7 September 2012

Nigeria: Condemnations Trail Reprieve for DANA, As Airline Seeks to Stop Inquest

Photo: Vanguard
A Dana aircraft.

Many consider it hasty. Others blame the Federal Government for being insensitive. Yet, others suspect the Federal Government bowed to undue pressure. The varied perceptions hallmarked reactions yesterday as people and organisations condemned the lifting of the suspension on the operating licence of Dana Air.

Trouble began for the airline on June 3 when one of its planes crashed into a crammed neighbourhood in Iju-Ishaga, a Lagos suburb, killing 160 on board and on the ground. Two days later, the Federal Government suspended its operating licence pending the conclusion of investigation into the cause of the accident.

However, a statement restoring the licence, signed by the Media Aide to the Aviation Minister, Mr. John Obi, explained that the decision was based on the "government's satisfaction with the airworthiness of the airline after a rigorous technical, operational and financial audit of the airline."

Mr. Ike Ibe, a lawyer, who said he was still in shock at the sudden decision of the Federal Government to lift the suspension, lost three members of his family - his wife, Nancy; daughter, Jennifer; and an in-law's wife, Maria Okwulehie - in the accident.

He buried his wife and 11-year-old daughter only last week at his hometown, Amuzi, Obowo in Imo State. He said his trauma and anguish had been reawakened afresh by the unbanning of the airline.

He expressed dismay over the action, and accused the government of not being sensitive enough to the plight of bereaved families.

Also peeved by the action, the National President of Igbo Council of Traditional Title Holders, USA (ICOTTHUSA), Chief Hyacinth Nwachukwu, described the respite for the airline as senseless and a mark of injustice. He called on the Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Odua, to immediately resign her appointment.

According to Nwachukwu, the unbanning of the airline is an affront to the people's will and urged the people to condemn it.

Ibe wondered how the Federal Government could within three months, even without concluding preliminary investigation, lift the suspension of the airline.

He said: "The government stated in one breath that the preliminary reports on the crash show that the crashed plane lost its two engines. Shockingly also, the same government says it has conducted a rigorous technical, operational and financial audit of Dana Airline and found it to be airworthy. If Dana Airline was airworthy, why then did it lose two engines during the June 3, 2012 flight?"

He, however, accused the Federal Government, the Ministry of Aviation and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) of compromise.

The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) also described the restoration of Dana Air's licence as hasty and unjustifiable.

The party said it viewed the sudden decision as anti-climax to an "opaque air accident investigation process" whose report was still being awaited.

CPC in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, said the restoration of the operating licence was hasty and could further infuriate families of victims of the air crash.

It said whilst it is not opposed to the restoration of the licence, if there is a need to do so, it added that the government's action raises many posers. It also noted that due process was not followed in the unbanning of the airline's operations.

"There is a real concern whether, with the opacity with which the Federal Government had conducted this accident investigation process thus far, this is not the beginning of an incipient crisis in the aviation industry," it said.

According to the party, a worrisome dimension to the whole saga is a report that the Flight Data Recorder needed for the investigation may have been destroyed by fire.

"Flight Data Recorder (FDR) as an ICAO device is built to withstand the force of a high-speed impact and the heat of an intense fire because of its importance in analysing air safety issues, material degradation and engine performance. How then was the FDR of this particular aircraft said to have been burnt beyond redemption?

"As a party, we feel the pain of the Nigerian people in the anticipation of true leadership that can extricate this nation from its present morass," it added.

And in a move to forestall any incident that could threaten its resumption of operation after the restoration of its licence, the airline Thursday asked a Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos, to stop the coroner inquest into the cause of the crash.

In an affidavit filed by the airline to support a motion to halt the ongoing inquest into the cause of the crash, the airline operators argued that the Lagos State Coroners' System Law is inapplicable to deaths arising from aviation accidents.

The affidavit, described by Justice Okon Abang as "a novel issue," came a day after the Federal Government lifted the suspension of the airline's operating licence.

Justice Abang, in his ruling, said: "The most important issue is to consider if the interest of the 1st-4th defendants will be prejudiced."

Dana Air's counsel corroborated the positions of the plaintiffs in its affidavit, saying, "The crux of instituting this application is in the sole interest of the public. The inquest ought not to have commenced until the conclusion of the AIB investigation. The coroner has subjected the AIB report to scrutiny by various experts."

The court fixed September 13 for the definite hearing of the plaintiff's motion for an interlocutory injunction.

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