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Socialist Democracy Nov - Dec 2005

 

BELLVIEW PLANE CRASH

"Dividend" Of Privatisation

By Adeola Soetan

The series of plane crash we had witnessed in Nigeria were foreseeable disasters that are bound to occur in a distress aviation industry, which the government and the airline operators have taken for granted for a long time.

The sad incident of Bellview Boeing 737 plane of October 22 that crashed at Lisa village in Ogun state in which all the 117 passengers and crew members perished is a reminder of how increasingly unsafe the nation's airspace has become after the total privatisation of the country's aviation industry. The logic of profit first before safety naturally follows. As it is now, Nigerian government does not run airline business after the defunct Nigeria Airways. It has only limited itself to regulation, facility support and rescue mission through its various bodies like Ministry of Aviation, National Aviation Management Authority (NAMA) and National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA).

The aviation industry typifies the rot that has set into all facets of the nation's life: education, health, electricity, agriculture, and manufacturing with collapsed infrastructures, outdated technology, self-serving management and unbridled corruption.

Aviation industry is a capital intensive sector requiring modern aircrafts, trained professionals, and state of the art airports equipped with best of facilities. The reality in the country is the reverse with tens of airlines springing up daily, owned by the profit-driven capitalist business class and their foreign collaborators, corrupt former public officials, both military and politicians, fronts for serving officials. The mushroom airlines abound in the airspace with aged aircrafts, unserviceable or totally un-airworthy planes putting passengers to avoidable higher risk just for profit.

On both sides of the coin - government and private airlines - it is danger! danger!! and danger!!! Over fifty air disasters have been reported in the country with different degree of fatality, with four major ones in the last fifteen years. Almost all brands of aircraft and all airline operators have had the experience of fatal crash or crash landing due to poor supporting facility or the disuse state of the necessary facilities. Some of the accidents were: January 31, 1997, Skypower Express Airways built in 1984 crashed at the Yola Airport; July 29, 1997, BAC 1-11, 203 AE built in 1965 and owned by ADC airlines crash-landed with 55 persons on board; another ADC Airlines flight 086 from Port Harcourt crashed at Ejinrin, Epe, killing all passengers on board; September 12, 1997, Domier 228-212 built in 1994 and operated by the Nigerian Air Force crashed with 10 persons on board; Chanchangi Airlines had its Boeing 737 crashed on February 22, 1998 at Kaduna Airport; the same year (1998), Boeing 707-355C built in 1968 operated by International Airlines crashed at the Murtala Mohammed Airport; January 5, 2000, Embruer 110PIA Bandeirante manufactured in 1984 operated by Skypower Express Airways crash-landed at the Abuja International Airport; MK Airlines had its Boeing 747-246F built in 1980 crashed on November 27, 2001 while the major fatal plane crash before Bellview happened in Kano State when on April 5, 2002, EAS BAC 1-11 with 106 passengers and crew including former Sport Minister, Mr. Mark Aku, all perished.

This gory picture is symptomatic of the sick aviation industry. One of the major operators, Senator Musa Adede, one time Chairman of Senate Committee on Aviation and owner of Kings Airline adduced poor radar coverage of the Nigerian air space, potholes in runways and poor lighting system as the source of frequent accident in the aviation industry. According to him, there was "no single maintenance workshop in Nigeria". Planes operating in the country had to be ferried to South Africa and others for routine and major maintenance work. And in spite of Nigeria being the sixth largest producer of crude oil, aviation fuel is cheaper in Angola than in Nigeria.

The Bellview crash really exposed the inadequacy of the nation's capacity to deal with emergency and rescue operation. The crashed Bellview Boeing 737 was reported to have crashed three minutes after take-off from Lagos but it took the search and rescue team and all major security forces in Nigeria 15 hours to correctly locate Lisa village, the crash site. Even Aviation Minister, Prof. Babalola Borishade and teams of security personnel with government officials had to make a useless trip to Kishi, a fringe town on the border of Oyo and Kwara States.

If the radar system at various airports were to be effective and functional, it could have been very easy to immediately locate the crash site, which is less than 30 kilometers to Murtala Mohammed Airport, Ikeja where the ill-fated plane took off. Aviation experts were of the opinion that "the radar in Lagos was supposed to still be picking the air craft and even narrow it to where it went down at the distance it was eventually traced" suggesting that the radar is not functioning well.

As reported in Punch Editorial, Friday, October 28, NEMA had claimed that the ill-fated plane used outdated communication equipment, making it difficult to contact the control tower as at when due. Even when Lisa crash site was located, rescue operation was poorly conducted. The two rescue helicopters available in the country could not work at night and there was no equipment to excavate the remains of the aircraft which was entombed for over thirteen days before experts were invited from USA. Up till now, the black box and the cockpit voice recorder could not be found, suggesting that the nation and the traumatized relations of the victims may not never know the real cause of the accident and nor learning anything from the sad event.

The incessant air disaster and the helplessness of the operation to prevent them put to naught the neo-liberal economic policy of the government. For decades that the federal government ran the Nigerian Airways, the defunct national carrier, accident was a rare occurrence notwithstanding the inefficiency noticed at the time. This era of private ownership has put a question mark to peoples' confidence in air travel. Aircrafts operating in Nigeria are best described as flying coffins, a disaster waiting to happen. Yet, profit accrues to the capitalist owners with little care about safety of passengers and the crew.

A massive government investments to upgrade facilities, an overhaul of the entire aviation industry, total ban on aged aircrafts and heavy punishment for defaulters of set standards can reduce the high rate of flight accidents. But giving the decay of world capitalism, Nigeria will need socialism to change the ugly face of the aviation industry for the better. In that situation, people, not profit will be the primary purpose of governance.

 

 

Socialist Democracy Nov - Dec 2005