The return of Dana Air has generated a lot of discussions among experts and Nigerians generally. The entertainment industry is not left out as musicians and notable comedians were among those that were on board the airplane.
Seven months following the fatal crash that brought pain, grief and anguish to the families and loved ones of the 150 souls that perished on board the Dana Air Abuja to Lagos flight, the airline Friday 4th January resumed flight operations within Nigeria amidst criticism from Nigerians and the legislature who felt the flight resumption was too soon as a lot of issues that bordered on safety and compensation of the victims of the plane crash despite the clearance from the aviation authorities.
The inaugural flight came with a lot of fanfare and celebrity endorsements from the likes of Basketmouth, comedian Buchi, singer Dipp, Harrysong and journalists all boarding the Lagos to Abuja flight. Many may have thought that the Dana Air flight may have landed with hitches but the flight landed safely in Abuja to somewhat prove that it was now airworthy.
After the safe landing, there were unconfirmed reports in different quarters and online that the celebrities were handsomely rewarded by the management after risking their lives to be the first passengers to board Dana Air but earlier in the week, the Dana Air management responded to critics via their Facebook page and also a press release by Tony Usidamen, the Dana public relation manager on the matter.
It read, "Our attention has been drawn to some online media reports suggesting that celebrities BasketMouth, DIPP, Harrysong, and Buchi, who were among guests on board the Dana Air inaugural flight of Friday, 4th January, 2013, boarded the airplane for financial gains.
We would like to state that these claims are completely untrue. Like all other esteemed guests of the airline, many of which are notable personalities from Nigeria's entertainment scene, these celebrities have always been a part of the Dana Air family. Their decision to be part of the airline's re-launch was purely out of goodwill, having personally experienced the unrivalled hospitality and world-class services offered by the airline many times before"
One of the celebrities, Basketmouth in his short interview with our aviation correspondent at the Airport in Ikeja during the maiden flight, sees his involvement as purely on goodwill. The popular Nigerian comedian whose real name is Bright Okpocha said, "I don't think I have any form of panic when it comes to flying. This is because flying is arguably the safest means of travelling.
Dana is one of the best despite the aircraft accident that happened. But they still give us the good service. Let's not forget what they used to offer before the accident. It has happened even to the best airlines."
In the same vein, Harrysong, a musician who is due to release his video Ogogoro which featured Timaya in February said that he along with Basketmouth, Buchi and Dipp decided to take the risky path and board the Dana Plane to prove to Nigerians that the management was ready to operate after the sad development which claimed lives . He noted that these could have happened to any other airlines as they have been cleared by the authorities.
"Yes it was risky but the management has put in place and proved to us that the airline was now airworthy. As celebrities and entertainers, we needed to prove to Nigerians that Dana Air was back and we rode on it first from Lagos to Abuja to tell Nigerians that after the setback, Dana Air was back. It was just to extend our goodwill to the management", he said.
In a phone chat, Harrysong debunked claims that they were paid by Dana Air to board the flight. He said, "Dana did not pay us a kobo. We only did this to prove that the airline was ready to work and ensure safety of Nigerians as they have proved to us. Though it seemed risky, but we did it for Nigerians to allay the fears of flying with Dana."
On air personality and celebrity Denrele Edun who was initially thought to be among the celebrities that showed love to Dana Air was not among the passengers as he was conspicuously missing. In a phone chat with the OAP known for his crazy hairdo and style, Denrele said that he was invited to be part of those to board the maiden Dana plane to Abuja but chose not to honour it, preferring to occupy himself with the shooting of his movie, Human Hair Hustle. He gave his reason for absconding as purely professional as it did not sound right to him.
"I was not part of the crew that joined the Dana flight to Abuja though I was invited but I was busy at a location with my movie. Though I could have left my movie location if I wanted to honour the invitation but I feel personally it is better for me not on board the plane. I am on my way right now to the location of my movie, Human Hair Hustle. The movie features Ghanaian acts like Chris Atois, Martha, Ini Edo, Nollywood twins, Tracie and Treasure among many others. My movie is gonna be the bomb", Denrele explained.
It is not a new thing for corporate firms to use celebrities and entertainers to launder their image. Just as most global brands use celebrities to endorse their products and the persons in question are offered juicy contracts and mouth watering deals, the entertainers understand the power of this public relation PR and always come to the aid of corporate firms and more often than not are handsomely rewarded.
So it would not be out of place if it is perceived that the celebrities and perhaps journalists were handsomely rewarded for boarding the Dana Flight, a PR statement. Though none of the artists on board Dana air on January 4, last Friday has admitted that they were paid to board Dana Air, Nigerians still believe that the airline was culpable for the plane crash last June and has not done much to compensate victims of the crash.
Dana PR Manager, Tony Usidamen in his reaction to why celebrities came out to support Dana Air in a phone chat with our correspondent, said that there had been a partnership with the entertainment industry way back and this was brought to the fore against the expectation of many. He added that most of the entertainers had enjoyed the support of Dana Air for years as they travel.
"Check the records, Dana Air has been a supporter of Nigerian Entertainment industry from Rhythm Unplugged events and other major shows across the country; the company has supported the industry so it was not a surprise that the celebrities showed their appreciation for these by being part of the first passengers to board Dana Air". He said.
The Manager added that though the company had started the process of payment of compensation of victims and the NICON was in charge and it takes time for all these to be completed but this according to best practices does not stop airlines from operating.
"It is not done anywhere in the world that an airline is stopped from flying after a crash like it happened here. Though there may be litigations and what have you but this does not normally stop airlines from operating. We have showed to Nigerians that we are capable of flying safely", he added.