DANA AIR CRASH: FOR MASSIVE PUBLIC INVESTMENT IN THE AVIATION SECTOR
DANA AIR CRASH: FOR MASSIVE PUBLIC INVESTMENT IN THE AVIATION SECTOR
By Chinedu Bosah
The Dana Air crash brings to the fore the level of decadence in the aviation sector just like other sectors of the economy and our national life. All is not well with the state of the aircraft, airports and disaster response mechanism. Most of the aircrafts, particularly the ones flying domestic routes could be described as ‘airmolue’ (rickety Lagos commercial buses are popularly called molue). The ineffective disaster response was accentuated by the disturbing sight of residents using sachet water to attempt to put out the fire at the Dana plane crash site when the fire fighters had exhausted their supply.
The Dana crash has also shown that even those who have not visited an airport in all their lives are not immune to the grave consequences of the problems of the aviation sector. The crash did not only claim 153 on board but also wreaked fatal havoc on the ground. Many people were killed on the ground; it is unfortunate that there has not been official figure of these victims. Properties were destroyed and many families have been rendered homeless. The neighborhood where the plane crashed, Iju Ishaga, like most communities, lacks basic infrastructure, and this partly explains why rescue operation was difficult.
In the last 8 years, we have had 5 crashes. Just 5 days after the Dana Flight 0992 Boeing MD-83 crashed, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport runway lights went off forcing flights to be diverted while some airlines had to delay or cancel their flights. This is symptomatic of the depth of the crisis in the aviation sector.
But the aviation sector crisis itself is a reflection of the appalling state of the economy. For example, it is difficult for the domestic airlines to afford new and functional planes because they don’t have the financial muscle, and so they buy relatively cheap and very old aircraft. It is also very expensive maintaining an aircraft especially the old ones or run airline operation due to high cost of aviation fuel and other associated cost. Expectedly, many airlines do sacrifice safety of the passengers in the pursuit of profit which is the main reason they are in the business. For instance, the National Assembly panel probing the Dana crash has been told by some air travelers that some aircrafts in the fleet of the airline were in bad state before the accident and yet, were made to fly.
The high cost of running an airline explains why the operators repeatedly go cap in hand to government for bailout similar to the banks’ bailout. As part of the policy of partly funding private companies, the federal government has made available N500 billion to private businesses in power, aviation and agricultural sectors. Since, these businesses are not accountable to public interest, part of the funds are either diverted or mismanaged. For instance, a former Finance Director of Air Nigeria, Mr. John Nnorom, told the National Assembly panel that the chairman of the company, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, the Chairman diverted N35 billion made available by the government and meant for the revitalization of Air Nigeria to his other private businesses. Mr. Nnorom also alleged that only one out of the 11 aircrafts being operated by Air Nigeria is safe to fly. Yet, these faulty aircrafts are usually made to fly and risking lives of passengers.
The bail out of private investors to the tune of trillions of Naira that belongs to the public shows clearly the connection between those occupying public offices and private investors just for the purpose of protecting private interest at the expense of the overall public interest. The same funds used for bail-out are part of huge public resource that can best be invested in a planned manner to rebuild the state of infrastructure and public utilities and companies to meet the needs of all in the long run and for true economic development.
However, having a public company is not enough, without democratic control by the working people it could be run to meet private interest. For instance the Nigeria Airways was built with public funds but was run aground through the pursuit of private interest (corruption) like in every other public utility. The airline had 32 aircraft as of 1984 but the fleet depleted to just 3 by 2001, and nobody has been prosecuted. After the liquidation of the airline by Obasanjo government in 2003, its franchise was sold to Virgin Nigeria which later sold it to Air Nigeria in June 2010 but its facilities were taken over by Arik Air at give away prices. Today, it is only Arik Air that has capacity to carry out maintenance work locally as a result of one of the facilities of the Nigeria Airway it inherited – the National Aircraft Maintenance Hangar.
This underscores the fact that Nigeria Airways before ceasing operation still had good facilities that could have made it remain viable. This could have been achieved by keeping the company public under the democratic control and management of workers and consumers who are elected and subjected to recall anytime. This would mean that every transaction is done in an open and transparent manner and resources are judiciously spent. These are key measures that will drastically reduce bureaucratic bottleneck and mitigate corruption.
Many have argued that corruption is the reason for the prevailing state of decadence. This is correct but it is a half-truth. Corruption itself only thrives in circumstances of disorganization, lack of democracy in the running of activities, policy geared towards private interest as against overall public interest and institutionalization of official secrecy etc. So, corruption cannot thrive where public interest is the guiding principle and workers, experts and consumers democratically manage the sectors. It is the long years of pursuit of private interest in public companies and utilities that is responsible for the collapse of Nigeria Airways, NITEL, Nigeria Railway, educational sector, health sector etc.
In a situation the governments at all levels have program and policy hinged on profit-first agenda as a means of moving the economy forward, development is threatened. This is more so in the face of the fact that the capitalist class in Nigeria is relatively weak financially and culturally backward, and thereby cannot compete successfully with counterparts in advanced countries. As a result of this, they are always tied to the apron string of imperialists (big brother capitalist in advanced countries) such that the interest of imperialism is primary protected. This explains why our ruling elite are hoping that big private investors or better still imperialism will come and develop the economy, while where big investors will only invest to make profit and not to meet the needs of all.
From experience, another panel may be set up later to scrutinize the report of the ongoing national assembly panel, and the rigmarole will continue in vicious circle at the expense of public funds. Even when limited recommendations are made by the National Assembly, they may not be implemented by the executive especially if they threaten the profit of the so-called private sector. Those found wanting may not be prosecuted and business will continue as usual and with no lesson to be learnt. Therefore, beyond the crocodile tears, speech making and grandstanding, and waiting for another disaster to happen, government should resurrect Nigeria Airways with massive investment, get modern aircrafts on its fleet, employ the right set of experts and workers, pay living wage and introduce democratic management and control by workers and consumers. Also important is the urgent improvement in the facilities at the airports across the country. All this is imperative in order to guarantee a safe air travel and a viable aviation sector which is not driven by blind pursuit of profit at the expense of safety.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) commiserates with the families of all victims of Dana air crash both on board and on ground and call for adequate compensation to all affected families, including those affected on the ground.