When the Dana Airlines plane crashed in Lagos on Sunday, June 3, 2012, the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah called a press conference, broke down and wept. But when the Associated Airlines aircraft plunged to earth on Thursday, October 3, 2013, she made a media appearance, this time defiant.
She waved the sad event that has so far claimed about 15 lives aside as “an act of God”, saying that as minister, her job is to provide leadership and ensure that the right policies were in place for the aviation sector to run efficiently. She passed the buck on safety and industry regulation to the heads of the agencies in the sector, such as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA; Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN; Nigerian Airspace Management Authority, NAMA and the rest. But if any of them wins an international award she would count it as one of her achievements in office, to be sure!
Her mood change owed to calls in some quarters for her to be replaced because under her watch, Nigeria recorded unprecedented number of air mishaps totaling seven in just two years, with nearly 200 precious lives lost. One of those who put their mouths in this matter was – (yawn!) – Femi Fani-Kayode, a former Minister of Aviation. It was probably his intervention that put Madam Minister on warpath.
Femi has made a great ass out of himself in recent times in the public sphere, embracing controversial issues controversially and getting called all the dirty names in the book. The fact that he is a major contributor to the rot in the aviation sector for which he is answering charges in the courts for allegedly stealing billions of naira does not faze him. He has obviously learned from his employer, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has perfected what ace Nigerian music star, Sound Sultan terms: Ole de shout ole, or the thief that shouts “thief!” In our society, pickpockets and petty thieves are visited with instant justice. Once they are caught in the act and alarms of “ole” or “onye oshi” or “barawo” are raised, death is imminent through jungle justice. So, the thief got smart. Once caught in the act he would shout “ole, ole” along with the crowd, hoping to confuse the mob and escape.
Femi was among the first to rush to the media to condemn his successor in office, forgetting that Nigerians have not forgotten he is a major culprit for the diseases of the sector for which he is being held accountable in the courts of the land. Nigeria has deteriorated to so low a level in public morality that people who should go and hide from the public due to their scandalous and discredited lifestyles are now the noisiest advocates and defenders of virtue and integrity!
Honestly, I am an admirer of the physical impact that Stella Oduah has brought into the aviation sector in just a little over two years. The airport remodelling projects all over the country are modern marvels Nigerians have never seen in this generation. Never was there a time in recent history where government projects were embraced in such a wholesale manner and completed in such record quick time; a pace of achievement only often seen in private sector ventures.
In particular was the fact that two international airports at Owerri and Enugu were taken along and completed, a departure from the past when the South East was always studiously avoided in the establishment of ambitious, economy-stimulating federal projects. I am also enamoured of Oduah’s vision of our airports as areotropolises or commercially oriented mini-cities which we all see in advanced countries when we travel.
But on the issue of industry regulation for greater safety, Oduah’s tenure has not been up to speed. Seven air crashes in two years cannot be swept aside with a gale of bravura and boldfacing. The Senate did the right thing in summoning her and the heads of the aviation industry chief executives to tell Nigerians exactly why we are having such a grim harvest. Are we paying more attention to the contracts side of this business than working on the more important and technically tasking side that ensures safety and comfort of air travellers? I do not support Oduah’s assertion that the crash of Associated Airlines or any other crash was “an act of God”. Nigerians are very religious people, but most of them do not know God. They like to go to churches and mosques, flaunt their religious identities, fight for their religions and wear the garbs that set them aside as people of their faiths. But when it comes to the things that really matter in religion – the Almighty God – Nigerians do not bother to know what He is really all about.
Nigerians are very quick to blame their failures on God. A Nigerian would promise you: “I will be there, in sha Allahu” (by the grace of God). If he failed to turn up (even when he did so deliberately) he would say it was because God did not want him to be there. If God wanted him to be there He would ensure it. They run away from the truth, which is that God has given man the power to take decisions and actions and account for them. A person given the power to make sure that only properly maintained aircraft are allowed to fly cannot blame God when he allows corruption, ineptitude, politics or any other distractions in the environment to make him fail in his duties.
My own understanding of the English expression “act of God” simply means, “factors beyond human control”. Accidents will happen. But most accidents happen due, mainly, to human failings. Air crashes can happen for a variety of reasons, such as pilot error, severe weather, mechanical or electrical failures, conflicting signals from the control tower, sudden obstructions on the runway, bird strike and so on. Most of these factors can be controlled by man through discipline and competent handling. That is why crashes are high in some places and low in others.
For me, it becomes an “act of God” when, especially, the force of nature is at work. Earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and typhoons, floods, wildfires and such natural disasters can be called “acts of God”, but even at that, man has come to minimise the havoc they wreak through expert handling. That is all we ask for. That is why we have so many specialists and experts at work. For Minister Stella Oduah, the Associated Airlines crash is a Yellow Card. We do not want to see the crash that will amount to the Red Card.