This is what my neighbour and friend says every time he enters a plane. Quite apart from a strong faith in God, which it shows, it is also a realisation of something much deeper: life, especially in Nigeria, is like a throw of the dice.
On Sunday, June 3rd, the dice were thrown, and over a hundred and fifty people were not so lucky. What should have been a routine flight from Abuja to Lagos, with no bad weather, was the end of so many. An avoidable end.
It is easier to cling to the involvement of a higher power if the process is satisfactory, but the outcome is bad. In such a situation, all that could be done was done. But when you are confronted with evidence of systemic failure all around you, contempt for those who are negligent in the discharge of their duties is the dominant emotion.
What is most painful is that had anyone been pulled from the wreckage of Dana Air Flight 0992 alive, there is no guarantee our moribund healthcare system wouldn’t have killed them. It really doesn’t matter how you travel in Nigeria. Every single movement from point A to point B is an exercise in faith. We can do so much better.
As such, some questions must be asked:
1. The last 6 plane crashes in Nigeria going back to 2002 have happened on either a Saturday or Sunday. To what extent are safety standards enforced at our airports on weekends? Is safety only a priority from Monday to Friday?
2. The particular plane that crashed, the MD-83, had a horrible safety record. Why was it still operational? Who has the task of ensuring that such planes don’t fly? Shouldn’t that person be in jail soon?
3. In 2012, why are emergency services not more responsive? Why are they not better equipped? Eye witness accounts say that when the plane crashed, it was on the ground – and largely in one piece – for about 30 minutes before it exploded. The fire truck that was at the crash site first, ran out of water. It is becoming an all too familiar story.
4. People who gathered at the scene, could they have done more? How many people there called the emergency hotline as soon as the crash happened? The huge crowd also obstructed rescue workers when they eventually came. Why was this allowed to happen?
5. How many more aircraft are in operation right now, that shouldn’t be? How many more metallic coffins are there?
6. What is the relationship between aviation regulators and airlines? Are they too close for comfort?
The worst thing we can do now, is to restrict this inquest to Dana Airlines alone. What we need is an industry-wide probe to make sure we and our loved ones aren’t boarding flying caskets. In March this year, our aviation industry had cause to celebrate 60 months without a crash. Complacency may have set in, or it might be that the problems never really went away. The answers to the questions above, as well as others, will give some insight to that.
As recently as 2010, the US Federal Aviation Authority gave Nigerian airlines clearance to enter US airspace. This crash is likely to bring increased scrutiny. Perhaps whatever was done right after the horror period of October 2005 to October 2006 has stopped.
It was heartbreaking to see the reactions when the names on the passenger manifest started trickling out. Lots of people in the same circle knew someone on that flight. There really is no insulation from the consequences of a broken government, and at some point we will have to confront it head on, lest the carnage continue.