This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Monday Discourse - So That They Won't Die in Vain

Notwithstanding the burial of former Kaduna State Governor, Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, in his Fadan Kagoma home town last Thursday, the dust generated by his recent death along with former National Security Adviser, General Andrew Azazi and four others, is yet to settle.

The plan to probe the crash of a navy helicopter in which they were killed is raising concerns among stakeholders. The controversy, write Omololu Ogunmade and Dele Ogbodo, is to ensure that Nigeria draws a useful lesson from the accident

Until the report of investigation into the crash of the navy helicopter which killed Kaduna State Governor, Mr. Patrick Yakowa and erstwhile National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi, alongside four others, in Bayelsa State on December 15 is made public, it may be too early to draw any conclusion on the cause of the incident yet.

But already, the tragedy is generating mutual suspicion between the presidency and the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF), fuelling insinuations of cold war between the two institutions.

At an emergency meeting of NGF in Abuja last Monday, the governors sought to be involved in the probe into the crash by employing the services of a consultant that would be part of the probe panel.

Both Yakowa and Azazi perished along with their two respective aides and two pilots while returning from the funeral of the father of Mr. Oronto Douglas, an aide of President Goodluck Jonathan, in Bayelsa State on December 15.

At the emergency meeting, the governors called for independent and transparent probe into the crash. The governors' call came on the heels of Jonathan's immediate reaction to the crash barely few hours after the incident, where he expressed shock over the incident and immediately ordered a probe to determine the cause(s) of the crash.

Jonathan, according to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, described the death of the victims of the crash as a painful loss to the entire nation.

"President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has expressed utter shock and sadness over the crash Saturday in Bayelsa State of a military helicopter resulting in the deaths. The president extends deep and heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the deceased, and the governments and people of Kaduna and Bayelsa States. He describes the sudden loss of these distinguished Nigerians as extremely painful to the entire nation. The president has ordered an investigation into the cause(s) of the crash."

However, the demand of governors as contained in a communiqué read by their Chairman, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, after last Monday's meeting, is that the investigation ordered by Jonathan into the crash must be thorough, adding that the "forum further resolved to engage a consultant to participate in the investigation process or serve as an observer."

The governors said that the NGF "supported the directive of the President for a thorough investigation into the immediate and remote causes of the helicopter crash and calls for transparency and openness in the process."

They later sent their condolence messages to Jonathan, Vice-President Namadi Sambo, the governments and people of Bayelsa and Kaduna States over the passage of Yakowa and Azazi.

In the same vein, they condoled with the families of the aides of the deceased- Dauda Tsoho and Mohammed Kamal, a warrant officer as well as the pilots, Commander Muritala Daba and Lt. Adeyemi Sowole, who also died in the ill-fated flight.

But the Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu, further shed light on one of the reasons the governors were angry over the crash. He recalled how the life of a respected Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Haruna John, was similarly cut short in a helicopter crash in Jos, the Plateau State capital, earlier in the year.

"You know that a serving Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Haruna John, died in a similar helicopter crash in Jos. The Federal Government must take audit of all military and police aircraft and helicopters for their airworthiness and ensure a proper and prompt maintenance," he said.

The Fears of the Governors

However, with the demand of the governors for independent probe and their involvement in the exercise, their grievances are clear- they would not want the probe into the incident to go the way of others, where up till today the reports of the probe panels are neither made public nor did the Federal Government draw any lesson from previous accidents.

Their demand, it is believed, may have also be a sign of lack of confidence in the panel constituted by the Federal Government to do the job.

Against this background, some of the governors who fielded questions from journalists after the meeting believed that the sudden explosion of the helicopter midway into the air called for serious concerns. Their suspicion may have been fuelled by insinuations from certain quarters that the accident was an act of sabotage.

The governors, during their condolence visit to the new governor of Kaduna State and Yakowa's former deputy, Alhaji Ramalan Yero, last week, alluded to the rumours.

Amaechi, while speaking on behalf of the governors, told Yero that the manner in which Yakowa transited to the world beyond propelled the NGF to throw its weight behind Jonathan's order for investigation into the crash. He assured Yero that the governors would collaborate with the Federal Government in the quest to unravel the mystery behind the crash.

Amaechi said: "It is with pain that we are here to condole with you not because we don't share in your pain but because it is traditional to visit the owner of the corpse. We felt for your former boss who was our colleague until two days ago.

"In the tragic manner in which he died, we have resolved to do two things- support the president in his call for investigation and to come here to pay our condolences to you who is the chief mourner and the people of Kaduna State and the immediate families of Yakowa."

The Presidency Worries

But since the governors announced their decision seeking to involve a hired consultant in the crash probe, the presidency has been unhappy. Certain reports had it last week that the governors' demand did not go down well with Aso Rock which reasoned that the governors' demand was capable of eroding people's confidence in the Federal Government.

Although, Amaechi had explained that NGF had no intention to drag any issue with the Federal Government, the demand as well as the reaction if not well handled, could put both the governors and the presidency on a fresh collision course.

Despite misgivings expressed by the presidency over the governors' action, the governors, however, have maintained their stance, insisting that they wanted professional insight into the crash as a way of preventing any likelihood of shoddy investigation.

Reports further said that the presidency feared that the demand could incite Nigerians against the Federal Government and simultaneously, portray government as having something to hide.

A source quoted by one of the reports was said to have disclosed that instead of the governors showing enough co-operation with the Federal Government in such a sensitive situation, their attitudes have been that of betrayal which he said showed that the state's chief executives had no faith in government's moves.

The presidency, according to the report, was worried by the demand because in its reasoning, it has huge problems in its hands if leaders in the status of governors who understand the workings of government could not express confidence in its actions much less ordinary citizens who lack knowledge of government's workings.

This, as a result, has been of serious concerns to the presidency, especially with the governors' refusal to back down on their demands despite misgivings.

"The thinking within the presidential villa is that the governors are not helping the Federal Government. The presidency is of the opinion that the governors are even inciting Nigerians against the Federal Government and asking them not to have faith in what we do as a country. I must tell you that the presidency felt betrayed by the statement and I think the president would say so anytime he meets with the governors.

"The import of the statement, according to government thinking, is that if the governors can't believe in what the Federal Government does, how can ordinary Nigerians do?" adding: "If the Federal Government says no, it may be interpreted to mean that it has something to hide. If it says yes, it may also anger the military, whose helicopter crashed."

The source was said to have remarked that the presidency felt that the demand was capable of eroding people's confidence in government.

The situation is now said to have put the Federal Government in dilemma as it is now confused on whether to turn down the governors' demand or accede to it.

"If the Federal Government says no, it may be interpreted to mean that it has something to hide. If it says yes, it may also anger the military, whose helicopter crashed," the source reiterated.

Distrust Spreads Further

Unfortunately for the Federal Government, it is not only the governors that may be suspecting foul play in the manner the helicopter crashed. The upper legislative chamber, also shared a similar feeling. The senators, last week, constituted an ad hoc committee with the mandate to investigate the crash and report back its findings.

The Senate's decision followed a motion moved by Chairman, Senate Committee on Navy, Senator Chris Anyanwu, during one of its plenary sessions.

At the session presided over by Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Senate adopted the motion through a unanimous vote and consequently mandated the Senate committees on Navy, Air force and Aviation, to independently investigate causes of frequent air mishaps with a view to possibly proffering a permanent solution to the menace.

The lawmakers said they were worried by the recurrence of air mishaps both in the civil aviation sector and the Nigerian military. They also resolved to get to the root of the matter while recalling that a number of committees had been set up to probe several cases of air mishaps without feedback.

"We are aware that between March and October 2011, there were three reported cases of air mishaps by the Air force at different locations in the country and that the causes of these crashes remain unknown after investigations were known to have been conducted."Anyanwu said.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Hope Uzodinma, who condoled with the governments and people of Kaduna and Bayelsa States, said the aviation committee had identified a number of loopholes in the aviation sector through reports on the crashes of Dana aircraft on June 3, 2012, as well as Allied Air Services aircraft in Ghana at the same period.

Uzodinma, who represents Imo West senatorial district, lamented that reports on previous crashes were never implemented and noted that the aviation industry is a highly technical industry, controlled by international conventions, regulations and standards as approved by international bodies.

"The usual problem found in this part of the world is the non-compliance or the attitude of our operators. The industry is a sensitive industry that nothing should be managed. But you find out that the operating guidelines in the industry whether in military or civil aviation sometimes are hardly complied with.

"I therefore want to say that there is need to really re-examine the regulatory framework, re-assess the level of compliance by our operators- be it military or civil operator- with a bid to keeping with set standards and specifications for all operators."

Regretting the loss of lives in air crashes, Uzodinma reiterated the need to examine both the military and civil aircraft, some of which he said had been acquired in the past three decades.

"I have never heard of late in the past 15 or 20 years of Nigerian Navy depleting their system or Nigerian Air Force, depleting their own system. So, it is not something we will stand up here and jump into conclusion of the exact causes and what was responsible for this incident." he said

He therefore urged the Senate to review reports of previous crashes with a view to drawing useful information that can assist in unraveling causes of myriad of crises bedeviling the aviation sector.

"I want to urge the Senate because we brought in international consultant when we worked on the crash of Dana Air and here, we have the report before the Senate. I want to urge my colleagues, let us look at the lapses in the industry, let us look at the problems we have been able identify and then, let us bring a holistic approach and solution on the way forward.

"Mr. President, we as Nigerians have our attitudes towards maintenance of infrastructure. So, we have been able to do this work in a manner that by now, we can even amend some of the standing regulations that will enable the operators of the industry to bring perfection to bear. Let us look at the report of previous investigations and see whether we can see things that will enable us to bring sanity into the industry," Uzodinma added.

Also speaking, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, attributed the problem to prevalent rot in the entire system with the warning that if the trend is allowed to spread to an important institution like the military, then "we are surely in our last stage of helplessness."

According to him, everywhere in the world, people look forward to their military as a beacon of efficiency, lamenting that a record of five mishaps within 15 months in the military calls for serious concern.

"With regard to the civilian sector, we all know that 99 per cent of mishaps are due to human errors. I do not believe in divine providence, these calamities are due to human errors. And therefore, we must insist on all the reports that have been presented and insist on immediate remedial measures and punishment meted out to all those responsible for such mishaps and let us not use the usual Nigerian factor.

"We are not just giant of Africa for nothing. I'm sure that Cameroon and France will be very much amused when they hear about our mishaps. I'm sure that all the oil bunkerers will be very much amused when they hear about our air mishaps because they know that battle field these days in the modern world is in the air and that in Nigeria by this mishaps, there is no air force to be frightened about and this is why I'm emphasising that this is an eye opener to us to deal with a systemic problem not just getting on with the navy as specific unit of the military, but we need a wider panel on the level of preparedness of our military. When we are setting up our panel on this, we must make sure that our panel is made of independent persons."

Gowon Differs

Contrary to suspicion that the crash might have been orchestrated by certain unknown forces with the intention to getting rid of one of the victims, former military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, has dismissed such an insinuation.

Gowon who spoke at the Golden Jubilee celebration of the President of Throneroom Trust Ministry Worldwide, Apostle Emmanuel Nuhu Kure in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, last week, described the crash as a mere accident.

According to him, he was also billed to board the crashed helicopter but for providence, and therefore advised people not to read any meaning into the incident. He went on to narrate how he escaped death by a whisker and insisted that it was a mere accident.

"As we were with the aide of the President (Douglas) to pay our condolence, they were arranging a navy helicopter to take us to Yenagoa. But another helicopter was arranged for me and five others.

And that was it. So, when I heard about this accident, it really pained me. And I want to say, well, you can never tell with some of these things. It was an accident. Don't impute any meaning to it. Don't say that it was planned to get rid of some people or something like that. It is an accident, yes, it was an accident.

"There was this young pilot, who came to me after another helicopter was found for us and he said to me, 'Sir, but I was ready to take you to Yenagoa, as part of my duty today.' And I said to him, 'don't worry; there will be another time. I really hope I will have the pleasure of flying with you again.' These were nice innocent people. Something, probably mechanical went wrong to have caused the accident. So, it was not a plan to get rid of the governor for whatever reason people want to guess," Gowon explained.

In the same vein, Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, while moving a motion to pay tribute to victims of the crash at last Wednesday's special session of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) held in honour of the dead, also narrated how he would have perished along with the six victims but for what he described as only "a twist of fate."

He said: "When we met in Bayelsa, it was a twist of fate that we did not board the same helicopter because on that day, the Special Adviser to the Vice-President on Media, Alhaji Sani Umar and myself and Timi Alaibe, were supposed to travel together with the two of them back to Port Harcourt.

"Somehow, just before we could take off from the funeral arena, Sani branched out and decided to travel alone. I myself stood up and was going together with them but by some involuntary action, I returned to my seat; I said I would wait for a moment, that was simply the twist of fate that kept us alive," Maku said.

Nevertheless, as debate on the possible cause of the crash as well as attendant suspicion between governors and Presidency continue, only a thorough investigation can clear the air of the already growing misgivings over the incident.

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