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Aviation and Associated Impunity

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Before the coming of Ms. Stella Odua as minister of Aviation, the Nigerian Aviation sector was like a hell on Earth because of the frequency of air disasters and other associated impunity that made our nation’s airspace to become so notorious in the comity of nations.
A little over a year since her appointment, the current Aviation minister has entered the history book for all the right reasons of transforming or showing the political will to transparently use the resources released by Government to change the face of the nations airports. Even the Imo Airport that used to look so derelict has also been positively transformed by the current minister of Aviation who has also ensured that airports from across the geopolitical zones are positively transformed.
She is credited for the successful rehabilitation/remodeling of 22 Airports  even as commentators are of the opinion that in the area of  safety of our nation’s aviation sector, the ministry of aviation has for once completed the total rader coverage and those who know say this critical infrastructure necessary for aviation safety  is working because this project has ensured that the Nigerian Airspace is  now covered by Tracon.
This singular achievement eluded more than four aviation ministers under the past President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration who were rather indicted for large scale theft of public fund meant for the upgrading of the safety procedures in the nation’s airspace. The current minister should make sure that all those former ministers who stole huge public fund meant for the upgrade of airports facilities are prosecuted and the stolen fund retrieved for the use of the total transformation of our airports.
Importantly, observers say that the Instruments landing system by the Nigerian Aviation Management Agency [NAMA] have all being upgraded  even as effective lightening in Lagos run way 18L has being done just as in the area of Weather information, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency  [NIMET] has successfully installed wind shear alert system.
NIMET installed low level wind shear alert system at the Murtallah Muhammed International Airport which was completed on Tuesday July 12th 2011 and is now operational, according to the Director General Dr. Anthony Anuforom. He also said the installation of theoretical safety devices at the country’s airports was a major requirement to qualify for the International civil aviation organization [IAO] audit, adding that with the ongoing installation at Kano and Port Harcourt airports, the country was now better positioned for the ICAO’s exercise.
In the area of accident investigation, I am told that the most upgraded laboratory facilities have now been installed making it possible for the BLACK BOXES to be analyzed in Nigeria by the Accident Investigation Bureau rather than the former practice of flying  Black boxes of accidented airplanes to the United States for analyses.
To answer the question why air disasters or fear of air disasters still persist in Nigeria in spite of all these bold effort by Ms. Stella Odua to reposition Nigeria’s aviation sector, one thing that is certain is that the cobwebs of impunity in the aviation industry are yet to be sufficiently cleaned up and would require greater effort and political will on the part of the current administration. This minister of aviation under the current Federal Government has demonstrated the needed political will to thread even where angels fear to thread and has moved ‘mountains’ of reactionary forces working against the progress of aviation safety which other ministers before her were too slow to effectively tackle.
Even with the above good points in favor of the current minister of aviation, there are many more imperfections that ought to be tackled headlong. In that instance, we learnt from a manual published by the United States Department of interior, some basic relevant  thoughts to consider in aviation operational safety which I will recommend to the minister of aviation and her team.
The aviation minister should know that she is now in charge of a sacred trust, the safety of human lives; She must not let undue pressure (expressed or implied) influence her judgment during the performance of this sacred trust.
The minister of aviation  must be able to develop a team in which members must participate and contribute to the safety of the operation and not the current status quo of adoption of fire brigade approach whenever unfortunate incidents happened in the aviation industry such as the two devastating air disasters involving the DANA airlines and the now grounded Associated Airlines.
The aviation minister must delete false pride, calculated risk, real world and “good enough for government work” from her professional vocabulary and she must not let her actions instill the attitude of competition between pilots or “team members”.
This attitude as aforementioned, according to experts, may alter their performance and compromise  the safety of the operations and the minister must realize that she will not be criticized or stigmatized for any decision she makes which will insure added safety to aviation operations.
After the perusal of the above safety measures, it is timely to delve into the real issue by observing that these are very interesting times for genuinely gifted and trained writers in Nigeria given that every day brings to reality diverse issues not unconnected with the regime of impunity that reigns supreme in our different spheres of life.
Thursday October 3rd 2013 has just entered political lexicon of Nigeria as a sad day (I am tempted not to use the world ‘Black’ to describe the unfortunate turn of event on that day because I do not associate the Colour Black with misfortune as neo-imperialists and their surrogates in Africa would gladly do).
That Thursday witnessed another unfortunate air disaster which involved the now grounded Associated Airlines – the owners of the airplane that crashed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Ikeja – Lagos state killing almost 16 persons out of the 20 passengers on board who ironically were conveying to Akure, the Ondo State Capital, the remains of the late former governor of Ondo State Dr. Olusegun Agagu.
The Federal government attributed the grounding of the operational licence of Associated Airlines to some associated cases of impunity which may have led to that sad incident.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority NCAA said it suspended all operations of Associated Airlines but said the operational license remains intact. Then I ask, why stand logic on its head by suspending operations of the Associated Airlines but allow the operational license to remain? It is like saying the body of a person has being removed but the soul remains and in scientific terms this is an impossibility because in logic we know that nothing can both be and not be.
Fielding questions from journalists at the General Hospital Ikeja, where he paid a visit to injured passengers, the Director General of the Authority, Capt Fola Akinkuotu, announced the suspension of all operations of the airline.
“Associated airlines (their operations) have been suspended by the NCAA. Let me say, for the purpose of clarity:  (when) I say their operations, I mean all the operations of Associated airlines have been suspended by the NCAA. I did not say any certification was cancelled, but all operations.”
Akinkuotu said the aircraft was certified airworthy before the last flight, adding that the continued airworthiness certification of an airplane rests with the airline itself.  The DG stressed that there was nothing contrary to the information provided by the airline.
It is my considered opinion that this statement by the boss of NCAA smacks of recklessness and amounts to another impunity since it was made even before Government concludes investigation into the remote and immediate causes of the unfortunate air disaster. How on earth will the NCAA Director General speak in defense of this ill-fated airlines when facts emerged that the airplane crashed barely three minutes after take off in what has now been speculated to be faulty engine? Ms. Stella Odua must rein in this apparent recklessness and impunity displayed by a key member of her team. He also added salt to injury by claiming that the insurance company handling the airline has provided documents about the state of its insurance.
This amounts to fallacy of hasty conclusion since the probe of the air crash is yet to be completed and it is a sign of near-compromise for a government institution to now appear to be playing the role of an interested party in this instance when the Government ought to remain an  arbiter between this ill-fated Associated airlines accused of associated impunity and the families of the victims of the unfortunate air disaster. This is another disturbing layer of crass impunity that must be expunged by the minister of aviation because the aviation industry is so critical that any sign of compromise to endanger the lives of passengers should not be allowed.
On another breath, the federal government also announced the suspension of the operations of Dana Airlines owners of the ill-fated commercial aircraft that crashed a little over a year ago in Lagos killing all the passengers on board numbering over 145 persons.
The suspension of the operations of the embattled Dana Airlines was announced by the Nigerian civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) on Sunday night (October 6th 2013), in a two paragraph text message sent to the media reportedly by the coordinating General Manager (PR) for the agencies in Nigeria Aviation Mr. Yakubu Dati.
Government said Dana Airlines’ operations were suspended to enable it conduct an operational audit of the carrier.
Again Government has committed another impunity by hurriedly allowing DANA AIRLINES to commence operation barely few days after the last crash and even before the DANA AIRLINES paid to the last kobo the insurance cover/compensations of the over one hundred passengers that perished in the last air disaster in Lagos involving Dana flight 992.
The nature of the time of announcement of the suspension of the operation of DANA AIRLINES for this second time is also nocturnal and suspicious because it happened on a work free day and in the night. Officials of Nigeria’s aviation industry must wake up from slumber and comply with global best practices and desist from making our aviation sector a laughing stock in the international community especially at this time that the minister of aviation has won acclaims as a reformer and transformer in the real sense of the words. The aviation industry must not be regulated like gambling institutions but must be administered as highly scientific and sophisticated sector that deals with the important matter of lives and safety of human lives of passengers. To willfully endanger the precious lives of passengers of airlines in Nigeria on the alter of corruption and crass incompetence is a crime against humanity that must not be tolerated.
This writer believes that impunity and corruption are the key causes of the state of insecurity in the Aviation industry even with all the great effort being engineered by the forward-looking Aviation minister Ms. Stella Odua who is credited to have implemented large scale infrastructural transformation of the nation’s once-moribund Aviation sector.
Shortly after that sad incident involving the Indian owned Dana Airlines, the Federal Government relieved the then Director General of NCAA Dr. Harold Demuren of his appointment following series of indictments from the National Assembly.
But the recent air disaster shows that the remnants of impunity in the aviation sector must now be uprooted if Nigerians and foreign travelers within our air space will ever have confidence in the capacity and competencies of the administrators to guarantee the safety of passengers of the Air lines operating locally in the nation’s air ports.
In case we have forgotten, Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia defines impunity as “exemption from punishment or loss or escape from fines”. In the international law of human rights, it refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice and, as such, itself constitutes a denial of the victims’ right to justice and redress. Impunity is especially common in countries that lack a tradition of the rule of law, suffer from corruption or that have entrenched systems of patronage, or where the judiciary is weak or members of the security forces are protected by special jurisdictions or immunities.
We are also informed that the amended Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity, submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on 8 February 2005, defines impunity as: “the impossibility, de jure or de facto, of bringing the perpetrators of violations to account – whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings – since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties, and to making reparations to their victims.”
Nigerian Government must therefore expunge all layers of impunity seen in virtually all segments of our society including the aviation sector that is giving Nigeria bad image internationally with incessant avoidable air disasters. Government in probing the causes of the recent air crashes must be transparent and accountable for these are the basic ingredients of democracy.
Achilleus – Chud Uchegbu a respected journalist who commented on the associated impunity in Associated Airlines which may have occasioned the unfortunate accident had stated thus; “what I have heard of Associated Airlines since last Thursday’s crash are mind – boggling. From tales of unpaid salaries to some unethical practices and hiring of trainee pilots because pilots refused to work on ground of non-payment of salaries and other allowances, to deliberate refusal to service aircraft on account of very poor fundamental status…. “
These tendencies must be probed dispassionately for Nigerian air passengers to be reassured that Government is out to protect their lives.
 *    Emmanuel Onwubiko; Heads; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria;    blogs@www.huriwa.blogspot.com; www.huriwa.org.
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