By Femi Fani-Kayode
Last year on June 3rd 2012 there was a plane crash in Nigeria in which over 163 people were killed. The plane was owned by Dana Air. The day before that on June 2nd 2012 a Nigerian cargo plane owned by Kabo Air left our shores and flew to Accra, Ghana where it overshot the runway, crashed into the main road behind the airport and killed many Ghanaian motorists. What made this all the more tragic was the fact that Ghana had never experienced a plane crash at Kotoka International Airport before this incident. It is a pity that it had to be a Nigerian plane, with a Nigerian crew and cargo that had to break that enviable record.
Over one year later on 3rd October 2013, which was last Thursday, there was yet another plane crash in Nigeria in which 13 people died. The plane was owned by Associated Airlines. Worse still the following day, which was 4th October 2013, a Saudi Arabian-bound Nigerian plane which was owned by Kabo Airline and which was carrying 400 passengers on board from Sokoto, almost crashed when both its tyres exploded mid-air and it had to crash land. Had that plane actually crashed we would have lost another 400 precious souls on that day. Before the first crash took place last year and between the two major crashes there were numerous other smaller ones involving light aircraft, private jets, military planes and helicopters that were not publicised. All these unfortunate events occurred under the tenure of Princess Stella Oduah, who is the current Minister of Aviation. Under her watch, close to 200 souls have been killed in air crashes in the last two years alone.
This does not surprise me given the nature of the individual that is involved. What does surprise me however is the fact that just one day after those that perished in the latest crash were killed, before the victims were buried, before the site of the crash was cleared, whilst the charred bodies and burnt parts of the victims still lay at the crash site and before any formal investigation into the causes of the crash have commenced, the ruling PDP, through their spokesman Chief Olisa Metuh, has told the world that they have ”full confidence” in Stella Oduah and that ”she should be allowed to continue her good work”.
Is there any greater evidence of the fact that the PDP is a sick party that is led by sick people than this? Such insensitivity is rarely seen anywhere in the world. Only in Nigeria can this happen. Not only am I surprised but I am also utterly disgusted. How many more people have to be killed in air crashes before our President realises that he needs a new Minister of Aviation?
The truth is that there is far more to aviation than beautifying airports. The first and most important consideration has to be the safety of the passengers and the airworthiness of the planes followed by a solemn and avowed commitment to ensure the discipline, professionalism and efficiency of the aviation parastatals. Most important of all when a plane crashes, whatever the reasons or causes, the Minister ought to assume full responsibility and even offer his or her resignation. Failing that he or she ought to be redeployed to another ministry or completely removed from the cabinet. This is because it is his or her primary responsibility to keep air travellers safe and alive.
Sadly it does not appear that this is likely to happen anytime soon. As a matter of fact I am convinced that even if 1,000 people were killed in air crashes in the space of just 6 months under President Goodluck Jonathan he would still not redeploy or sack Stella Oduah because our President just ”doesn’t give a damn”.
Each time a plane crashes it saddens me deeply because to anyone that has ever worked there before aviation is like a family. Worse still those people that lost their lives were our people- they were our fellow Nigerians. It really does hurt. Suffice it to say that there were no air crashes under my watch and not one drop of blood was spilt from the air whilst I was Minister of Aviation, whether it be passenger plane, private jet, helicopter or light aircraft. I thank God for that because if it had happened I would not have been able to sleep at night. I am the only Minister of Aviation in Nigeria between 2002 to date that can lay claim to that. I put it down to hard work, prayer and the grace of God and nothing else. Unlike some others I was literally paranoid when it came to air safety and security because it was obvious to me that there was more to the whole thing than meets the eye.
Permit me to go into a little detail. The year before I became Minister of Aviation there were 5 plane crashes and 453 people perished from our skies. The airlines that crashed were Bellview (2005), Sosolisso (2006), a Nigerian military plane carrying a large number of senior army officers (2006), ADC (2006) and a private light aircraft in Kano which had on board the adopted son of the PDP National Chairman Ahmadu Ali and a pilot (2006). At the time that all these crashes took place Professor Babalola Borisade was the Minister of Aviation. In November 2006 Borisade was redeployed to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism where I was Minister and I was sent to Aviation and by the grace of God from that point on my team and I, with the full backing and support of President Olusegun Obasanjo, put a stop to the crashes and we broke the cycle.
We left office in May 2007 and almost immediately after that the standard dropped again and the cycle of terrible air crashes returned to our shores. They have not stopped since. As I pointed out in another essay which I wrote last year after the Dana crash, 90 per cent of the crashes that have taken place in Nigeria in the last 11 years have taken place at weekends. That in itself is strange but what is even stranger is the fact that there are two ten year cycles of major crashes that have been in operation in our country since 1992. I call them ”sacrificial cycles”. The details are as follows. There was a major crash in 1992 (C-130 military airplane in which 160 army officers were killed). Ten years later there was a second major crash in 2002 (EAS Airline in which 105 people were killed). Ten years later there was a third major crash in 2012 (Dana Airline in which 163 were killed). This represents the first ”ten year cycle” of crashes and if it is not broken there will be another major crash in 2022 which will result in a large loss of life.
The second ”ten year cycle” began in 1996 when ADC crashed with the loss of over 160 lives. This was followed by another crash ten years later in 2006 which involved another plane from ADC and which again resulted in the loss of over 160 lives. If the cycle is not broken I have little doubt that there will be another major crash in Nigeria in 2016. These observations have nothing to do with superstition but they are based on painstaking research, facts and logic. There have many other big and small crashes within and between the dates of the two major ”ten year cycles” but what seems amazing and strange to me is the recurrent and definitive pattern of the ten year cycles themselves. It is almost as if it is some kind of pagan or religious obligation or debt that is being paid to some hidden and dark forces. Some may dismiss all this as mere coincidence but the actual day and month that all those crashes took place on tells another story which I will not go into here. Whatever anyone else may believe or think I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that there is a spiritual dimension to these matters and I have been saying so publicly since I was at Aviation. Other than sheer hard work, an insistence on full compliance with safety standards and the display of the most rigorous form of discipline from the top to the bottom, in order to break these patterns and cycles of crashes and protect our skies, much prayer and intercession is required. There are a number of other rather startling and strange patterns as well but I am not prepared to share those with the public in order not to create any panic.
One thing that I know though is that God is in control and that, as the Bible says, ”He reveals to redeem”. There is absolutely no cause for any fear or alarm. I have written and spoken many times on this. I have pointed out the problems over and over again and suggested how it can be stopped. It may not stop though because there are some depraved people in our country that do not want it to stop, that benefit from it, that delight in it and that believe in it. This is the bitter truth. That, together with the fact that in Nigeria, not enough people care for or truly value human life. We only pretend to care.
For more on this I urge those that are interested to read my essay titled ”Air Crashes In Nigeria, Sacrificial Cycles and the Weekend Phenomenon” which was published in a number of newspapers after the Dana crash last year. They can also read the first segment of my submissions at a public hearing of the Senate Aviation Committee in 2008 which was titled ”My Mandate At The Ministry of Aviation”. They are both on my website (www.femifanikayode.org) or they can just be googled.
My views about the crashes and their causes are well enunciated in both. Other than that I will not say anything about air crashes in Nigeria because what I have said and exposed has already caused me more than enough trouble from those that believe such matters ought to be kept secret and away from the public for reasons best known to themselves. Suffice it to say that my conscience is clear and that I did my very best to save and protect Nigerian lives whilst I was Minister of Aviation. That is all that matters to me and because of that I sleep very well at night. To God alone be the glory.
One last point. I find it nauseating and distasteful that some people would relish the fact that the corpse of Governor Agagu went through all that it did when he was being flown to Akure for his final burial rites and that they seemed almost joyful at the fact that the plane crashed resulting in the loss of all those innocent souls. This is a disgrace and I feel utterly outraged by it. The shameful refrain, which is all over the social media, is that Agagu somehow deserved to die a ”second death” from the skies because ”hundreds of people” had supposedly been killed in plane crashes under his watch as Minister of Aviation. This is false and malicious.
Only God knows how each of us will come to our end and it is simply not true to say that the massive harvest of deaths that took place in the aviation industry whilst President Obasanjo was in power did so under Agagu’s watch. He was appointed Minister of Aviation in 1999 and remained there until 2001 when he was redeployed to the Ministry of Power by President Obasanjo. I am aware of the fact that on January 5th 2000 there was a Skypower Express Airways crash at Abuja airport in which 17 people lost their lives. I am also aware of the fact that there was another crash of a Dornier airplane in the Niger Delta area on Oct. 26th 2000 in which 6 people were injured but no lives were lost. These crashes did indeed take place under Agagu’s tenure as Minister of Aviation. However, other than the beginning of the two sacrificial cycles that began in 1992 and 1996 respectively, the string of consistent major crashes in Nigeria really began in 2002 when EAS Airline crashed in Kano killing over 105 people including the then Minister of Sports, Mr. Mark Aku. At the time of that crash Mrs. Kema Chikwe was Minister of Aviation and not Agagu.
The most pronounced years of tragedy and carnage in aviation, which involved 6 major crashes and numerous smaller ones in a row, were really between 2002 and November 2006 when the carnage was finally brought to a halt. Sadly it began again almost immediately after we left office in May 2007 when small planes, light aircraft and helicopters started dropping from the sky. Then came the mysterious ”disappearance” with a number of fatal casualties of Governor James Ibori’s ”Wings Aviation” plane from our skies in 2008 and things really went downhill from there. In the last 11 years, between 2002 and 2013 over 850 people have been killed in air crashes in Nigeria- 453 of them under Borisade and just under 200 of them under Stella Oduah. This is an atrocious record of air safety and I believe that I am right in saying that it is a peace-time world record. Whatever the case it is nothing to be proud of and it reflects badly on all of us, particularly those of us that were once Ministers of Aviation.
I have done my research and I have the details of every single crash that has taken place in this country over the last eleven years whether it be a private plane, light aircraft, military aircraft, passenger plane or helicopter. As long as such a crash resulted in the loss of life I have the record of it and all the details. None of those crashes took place under the watch of Dr. Segun Agagu because he ceased to be Minister of Aviation in 2001. I implore those that are doing so to stop attributing the sad events that preceded his burial to some kind of divine retribution for what purportedly occurred when he was Minister of Aviation. Nothing can be more cruel than this and nothing could be further from the truth.
Permit me to end this contribution with a few words to the families of those that were lost in the crash. It is always a painful thing when we lose someone dear and this is especially so when it happens in such a painful and violent manner. My heart goes out to each and every family that lost their loved ones in this latest crash. May the Lord comfort each and every one of them and may He heal their wounds with the balm of Gilead. My commiserations also goes to the people of Ondo state and particularly to my dear friend and brother Governor Olusegun Mimiko who is a man that I have tremendous respect for, a practising and commited christian and a man of immense integrity and spiritual fortitude.
To my dear brothers that were lost in that terrible crash themselves, including Mr. Tunji Okunsanya and his son Tunji jnr. (whose MIC company buried both of my parents in 1995 and 2001 respectively), Mr. Deji Falae who was the Commissioner of Culture and Tourism for Ondo state and so many others, I say the following- may God have mercy upon you. May He forgive you of all your sins. May He cause His face to shine upon you. May He grant you peace eternal. May you abide with Him in eternity. May your souls be blessed forever. May the watchman and the boatman grant you safe passage into the higher realms. May the halls of Valhalla, where the brave shall live forever, be open unto to you.
May you never be forgotten and may your names wax strong in our hearts and minds from generation to generation. May the memory of your beautiful smiles continue to give us strength and bring us hope. You were a real blessing to so many. Rest in peace. Until we meet again.