3rd July, 2012
By Akunna Ejim
News of bombing of churches in Nigeria have become so commonplace that such an event elicits a somewhat blasé reaction––perhaps, a type of conditioning borne out of frequency of occurrence. While still trying to digest the news of the bombing of a church in Bauchi three Sundays ago, news filtered in that a plane crashed in Lagos a few hours later. On April Fool’s day, some people had circulated a similar story to the effect that a plane had crashed in Nigeria on that day. Some people fell for it, only to eventually discover that it was a vile joke. This time around, some people were hesitant to believe the news at first, thinking that it might be another distasteful prank in the same category as the one that played out on 1 April. The only problem was that this was no joke; a plane had indeed gone down in Lagos, weaving a path of destruction through a packed part of town.
Innocent souls were lost, including children and unborn babies. Since we live in an age where social media has made it possible for news to travel faster than news agencies can carry it, pictures confirming the crash could be viewed within moments of the incident. Who knows what really happened to bring the plane down, but reports from reliable sources assert that a lack of proper maintenance played a significant role in the crash.
Not that this is surprising. At this point, it may even be said that such an occurrence was long overdue. Complaints of rickety aircraft that shake like local molue buses attempting to navigate the numerous potholes on Nigerian roads at the slightest hint of turbulence are a hint. Bitter complaints by passengers regarding the non-existent air-conditioning in some of the aircraft are a further hint about the state of such conveyances. Perhaps, the biggest giveaway to the danger of such aircraft stems from their very age. Most of the airplanes that ply the Nigerian air ways are relics from an ancient generation. No matter how well such aircraft are maintained, they must be retired after a certain number of years to ensure the safety of the general public. Even multi-billion dollar space shuttles, such as the Discovery that was retired to the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C., in April, have a lifespan beyond which it would be foolhardy to continue to push them. That is not to say that more space travel cannot be wringed out of the spacecraft. However, unlike some criminally greedy folks in Nigeria, those with vested interests in the Discovery understand that the shuttle has served them well. As such, this enormously expensive space shuttle is in a museum—where it belongs. The same thing can be said of the majority of those that ply the Nigerian skies since most of them are laughably outdated. To further compound matters, the requisite maintenance that might increase the odds of the safety of such aircraft is trivialised to the point that they are nothing more than accidents waiting to happen.
This is not the first time such a thing has happened, and unless a serious reform takes place, who knows what will happen next with other similar glorified, airborne death traps. Surely, the management of the airline must answer to the people for such colossal negligence. The officials responsible for inspecting the airworthiness of aircraft must also explain why they allow such pathetic excuses for airplanes to carry unsuspecting passengers. It all comes back to the issue of lack of accountability that pervades the various parastatals in the country. The same tired story plays itself out in the issue of security, where it would seem that the government and the security forces are powerless to decisively address the escalating violence in the country. Hospitals do not fare any better, since equipment and venues necessary for the provision of the most basic healthcare are deficient. Competent human capital that can effectively provide the needed care can often be found otherwise engaged in other countries that can facilitate an enabling environment.
It is not as if the roads are any better considering the fact that the potholes in them number more that the stars in the night sky. As such, a journey that might take a few hours where the roads are properly maintained, takes double or triple the time. Some might wonder how to travel with any degree of safety if the roads are a nightmare and the air ways are an adventure of similarly nightmarish proportions. Even the safety of folks in their own homes is not guaranteed due to incessant kidnapping and armed robbery. The last thing on the minds of the people on whom the plane landed was thought of an aircraft plowing into their homes. What are the odds of such a thing happening?
Understandably, a lot of people are worried about such events and wonder what they can do to help themselves since it seems clear that the government will not. Security is pretty much an individual issue now since citizens are forced to rely on private security, OPC and other vigilante or neighborhood watch groups to help them sleep with at least one eye closed. The collective losses from bombings, auto accidents, plane crashes, collapsed buildings and kidnappings call for decisive action. Even though the reality tries to tell some of us otherwise, we still stubbornly insist on seeing the vast potential that lies in the country. Tackling some of the core issues like security, resource management (material and human), corruption (one can hope!) and other related factors can set the country on the path to recovery.
•Ejim wrote this piece for TheNEWS magazine