigeria needs are not only the so-called big changes in the sector but the smaller basic and foundational changes in our society. Yes, we can ask for a review of safety guidelines for airlines and even demand that only new airlines fly our airspace, the fact remains that Nigeria is a country that is still very ill-prepared to manage disasters of any kind, and that’s not just for want of equipment by emergency services agencies. The rescue effort spoke volumes about the National Emergency Management Agency and the other agencies involved in containing the disaster. It was chaos; there was no perimeter fencing, no clear path for those removing the dead and no central command. It was shameful to see, on CNN, soldiers using horse whips to force the surging crowd back. For one, when Jonathan and Governors Babatunde Fashola and Ibikunle Amosun took their guided tour to Popoola Street, did they see the state of that community? Did they see the decay, the poverty and the total lack of infrastructure in the area? Did they see a crowd of spectators who came to watch, to loot and to help because they are unemployed? When they get back to their offices, what structural changes are they going to make to ensure that we re-plan our cities so that when we have incidents of fire, water trucks can reach the neighbourhoods very fast? What plans are they going to make for facilities like water hydrants in our cities which, if it had been on the Street, might have saved some of the victims? What major structural changes are they going to propose and immediately embark on the conditions of our existence? We do not need mere words anymore. Neither do we need those crocodile tears again. Instead, what is needed are actionable pronouncements. And, urgently too. May the souls of the deceased find peace. But those whose actions and inaction contributed to the tragedy should brought to book and dealt with accordingly. That is the best the living can do for those who died needlessly in that Dana crash.


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