Missing plane, aviation herdsmen and rescue hunters

Casmir Igbokwe

Hunting is associated with village life. Any mention of it brings fond memories of those days when boys and girls engaged in moonlight plays with little or no fear of unwanted pregnancy. With a bag on his shoulder, a local gun and a dog in tow, a hunter could traverse the bush the whole day hunting for those rabbit-like animals popularly called grass-cutters. Granted that urbanisation has changed all that now, recent happenings in the country show that a hunter still has his relevance after all.

Last week, media reports indicated that the authorities of the National Emergency Management Agency engaged the services of Fulani herdsmen, farmers and hunters to track a missing aircraft belonging to Wings Aviation. The plane, which had three crewmembers on board, got missing since Saturday, 15 March. It was headed for Obudu in Cross River State.

Recall that Bauchi, Katsina, and Kebbi States had also engaged the services of a local hunter to flush out bandits from their states. The hunter, Ali Kwara, reportedly got endorsement from the police high command. Reputed for their prowess in African magic, herdsmen and hunters may well be the ones to solve the riddle surrounding the missing aircraft.

Nigeria is never short of high-profile drama. Or how else does one situate the fact that a day after the crash, the Minister of State for Air Transportation, Felix Hyat, said the wreckage of the plane had been found. The following day, the minister said his statement was a lie. According to him, he was misled into believing that people had sighted the plane at a village in Cross River State. As usual, most Nigerians prayed and hoped for a miracle to locate the aircraft and, perhaps, find the occupants alive.

This same problem surfaced in October 2005 when a Bellview aircraft crashed soon after take-off. Initial report from aviation authorities then was that the plane had been located in a community called Kishi, which is between Oyo and Kwara States. They raced to that area to see things for themselves. While they treated Nigerians to this tomfoolery, Africa Independent Television beamed the wreckage of the aircraft live at Lissa in Ogun State. For daring to tell Nigerians the truth, AIT was temporarily shut down by the powers that be.

Not only are the emergency services in our airports comatose, the infrastructure generally is rotten. In December 2005, a DC-9 aircraft belonging to Sosoliso Airline crashed in Port Harcourt. The problem here was not that over 100 passengers perished, but that people saw their children burning. And the fire fighters could not rescue the victims, as they had no water to work with.

Penultimate Wednesday, I was at the local wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos, for a trip to Owerri. I had cause to use the toilet at the departure lounge. Afterwards, I turned on the tap to wash my hands. There was no water. I opened the second tap. Still no water. I approached the lady manning the place and complained. “Sorry,” she said, “the taps are not working.”

I later found water at the Muslims’ ablution area in the toilet, stooped down and washed my hands. But when I got up to dry my hands, I found no functional hand dryer or tissue. Fuming, I joined the queue to board the waiting aircraft. As we were waiting to board, a car pulled up at the tarmac. Champion publisher, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, emerged from the car and moved his massive frame into the aircraft. I felt like confronting him and telling him, “See how your People’s Democratic Party is ruling us!” 

Nigeria has variously been described as fragile, weak and a failing state. And this is a country blessed with enormous resources. People embezzle money mapped out for projects without batting an eyelid. It is not as if funds were not released for the general development of the aviation sector. There was N19.5bn aviation intervention fund. What happened to the money may never be known. Already, the Senate Committee on Aviation has begun some form of probe into the spending of that money. The committee is reportedly dissatisfied over the non-utilisation of the funds to improve facilities at the airport. Even with the money, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency are said to be weighed down by debts.

In other public sectors, it is the same story of graft and negligence. For instance, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Power and Steel has treated Nigerians to mind-boggling revelations at the public hearing on $16bn power sector probe. Nigerians have heard how the immediate past regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo awarded contracts to 34 firms that were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. They have heard how about N10bn worth of contract was inflated. And they have heard that these contractors collected mobilisation fees and did nothing.

These perfidies have continued because our leaders are not sincere in tackling the issue of corruption. Electoral and political systems bring to power, questionable characters who owe their allegiance not to the electorate but to party thugs and godfathers. They reward these goons with huge contracts.

Those who could do something fail to do so either because they partake in the sharing of the booty or they are afraid to speak out. I was amused when I read a statement credited to the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, over the victory of Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala at the elections petitions tribunal. Traditional rulers in Oyo State, Alaafin reportedly said, would have sunk if Alao-Akala had lost at the tribunal. Kabiyeesi, please do not sink.

The problems in our hands are enormous. But happily, some of our leaders appear to be getting upset at the way we do things. Senate President, David Mark, was angry at the incompetence that trailed the missing of the Beechcraft airplane. He wondered why nobody had resigned as a result of that. Mark and his colleagues should go beyond mere rhetoric. They should do something fundamental to change our culture of incompetence.

In saner countries, all aviation agencies responsible for the certification of airplanes, radar facilities, emergency management etc would have been answering questions by now. People would have received adequate punishment for negligence. The worrying thing is that in almost all the crashes we have experienced, nobody has been able to find any clue as regards the real cause of such incidents. President Umaru Yar’Adua should do something to sanitise our aviation sector. So far, he has not said anything regarding the current crash. Why he has remained taciturn in this national tragedy is uncertain. It is as if there is no government in place.  

That, perhaps, is why our heroes today are hunters and herdsmen. What remains is for us to revert to tying loincloths, building thatch houses and calling on Britain to come and continue from where it was forced to stop in 1960.

Happy Easter!


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