Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)

For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

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December 15, 2005


The fatal air crash and third in two months involving a Sosoliso Airline DC 10 flight 1145 from Abuja to Port Harcourt on December 10 at the Port Harcourt Airport in Rivers State, killing 109 passengers and crew members on board, with one survivor, is another clear pointer that the aviation industry is in a very bad shape. Among those who died were 71 students of Loyola Jesuit College in Abuja who were returning home for their Christmas holiday.


This crash is a further confirmation of the decay in infrastructure and facilities not just in the airline industry, but also in all other sectors of the economy and society such as the education, health, energy etc. The media reports state that the aircraft caught fire when it was struck by thunder, which forced it to touch ground at about 1,200 metres away from Port Harcourt Airport runway 21. If the reports were to be taken as correct, it means that the lightening interceptor of the aircraft was not functional; the Nigeria Meteorological Service (NIMET) could not forecast the weather in Port Harcourt properly; the Control Tower is not effective; and most likely, the plane was in bad shape technically.


Between 1965 and 2002 (37 years) when the Nigeria Airways was in operation it recorded six crashes in which 219 persons died. In fact, for 18 years between 1965 and 1983, Nigeria Airways recorded two air crashes while for another 18 years, between 1984 to 2002, it recorded another 3 crashes out of which the last 2 (1996 and 2002) recorded no casualties. Besides, between 1988 and now, which is for about 17 years, the private airlines have recorded 12 crashes only one of which had no casualties, while the total deaths recorded is 762.


The airline industry is capital intensive that requires modern aircraft, well-trained professionals, well-equipped airports with standard facilities, functional regulatory agencies, adequate and functional maintenance, workshop, etc. However, all this is missing in our aviation industry. In fact, experts have stated that poor radar coverage of the Nigerian air space, portholes in runways, poor lighting system, poor maintenance, use of obsolete planes, etc are responsible for the air crashes.


The problem of decay in facilities and infrastructures in the aviation industry is similar to what obtains in other sectors. Therefore, the fire brigade and isolated approach of the Obasanjo government towards overhauling aviation industry should not be taken seriously. For instance, the placing the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Aviation, Mr. Tomi D. Oyelachi, and the Director of Planning Research and Statistics, Mr. Esai Dangabar, on an indefinite leave by President Obasanjo is no solution. Even the recent sanction on the Sosoliso and Chachangi Airlines amounts to grandstanding to create an impression that the regime is serious in resolving the problems in the airline industry.


The Justice Nwazota Judiciary panel report on Nigeria Airways that was set-up by this administration two years ago has not seen the light of the day. Why? Because its report indicted several bureaucrats and government apologists for the wide spread looting and corrupt practices which took place in Nigeria Airways. The EFCC and Obasanjo regime has ignored this. Again, every alarm raised by the late Aviation activist, Jerry Agbeyegbe, calling attention of the federal government to the rotten state of aviation sector was ignored. In fact, his gruesome murder in October 2004 may not be unconnected with his titanic agitations and struggles for a safe air transport in Nigeria. Just one year after his murder, we have witnessed three tragic crashes and loss of 228 lives!


The only way to resolve the airline problem is for government to massively invest in the industry. Already, Senate President, Ken Nnamani, on Monday December 12, while paying a condolence visit to Loyola Jesuit College which lost over 60 of its students to the crash, said "I don’t think any of these airlines can survive on its own. The government is going to wade into it even if it is in the form of loan from anywhere" This is not only dirty slap on Obasanjo’s neo-liberal policy of privatisation but also by an admission by a top government official that the high incidence of air accident in recent time is a dividend of privatisation.


Despite the fact that the Nigeria Airways was run bureaucratically and was characterised by corruption for 40 years, it recorded 6 crashes and 219 deaths, while 2 of the crashes witnessed no casualties. While the private airlines, which are mushrooms in nature wherein, most of them are one or two airlines recorded 12 crashes in 17 years with 765 deaths.


The only solution to this needless loss of lives and destruction of property is that there must be publicly owned airlines that should be well funded with public funds and under democratic control and management by the working people themselves. Even some other African countries like Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, etc still operate national airlines that have not only recorded far less crashes than Nigeria with private airlines but also are rich source of income to the countries. Successive Governments in Nigeria and the present Obasanjo led anti-people Government systematically grounded Nigeria Airways and embarked on privatisation, which is currently killing the country.


It is now obvious that the numerous crashes, growing poverty and misery, hopelessness, depredation, degradation, etc are the only dividend of privatisation, deregulation, liberalisation, concessionalisation, etc. Therefore, for the aviation industry to be revitalized, the industry needs to be nationalised and massively funded with public money. In addition, in order not to allow it to be characterised with arbitrariness, corruption and looting of money, nepotism, sabotage, like what happened to Nigeria Airways, there is need to place this nationalised airlines under workers democratic control and management.


We hereby demand the immediate reversal of anti-poor, neo-liberal policies of the government and the massive investment in public infrastructures with the sole aim of meeting the needs of the vast majority of the working people as against the anarchy of profit that is currently the order of the day.


Dagga Tolar

Publicity Secretary

Democratic Socialist Movement