Against the fear of many Nigerians who have shunned air travels in the wake of the Sunday June 3 Dana plane crash in Iju Ishaga, Lagos, that claimed the lives of all passengers and crew on board, Pastor (Dr.) Oyeleke Owolabi, Pro-Chancellor, Babcock University, has been travelling to several towns by aeroplane without fear since the fatal accident occurred.
In this interview, Owolabi who is also President, Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nigeria discountenanced the notion of fear to travel by air being expressed by many people now turning to road transportation, even as the roads across the country have become slaughter slabs, due to daily fatalities and robbery attacks.
What is your assessment of the prevailing situation in the country and the message you have for the people?
Looking at the situation in Nigeria today, I want to tell fellow Nigerians that hope is not lost. As an opinion leader, church leader, I want to say that all these acts of terrorism, plane crash, corruption cannot be the end of the road. There will be light at the end of the tunnel. Bright moment is coming.
People should not lose hope on the country, but be encouraged. Now, industrialists, academics, politicians are discouraged, not to talk about the common people. This country is going to be great. For every gold to be appreciated, it must pass through fire. There will be peace, surplus, prosperity. The United States of America, Great Britain, had bitter pills to swallow at sometime. France, Germany, Italy held themselves together and so too would be Nigeria. This nation has a future. You and I are the future of the nation.
The Federal Government has set up a technical and administrative probe panel to investigate the Dana plane crash. Judging by previous probes whose findings were not seen, is there any hope for this one?
There has been so many press releases, statements on the plane crash. But I have a different opinion altogether. I sympathise with the families that have lost their loved ones, Dana Air Staff, those who died on the ground when the plane crashed into their houses. But I want to also sympathise with the Federal Government, with no apology to anyone.
I have travelled all over the place.
Government is doing well than before. There is no airport that is not going through reconstruction. Large chunk of fund devoted to the aviation sector. Unfortunately, this air crash happened. They have done well. I sympathise with President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and the Minister of Aviation. The crash happened when they were doing their best. They should not be discouraged but to continue.
If they continue, the aviation sector will move forward. Benin, Port Harcourt, Owerri airports are under construction. Also the Lagos airports are undergoing reconstruction. For the past years, there was nothing like this. Then devil struck with the plane crash. Don't lose hope on what aviation sector will do for us. Let's encourage President Jonathan and the Minister of Aviation to keep up doing their work. As time goes on, we will see results. Not just condemnation all the time, but should also commend them.
Since the crash, have you travelled by plane because many people are now scared about air travel?
I've been travelling by air after the Dana crash without any fear. I was in Warri, from Warri to Bayelsa, Benin to Abuja to Lagos. I am not afraid of flying.
Do you believe in the probe of the crash by an investigative panel?
Nigeria has problems. Even before the probe was set up, people have concluded negatively that it won't work. This is negative thinking. I reject failure. Even if other probes had failed, it won't happen so this time. Let us give government benefit of the doubt.
Is it probe to condemn, or to bring back to life those who died or to avert future occurrences of plane crash?
Instead of destroying personalities, others, we should be positive. Without ambiguity, the probe will come out with useful findings. Not to jeopardise others. There are technical problems involved. Accidents occur all over the world. In USA, Asia, Europe, it is sad. The probe is to give us solutions in the future.
How do you see the issue of compensation for the victims of the crash?
There are few things to understand on compensation. About insurance policies - that govern non-living things.
Life insurance - Only in God that lives are assured. Those who died, they've gone. No amount of assurance will bring back life. For Muslims, they've gone to good heaven.
Every airline is under insurance. Application of the insurance is based on the gravity of the damage - wife, husband, children died, who will take care. Compensation differs. It depends on the level of damage each family suffered. No amount of compensation can restore life. Life will be miserable for the living hence the need for compensation. Not about the volume of money but the value of life of the living.
Can you throw some light on "Lagos for Christ" programme that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is planning?
Lagos for Christ is a church programme. As a church, we have strategic plan and to be pro-active in things. Lagos for Christ is taking place in 2013. Three cities in Africa are involved. Johannesburg, Nairobi and Lagos. It's for aggressive evangelism and all will be involved including the press, medical people, different professionals, youths, etc. It would be total evangelisation. We are in the preparatory stage.
The church/society not impactful. Christian leaders are deviating from their primary duties. Churches are now commercialised centres of miracles and healing. Pastors are more involved in business, cut ff from spiritual things. They depend on financial gifts, donations, collections, etc. There should be holistic development - spiritual, mental, psychological. In thanksgiving, a person can bring N10 million and nobody ask from where he got that money. They used to ask before, but today not done. Pastors are looking for fame and money. As church leaders, our primary concern is to develop people morally and spiritually.
The country is experiencing daily spate of bombings with many people killed. What can be done to stop this deadly trend?
I've gone into meditation on these bombings. Boko Haram is not the problem. Nigerians are the problems. Nigeria is capable of ending Boko Haram menace. Government, religious leaders, traditional rulers, community, everyone charged. Tell them to know that if anything happens, they will be held responsible. There is need for collective responsibility. All must be involved - politicians, religious, traditional, community. If all of us come in, Boko Haram will end.