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 How is it that an oil-rich country like Nigeria cannot boast of one standard airport with

 functional facilities, and capacities to respond promptly to emergencies? The speed with which this nation

gave up hope of any likely survivors in the buried Bellview aircraft was most scandalous.



Nigeria: The High Cost Of Neglect


By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye


Since the 2001 bomb blasts at the Ikeja Military Cantonment, in Lagos here, which led to the loss of many precious Nigerian lives, I have learnt to view with seriousness any “Breaking News” signal on television. On that Sunday evening, as the chilling sounds of explosions continued to ring out like distant thunders of a dying rain, I impulsively switched on the TV set, and when I saw “Breaking News” on the screen, I sat still and waited until Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State (bless him) appeared with one army man, and told us, with a very soothing voice, what exactly was happening in Lagos.

So, when about midnight penultimate Saturday (October 22, 2005), I woke up suddenly in my study where I had fallen asleep, and the TV set which was still on beamed again the phrase: “Breaking News”, I immediately became alert. Then, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) came up with the sad, devastating news that an Abuja-bound aircraft belonging to Bellview Airlines which had taken off in Lagos by 8.45pm was missing, having lost contact with the control tower three minutes after take-off. I could hardly sleep after this. I was so apprehensive, confused, and too afraid to guess what may have happened. I waited in vain to be given any further information about the aircraft, but it was still the same tension-inducing news about the missing aircraft that they kept repeating, until daybreak. I could imagine the trauma and pain of those whose loved ones had boarded that aircraft as they also waited and longed in vain for more information about the plane and its hapless occupants.

Typical of Nigeria and its failed systems, it took nearly 18 hours before the crash site could be located in Lisa, Ogun State, Obasanjo's home state, after initial misleading reports that the plane had crashed in Kishi, a community in the border of Oyo and Kwara States. The African Independent Television (AIT) reportorial crew which discovered the site was punished for daring to succeed where the relevant authorities had failed woefully. The Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) had closed down the station for nearly twenty-four hours, before the intervention of federal authorities in Abuja.

Now, if you are angry because of this scandalous less-than snail-speed response to such a monumental disaster, your anger, I dare say, is coming rather too late. What happened with this recent tragedy has, most painfully, remained a routine in Obasanjo's Nigeria, and may even continue to be so, or worsen, for the simple reason that we have found ourselves trapped in this ungoverned and uncoordinated jungle called Nigeria.

When recently a Chanchangi Airlines plane overshot the runway and entered into a ditch at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos, it took more than twenty-four hours for the plane to be pulled out. Julius Berger, a construction company, was reluctant to do the job for our aviation authorities, because, the ones it previously did for them were unpaid for. Now, you ask me: why would a whole nation, an oil-rich one for that matter, the so-called giant of Africa, put all its hope in a private company called Julius Berger? Why is Nigeria incapable of purchasing the requisite equipment for attending to such emergencies? Why is this country perennially helpless in virtually everything? Is there any person at all somewhere planning and directing the usually bungled affairs of this failed state?

Again, when the Charlie 130 aircraft crashed in Ejigbo several years ago, during the equally calamitous reign of the self-confessed "evil genius" of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida, it took more than twenty-four hours for rescue operations to commence. Some officers were wounded and bleeding, but no help came their way, until it was too late.

The implication of this state of affairs is that if the Bellview Airlines Flight 210 had flung out some wounded survivors the time it crashed in Lisa that Saturday night, those hapless persons would most certainly have all bled to death before anyone could attempt any form of rescue.  And as I write now, judging by the utterances and actions of our officials in these past few days, there is no guarantee that Nigeria would still be equipped to respond to the least of emergencies tomorrow. What this means is that this country is nothing short of an abandoned project, left to rot away by those who purport to rule it; a nation where anything can happen to anyone any day without anyone doing something about it. Indeed, each time tragedies of this nature occur, one gets the most painful reminder that we are merely paying the inevitable, high cost of abysmal neglect. This neglect shows itself in several other sectors, and Nigeria will continue to pay dearly for it until we get our acts together. 

I watched with immense interest the special sitting of the House of Representatives on this air disaster and was amazed at the hysteria and passion that marked their deliberations. Indeed, the plane crash appears to have sent a strong signal to the once indolent, docile and idle lawmakers that they can no longer afford to tuck themselves inside their thick blanket of indifference while the nation died gradually. Indeed, everyone is now sniffing danger and death in the air, and so, legislative proceedings have suddenly ceased to be mere perfunctory rituals. They are now asking deep, searching questions, and I hope they would go ahead and insist on getting the right answers. It must be clear to them that they cannot afford to look away from the insincerity of purpose that fires virtually every action of the corrupt, soulless regime in Abuja, and expect that the unpatriotic culture they are selling would not rub off on every other section of the society! That is why perfunctorily supervised airline operators would cut corners to make huge profits and endanger the lives of innocent citizens. 

I hope the lawmakers would all wake up and demand that the right things be done NOW, or else, as we have seen penultimate Saturday, anybody can be caught in the disasters that these criminal neglects usher in. Unless Pius Anyim’s ill-fated proposal to purchase a number of jets for the National Assembly would be revisited and implemented, there is no guarantee that disasters would respect even Honourable Members. Of course, the Executive can afford to be indifferent for the very obvious reason that the president and, perhaps, members of his family, do not patronize commercial flights, even though Tony Blair and the Queen of England still fly British Airways!

I once did a piece captioned: “A Nation, Not Governed! ”, and some people may have thought I was raising unjustified alarm. I have to restate it that the best example of an abandoned project I know of is Nigeria. Forget the inane claims that unceasingly ooze out from Abuja. The only real activity going on in government circles in Nigeria today is the cruel looting of the nation’s treasury and systematic destruction of its once organized systems. That is why the decay and rot continue unchecked. Those who rule Nigeria have since lost hope on its possible survival. And so, they are now merely stealing and stashing funds away in foreign lands, waiting eagerly for the final collapse, so they could hastily escape to their great mansions in Europe and America.

How is it that an oil-rich country like Nigeria cannot boast of one standard airport with functional facilities, and capacities to respond promptly to emergencies? The speed with which this nation gave up hope of any likely survivors in the buried Bellview aircraft was most scandalous. How on earth can we justify the fact that a whole country like Nigeria does not have the equipments to immediately excavate the buried plane? Haven’t we heard of people rescued from the debris of collapsed buildings several hours after? On the day of the crash, one aviation official was saying on TV that there was no way they could have commenced search of the aircraft that night, because, their helicopters cannot fly at night. Can you imagine that? How helpless can a country be?

So, if there were those to be rescued and sent to hospitals that night (assuming any functional hospital still exists anywhere in Nigeria), they would have been left there to bleed to death? Nigerians had better stand up to the so-called leaders in Abuja and tell them that they have had enough. We are ruled by a bunch of irremediably selfish and greedy individuals, who use the nation’s resources to purchase for themselves and members of their families the comfort and amenities they have wickedly judged Nigerians unworthy of. Instead of building hospitals here to service the health needs of everyone, they use the commonwealth to patronize the best hospitals in better-managed countries.  Instead of building and equipping schools here, they use the nation’s resources to send their children abroad to study. The aim is to ensure that the poor remained perpetually deprived and beggarly, while public funds continue to service the profligacy of their children indefinitely.

Indeed, the worst disaster to hit this nation is, perhaps, the emergence of a gaggle of half-done advisers in Abuja who have worked hard to knock it into the head of the President Olusegun Obasanjo that “government has no business” doing a lot of things. Probably inspired by ill-digested theories plagiarized from poorly written term papers by freshmen at Harvard, MIT or Oxford, these fellows have provided pernicious justification for the non-performance of the present administration. In other countries, when governments withdraw from some things, it is to stimulate healthy competition and allow more space for private hands, already doing well, to flourish. It is not another name for abdication of responsibility towards the citizenry. In fact, the government is still actively involved in the area of monitoring and provision of enabling environment to ensure the success of these private initiatives. It can even intervene from time to time, to save situations.

But here the slogan means a different thing altogether. It means a big bye-bye to work and provides justification for government’s self-imposed irrelevance. So unfortunate

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye is on the Editorial Board of Daily Independent, a national newspaper published in Lagos, Nigeria, where he  also writes a well-read column on the backpage every Wednesday.

posted 3 November 2005

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