Plane crash: Senate summons Oduah, Aviation CEOs

The disaster caused by the crash of the Associated Airline plane last Thursday, in Lagos which claimed 16 lives, resonated in the Senate yesterday with the summoning of the Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah and all the heads of the regulatory agencies in the sector by the lawmakers.
This was sequel to a motion moved by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation; Senator Hope Uzodima (PDP Imo West) for deliberation on the disaster on the floor of the house yesterday.

The Minister and the other summoned Aviation Chief Executives  are expected to brief the chamber on the state of aviation sector and the likely reasons for the high level of air disasters experienced in the country in recent times.
However, they would be appearing when lawmakers reconvene on October 22.  The Senate, which was just resuming from its one- week break, yesterday adjourned for another two weeks to enable various committees complete their oversight duties in anticipation of 2014 budget.
The Senate observed in the motion that out of the 20 passengers on board, 16 have been confirmed dead. It also expressed worries that the country had witnessed seven fatal air mishaps and averted two within the last  two and half years.

Worried that the resurgence of plane crashes in the country since 2011 was an indication of deep rooted problem within the sector, the upper legislative chamber mandated its relevant committee to identify lapses in the operational laws and regulations guiding the aviation industry with a view to averting future occurrences.
However, more facts have emerged about circumstances surrounding the crash of the airplane. Senator Smart Adeyemi ( Kogi West), revealed that the ill-fated airplane was on a test flight and was by law, not expected to carry passengers except  the pilot and engineers.

Adeyemi, therefore, blamed the incident on corruption and urged the Committee on Aviation to unravel those behind the action. He said: “ I was in Lagos after the crash and in the course of my stay, I interacted with my colleagues in the media and I was surprised to gather that the plane crashed as a result of corruption.

“I gathered that the plane was meant to be on a test flight and as such, it was to shuttle between Lagos and Akure without carrying passengers except the pilot and engineers. But someone thought it wise to pick passengers to make quick business”. Adeyemi added that unless the problem of corruption is addressed in the aviation sector, no amount of funds would bring about the required reform.

While commending ongoing efforts by the federal government at upgrading airport facilities, he insisted that much is desired in areas of regulation and management. “There is no amount of money that can help if we don’t tackle corruption. We need to know who bought the aircraft and who is managing it.
“The ongoing renovation at the airports is good but the problem is management and regulation. The truth is that there is corruption in the aviation industry. We must be courageous enough to speak the truth. Our chambers would do the county good to unravel the owners  of the Associated Airline”, he said.

The Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba in his contribution said the industry was in a state of emergency and expressed the need to question the activities of the minister and heads of parastatals, especially with regards to safety regulations. Earlier,  Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (Ekiti East), blamed  the incident and several others before it on poor aviation regulations and enforcement.

“What we are suffering from is the regulation. The duty of the government is to regulate the industry to ensure safety in the air and that is what we are not getting. There is no where in the world where we have this level of disaster. Yet, we have a minister telling us about the safety of aviation and the construction of terminals.
“We do not need anybody to make us know that due diligence is required. We must ask ourselves questions about our oversight duties and monitoring of regulatory agencies, if not, we will continue to make a mockery of the red parliament”.
Senator Adetunmbi also blamed the media for unnecessary hype of government’s efforts at reforming the aviation sector. According to him, upgrading airport facilities was necessary but greater challenge lies with  the people and the procedures for the regulating agencies.

Senator Solomon Ewuga (Nasarawa North), called for a better understanding between government agencies saddled with the responsibilities of aviation safety and the legislature.
He stated that going by the report of the aviation committee from various incidents, there was a gap between both bodies, especially with regards to aviation regulations and maintenance operations.

Ewuga, therefore, urged the committee to be thorough in its investigation with greater emphasis on professionalism and training pattern of aviation regulators He said: “I am disturbed that in suspending the operations of Dana Airline, not much has been said about air safety in the country. We have no sympathy for ourselves.
“It is very sad the way we treat ourselves. Let us not look at the aviation problem in isolation, the problem is holistic and should be treated as such. Chairman should go into the training pattern, the organization, artisans and if need be, look into the issue of funding training of technical staff”.

In his reaction, Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, commended his colleagues for transcending ethnic and political divides in their contributions.  Again, he blamed incessant plane crashes in Nigeria on the regulators of the industry and maintained that so long as Nigerians don’t take responsibilities of their actions, the Senate had no option than to summon the Minster of Aviation and her parastatal heads.

“The issue is that in some places, when something like this happens, people take responsibilities and resign but because such things do not  happen here, we will keep repeating ourselves.  “The problem here is the safety standard and not just the plane because the standards are same everywhere. There is the need to ensure that those responsible for regulating the industry do so.”

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