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Dana Air: Matters arising

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On Tuesday, 23 April 2024, Dana Air’s McDonald Douglas MD-82 aircraft with registration number 5N BKI skidded off the runway at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. The incident was reported to have occurred around 9 am local time. The aircraft reportedly flew into Lagos from Abuja with 83 passengers and crew members on board. Thank God, no life was lost!

Each time I board an aircraft, my thoughts have always been for the crew who work day-in, day-out in the craft. Are they aware of the risk they run every day? Are they duly compensated for it? Do they have adequate insurance cover? They leave a family behind each day and return (hope to return!) to it! What do their family feel? Apprehensive all the time? Or have they grown used or accustomed to it?

When saying “goodbye” as they leave home, does it always occur to them and their loved ones that that could be the last time they would ever see each other alive? Every job has its hazards, those of pilots and crew members are in a class of their own; worse, in my reckoning, than those of soldiers because it is not every day that wars are fought and that soldiers go to the battlefield.

Thank God, our airspace is relatively safe these days. It’s a very long time we heard of any air crash claiming many lives and throwing families into anguish and the entire country into mourning. We have had air crashes that wiped out entire families! May we never witness such afflictions again! But, as they say, if we are not to witness evil, we must work hard to avert it.

I believe we have worked hard in the last few decades to acquire the required gadgets and have made strenuous efforts to make our airspace safer than it used to be. The ambience of our airports are also better than the eyesore and embarrassment they used to be. We may not have arrived yet but we are on the way! The authorities responsible for enforcing safety standards – the Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, etc – must, however, not let down their guard!

I heard from reliable sources that the Dana’s near mishap would have been avoided totally had the appropriate authorities been proactive, taking preemptive actions rather than being reactive, waiting for the horse to bolt from the manger before scrambling to shut the stable. That is not good enough! Where life is concerned, no lethargy can be allowed.

I travelled on the same Dana air from Lagos to Abuja on Thursday, 18 April 2024 with a friend. We were in the Federal Capital Territory to organise a workshop on 21st Century capacity-building: techniques and brand management for security image-makers. The Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, the training arm of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, partnered with Fountain Bloom Limited, a Lagos-based consultancy, to organize the two-day workshop.

In attendance were officers from the Ministry of the Interior, Defence Headquarters, the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency, the Nigerian Customs Service, the Nigerian Immigration Service, the Federal Road Safety Commission, and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps. Curiously, the office of the National Security Adviser and the Nigeria Police Force did not send participants to the workshop.

We were putting finishing touches to preparations for the workshop when news of the near mishap of the Dana airline reached us that Tuesday. Because we had booked a return ticket and were due to fly back to Lagos the next Friday, that immediately became an issue. And discussions immediately hovered around the issue of air safety in the country.

Dana Air responded immediately after the crash by grounding the aircraft involved; this, however, did not preempt the Federal Government from imposing a comprehensive ban on the entire operations of the airline so that a comprehensive safety audit of its operations can be carried out. In a letter to NCAA, Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo said the crash “raised severe questions about the safety and financial feasibility of Dana activities”.

All manner of conspiracy theories began to fly in the air, especially when, a few days later, specifically on Thursday, 25 April 2024, an Air Peace aircraft coming from Port-Harcourt made an emergency landing in Lagos after the pilots supposed that they had noticed a fire warning indicator in the cockpit. The aircraft had a whopping 243 passengers and 12 crew members on board, all of whom disembarked safely without issues.

Air Peace management later issued a statement saying it was later discovered that the fire warning noticed in the cockpit was false. I hope this is not a ploy to pull a wool over our eyes and make Air Peace look good and solid. Or a reverse plot to de-market the airline The politics and diplomatic manoeuvre involving Air Peace’s direct flight to the UK – and efforts by foreign competitors to kill it – are still thick in the air.

Whether the fire alarm was a hoax or not, the pilots must be saluted for erring (if at all they did) on the side of caution. In those days when aircraft were dropping from the sky like ripe mangoes dropping from the tree, Femi Falana propounded the theory of Amuwa Olorun and A f’owo fa omo eniyan. Those were the days when Prof. Babalola Borishade was the Aviation minister.

Falana categorised the country’s airlines into two: Those with sound aircraft, good technical crew and excellent operational procedures and the others which are molues in the air. Now, if because the latter is cheaper, you go for it and there is mishap, you have brought the disaster on yourself (A f’owo fa)! It is your fault and you have yourself to blame! But if you go for the best and disaster still strikes, then, it is an act of God (Amuwa Olorun). You have tried your best!

Now, which of the country’s airlines today belong in which of the two categories? As I rue how to return to Lagos after the Dane airline crash, I wondered whether my fate was: A f’owo-fa or Amuwa Olorun. What do you think?

The Dana management’s response to holders of their flight ticket after their aircraft crashed leaves much to be desired. Aside the terse apology it issued, no alternative travel arrangement was made for ticket holders. Their Customer Service was reluctant to respond to inquiries and when they sluggishly picked phone calls, they were belligerent, rude and unhelpful with their response. As if we were the ones that caused their plane to crash!

After repeated calls and messages, the refund they offered was way below my ticket value. I will not take that from them! I believe I deserve a better treatment from them and will go for it. I will sue them! I also intend to hold the feet of the Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development to fire on this. Safety issues apart, the Ministry has a duty to ensure that airlines operating in the country comply with international best practices. The rights of Nigerians must be protected by the Nigerian government.

Keyamo is my friend and comrade; he is an activist of no mean repute and one of the Ministers performing well in this dispensation. He has a responsibility to air travellers in a situation such as this. I will insist he discharges it!

Then, I recently got to know that there is a federal agency called the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC). So, FCCPC, respond to this! I will leave no stone unturned to see to it that Dana Air fulfills their obligation under the law. No hard feelings but this is the right thing to do!

Leaving leprosy and treating acne…

I read this on social media: “The question Nigerians are not asking is why the American International School, Abuja is collecting school fees in US dollars for a school that is domiciled in Nigeria. That is wrong and, probably, illegal! Would the United States tolerate a school in America collecting fees in Naira or any other currency? Of course, not!

“Fact-check me: Last year, the American International School, Abuja had over 500 students. Consider the downward pressure that school is causing the Naira if 500 students pay hundreds of thousands of dollars each as school fees annually. That is a bigger offence and more severe economic sabotage against Nigeria than the alleged actions of Yahaya Bello. If I were the Minister of Education, that school would have been closed and their Directors would be receiving the same treatment meted out to Binance executives”.

Does that make sense to you? Who knows: maybe our leaders who should take the appropriate decisions to protect the country’s interests also have their own children in the same or similar schools charging and collecting foreign currencies right here on our land and under our very nose!

When will Nigerian leaders begin to protect the interest of Nigerians? As a first step, we should have a comprehensive list of schools collecting dollars as school fees in Nigeria and those paying the dollars. To strengthen the Naira and stem the tide of inflation, we must go after all those whose actions contribute to making the Naira a rapidly-deteriorating store of value.

Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of the Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Bolawole writes the On the Lord’s Day column in the Sunday Tribune and the Treasurers column in the New Telegraph newspapers. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television. He can be reached on turnpot@gmail.com +234 807 552 5533

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