There are many ramifications of human nature that have reared up since the crash of the Dana Air plane that killed 153 passengers on Sunday, June 3, 2012. Sadly, few of them are positive. What could possibly be positive about such a tragedy? Many believe that, during times of national tragedy, citizens come together in solidarity and, as they grieve this helps to build unity and a sense of belonging and shared perseverance. Just the way New Yorkers draped their houses in red, white and blue after 9/11 and where the famously brusque New Yorkers acted mellow and caring, giving seats up on the subway for the old and the pregnant...until the shock wore off. That is the type of silver lining or rainbow that we could hope for but alas, this will not be the case. Instead, publicly at least, we are seeing the very worst of human nature both on the side of the government and the side of the public.
What are all the things that government has done and is doing wrong?
Starting with the crash: it is abysmal, cruel and the utmost lowest point of man's inhumanity to man that families of crash victims should have to wonder if lives could have been saved if rescue teams were more efficient. It is a thought that should grip everyone right above the ears and simulate the pressure of a thousand elephants on each side pressing the temples together. Painful. Every excuse under the sun has been given: the area where the plane crashed is difficult to get to, the roads are narrow, the thronging crowd made access impossible...all unacceptable. When US Air Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River in New York in 2009, there were ferries, water taxis and other boats rescuing passengers from where they stood shivering on the wings, within five minutes. Five minutes to begin rescue on water. Can anyone imagine how long rescue would have taken if the plane had landed in any water? On land there are records of even less than two minutes. The key factor: control towers which work. A plane in trouble will always radio in and if the control tower works the way it should, based on what the pilots tell them and the control tower should be able to estimate where they are and alert the rescue teams to start moving in that direction.
That brings us to the sorry state of our fire engines and rescue apparatus. We have all heard stories of buildings razed to the ground because even after the fire engines get there...they have no water. In this case, eye-witnesses say when the trucks finally arrived...their hoses had so many holes it was like a sprinkler. Fire engines range from $120,000 - $1.3m (N19.2m - N211m ) depending on the sophistication. Our budget for aviation in 2012 was N49 billion. If this sum is historically typical of annual budgets for the Ministry of Aviation, then, it is not too much to expect that most of our airports should have fairly decent fire fighting and rescue equipment.
Next the bureaucracy has apparently been a nightmare for the families of those who were killed on Dana 153. From all indications, it seems like the Lagos State government have tried their utmost best to manage things as humanely as possible but, apparently because aviation is a matter reserved for the federal government, there have been all manner of interference and red tape which the families have had to bear. What is the purpose of conducting DNA tests for bodies which are recognisable and identifiable as opposed to being reserved for the bodies which suffered so much trauma they were unrecognisable? With many medical facilities boasting of sole pathologists and families clamouring for the right to bury their dead with dignity, why would any state or federal agency make this a requirement? And now, even though the timelines for the release of the bodies have not expired, we hear that families have been invited to conduct mass burials...the height of insensitivity.
And so the government continues to blunder on - every day there is something in the news which must make us the laughing stock of the world or at the very least the ninth wonder. Less than a week after the crash, there have been several reports of planes unable to land in Abuja due to unlit runways and having to make their way to another airport...further traumatizing air travellers. And so far no one has resigned out of a sense of responsibility no matter how remote, and no one has had the balls to fire anyone for anything. A $300m movie tanks in Disney Studios and an executive where the buck stops resigns in shame: hundreds of people die, properties are destroyed, there is a failed rescue attempt and, in Nigeria, no one even apologises.
Then we come to ourselves - the dear citizens of Nigeria who have been photographed standing on the wreckage of the plane and telling all sorts of tales designed to hurt grieving people more than anyone else - of VIP movements and survivors. Then there are the media ghouls who want to print and share everything and anything imaginable - private pictures, contents of crash victims' pockets and wallets and whatever else they can come up with to satisfy the voyeurism of many.
And then there are those who do not want to recognise that people mourn in different ways and that, as difficult is it might be to comprehend (especially for those who have never lost anyone close to death), life goes on. As distraught as you might be, your stomach will still growl with hunger and your eyes will still succumb to sleep. A lot has been made of those in the public and private eye who have gone ahead with events 'as planned' before the crash...there isn't any one way to grieve. Some remain in shock and unable to grieve for years - especially when events happen in a way that makes it hard at the time...and some bawl, roll on the ground and find peace in a few hours. At the end of the day, it's Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un (to God we belong and to Him shall we return). And having faith in God sometimes means carrying on with plans that have been made because to cancel those plans can be to ask 'why', to question, and we all know that the Almighty is Ka bio osi - He who should not be questioned.
There is still time to make sense of the tragedy - to put the crash in perspective with other tragedies which occur on a daily basis and see how we can collectively raise our humanity and try to make life in Nigeria more precious and meaningful for all. For a start, citizens need to be ruthless and unforgiving about holding those in office accountable and those in office, for a start, need to start doing more to provide us with the really basic services that we are crying and dying for...daily.