- Posted October 14, 2013 by
MINIMISING AIR MISHAPS IN NIGERIA
No country toys with its aviation industry since Clement Ader, one of the early precursors of aviation prophesied, “Shall be the master of the world who masters the air.” Today, any country that ignores the air mode of transport is probably breathing its last. Nigeria knows this and perhaps that is why the ministry of aviation specially exists apart from the ministry of transport. Aviation is usually given a special treatment. It conveys a class of people, and one accident could go with a highly intelligent quotients. When Princess Stella Oduah was assigned to the sky bound mode of transportation by His Excellency President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR under the transformation agenda, the President was looking forward to change indeed. Nigeria’s aviation sector had before the assumption of duty of Princess Uduah’s without stress earned the status of “flying coffins.”
Indeed, well back in 2005, the then President, Chief Olusegun Obsanjo was reportedly, forced by the many accidents that bedeviled this mode of transportation that is known worldwide as the safest to threaten to import expatriates to run the industry, “Many of you thought the problem of aviation industry is gloomy. I am gloomy. The minister has not told the whole story. Part of the problem of aviation industry is human problem. They are corrupt from top to bottom. I will not mince words but we are going to fight it. Life is too precious and too scared to be played with. I have told the Minister that if we cannot get competent men and women in Nigeria to man the parastatals of aviation industry, I’m ready to bring in the expatriates from abroad in the mean time to do so.” The then president said it and he meant it.
Princess Uduah had an uphill task. The goals were clear but the obstacles were enormous. But she was not willing to live any stone unturned in achieving the nation’s desire of raising the standard of aviation in Nigeria to match or even out do other countries that were well developed. No wonder, Mr. George Uriesi, the Managing Director of Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria [FAAN] did describe the Princess as “the obstacle removing minister of aviation.”
Some of the achievements of Princess Uduah’s leadership:
1. Successful rehabilitation/remodeling of 22 airports.
2. Timely interventions on undue treatment meted to Nigerian airline operators in other countries and price discrimination against Nigerians.
3. Automation of internally generated revenues for accountability and transparency.
4. Completion of total radar coverage and provision of safety equipment and facilities
5. Adding of the preventive responsibility to the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), which was renamed the Accident Prevention and Investigation Bureau (APIB).
Nigerians all hailed her responsiveness and sense of responsibility to the extent the Leadership newspaper honoured her with the 2011 Leadership Public Officer of the Year Award.” Not even the Dana disaster of 2012 could overshadow Princess’ Uduah’s patriotism then. However, the aviation industry has within three years witnessed seven air mishaps, two of which have been fatal indeed: the Dana Disaster of June 3, 2012 and the Associate Airline tragedy of October 3, 2013. Dana airlines crashed killing about one hundred and seventy people on board and on the ground, while the Associate Airline killed 16 people on board. Quite high intelligent quotient was lost in these two accidents.
Princess Uduah must have been shocked herself especially after the level of commitment to safety and upon all the high rating by the ICAO in recent times as she affirms, “Our airspace is safe. Whenever gaps in operational procedures are noticed, they are quickly addressed. We are upgrading our equipment and the management of our airspace has been exemplary. ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) has rated Nigeria well above the global average in air safety. We actually scored above 65 per cent. Secondly, the ICAO says Nigeria is the 12th safest aviation globally. For a third world country, this is excellent.”
All well meaning Nigerians were angry with this development especially the Nigerian legislators who may have felt betrayed by their approval of Princess Uduah for a ministerial position. In most cases, the commentators acknowledged the great reconstruction efforts at airports. Even Princess Uduah’s critics like Fani Kayode, a onetime minister of aviation had to acknowledge the very fact that “Under her tenure we have beautiful terminals” before adding a cynically, “but deadly and blood soaked skies.”
Some Nigerians reacted rather to the minister’s unmitigated response that “accidents are inevitable.” They would rather the Honourable Minister took the position of Federico Pena (1995), U.S. Transportation Secretary, who said, We have to get out of the mind-set of saying, “No matter how hard we try, we will have accidents,” and into “We will not have accidents.” Professor John Hibbs mitigated what the Minister said by describing transportation as a “fail-dangerous industry.” He meant that even the best engineers cannot guarantee the successful performance of the means of transportation. This may be a more diplomatic way of saying accidents are inevitable. Earl Weener, who was for many years a chief safety engineer at Boeing is quoted as saying, “Airplanes are very unforgiving if you don’t do things right…” (cited in Gladwell’s book titled Outliers). It will certainly take some time for Nigerians to do things all right in this country.
When accidents happen frequently, we should learn from other countries on how they solved or minimized their problems. One country Nigeria may learn from is Korea. When the disasters were becoming intolerable, the then Korean President, Kim Dae-jung felt compelled to speak up and he took responsibility on behalf of the country, “The issue of Korean Air is not a matter of an individual company but a matter of the whole country… Our country’s credibility is at stake.” External investigations and audits revealed instances of flight crews smoking cigarettes on the tarmac during refueling and in the freight area; and when the plane was in the air, “Crew read newspapers throughout the flight…often with newspapers held up in such a way that if a warning light came on, it would not be noticed.” The report detailed bad morale, numerous procedural violations, and the alarming conclusion that training standards for the 747 “classic” were so poor that “there is some concern as to whether First Officers on the Classic fleet could land the aircraft if the Captain became totally incapacitated.” Koreans did not waste their energies tracing and relating accidents to myths of cultism or voodoo.
Malcom Glawell has given the recipe for successful air operations: “When we understand what it really means to be a good pilot – when we understand how much culture and history and the world outside of the individual matter to professional success – then we don’t have to throw up our hands in despair at an airline where pilots crash planes into the sides of mountains.” Air accidents are certainly inevitable in a culture that is not only corrupt but advertises its corruption! As long a culture embraces corruption and still insists on flying it will sure see air mishaps.
Will the best solution to minimizing air mishaps be the removal of Princess Uduah? Did the removal of past ministers bring an end to crashes? Let us patiently identify the problem even if it requires bringing in independent investigators and auditors and allowing them to give us the results openly. Nigeria should like Korea, identify the major challenges of the aviation industry, which cannot be located in a person or company but in all the citizenry.