Dana Air plane crash: “A confirmation of 1926 Luggard’s assessment of Africans as “lacking in the management and control alike of men and business”?
Over the past weeks Nigerians were treated daily to live coverage of the sitting of the committee set up by the National Assembly to look into problems in the aviation sector. The investigation was prompted primarily by the Crash of Dana Airline Flight from Abuja to Lagos on the 3rd of June 2012 which claimed the lives of 153 passengers and scores of Nigerians on the ground. As I stated some weeks ago, the investigation much like similar reactions of the other governmental agencies and bodies should have taken place much earlier. However, my comments this week will not be focused on the belated reaction of government to an incident which could well have been averted. I intend to comment on the revelations which have since come to light showing that but for the “hear nothing, see nothing” approach of the average Nigerian, 153 of their compatriots would not have boarded that ill-fated flight. I intend to approach this subject from the standpoint of Lord Lugard’s comments about the character make-up of the African.
I began an exposition of Lord Lugard’s exposition of the character make up of the African ten weeks ago. My decision was informed by my perception of the comment as encompassing all that is true of the African and which to a large extent accounts for the several problems facing the continent. I have in past successive editions highlighted aspects of the comments such as those by which the African was described as thriftless and lacking organization. I have also examined the claim that the African loves power but fails to fully grasp the responsibilities that come with power. The more I look at the comment, the more I find aspects of it which explain some of the recent occurrences in the country. It is in this respect that I find Lord’s Lugard’s statement that the thoughts of the African are focused on the events and feelings of the moment and that he suffers little apprehension for the future most apt in relation to the air crash. I will explain the relationship.
FAILURE TO REPORT PREVIOUS EXPERIENCES ON BOARD AIRCRAFT
In the days that followed the crash there were reports that several passengers of the airline had experienced one near mishap or the other while aboard the same aircraft. A well respected governor in an interview revealed how he had personally called the management of the airline to warn them against putting the lives of Nigerians at risk. This was after the aircraft had hovered in the air for about two hours as it was unable to land due to a technical problem. A television station in Lagos also reported the claims of a yet to be identified staff of the airline who alleged that the management of the airline directed that the plane be flown to Lagos from Uyo to pick passengers when it was clear that it was not airworthy and very much against the advice of the maintenance crew that it be flown directly to Lagos without passengers. A witness at the sitting of the Joint Committee of the National Assembly also testified about how a group of passengers had forcibly disembarked from an aircraft when the Pilot upon much pressure from exasperated passengers disclosed that the aircraft was still on the ground, several hours after it was supposed to have departed, owing to engine problems. But perhaps the most moving of such accounts came from another witness. This particular witness who lost his wife in the air crash narrated how he had had to endure the hour long flight from Lagos to Abjua aboard the same aircraft on Friday 1st June 2012, barely 48 hours to the crash. He narrated how noisy the engines were and described the relief of passengers when the plane eventually made it to Abuja. Rather unfortunately, his wife boarded the aircraft and died in the crash.
Anybody who is aware of the accounts stated above must necessarily wonder why the regulatory authorities failed to act to avert the unfortunate incident of 3rd June 2012. After all it is inconceivable that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) would have permitted an aircraft declared faulty by its own maintenance crew to fly the Nation’s airspace. The question however is whether the persons who gave these account ever bothered to report their observation to the relevant authorities. They did not. The reason is not farfetched. Africans as Lugard said, are more concerned about the feelings and events of the present. This probably explains why the witness who was aboard the aircraft on the 1st of June 2012 or those who forcibly disembarked from the other aircraft which was delayed owing to faulty engines forgot about their experiences the moment they set their foot on the hard tarmac. For them it probably did not matter anymore that the same aircrafts would still be used to fly other Nigerians. They were all probably too busy getting about their daily existence to bother to officially bring the matter to the attention of the authorities.
As strange as it sounds they are not alone in this. Every day of their lives Nigerians witness events which if reported and tackled will improve their lots. But people are generally averse to taking any direct role in bringing about the much needed change in the affairs of the Nation. Nigerians like the late Fela Anilulapo sang are content with “suffering and smiling”. But why is this so? It appears the African has over the ages developed an attitude of detachment from anything that does not immediately affect him at any particular time. If it is the problem of others then it is not his. This culture is so ingrained in the sub-consciousness of the African that it has found its way into his language and sayings in some parts of Nigeria. In Yoruba land it is common to hear it said that “ko ti oju mi sele, kii pe ni ile ejo” which could be loosely translated as “If you do not claim to be an eye- witness to anything, you will not have to attend a court of law or have your presence required for too long in court.” Two events sufficiently capture how widespread this concept is.
During the protests which held in January against the decision of the Government to reduce the subsidy on Petrol, an unarmed young man was reportedly shot, in the presence of several eye-witnesses by a Police Officer in Lagos.
The shooting attracted wide condemnation from several quarters prompting the immediate detention of the alleged shooter and the setting up of an investigative team to ascertain the circumstances of the shooting with a view to bringing charges against the officer if possible. Incredibly the investigators were reported to have had a difficult time finding anyone who would identify himself as an eye-witness to the event despite the fact that numerous residents of the area had granted interviews to the Press about it. In a similar fashion, military authorities who were investigating the alleged shooting of a nephew to a former Inspector General of Police by a soldier in Mushin area of Lagos met a brick wall. Nobody was willing to supply much needed evidence on the shooting. Whilst events like this have been blamed on the distrust of police by the average citizen, I don’t think that factor alone is enough to rationalize the nonchalant attitude of most to matters that in some other climes in the world will be viewed as a collective problem and approached as such. On a larger scale this attitude accounts for the huge crime rate and other social ills plaguing our country. The Boko Haram terrorist group operates in cities of millions of inhabitants yet there is little or no information about its members or its means or modes of operation.
NEED FOR LEGISLATION
It must be realized that no country has attained true development without its citizens playing their part. This involves helping the government to identify potential problem areas before they evolve into disasters. In the United States of America much premium is placed on the need to allow citizens supply information about the failings in the workings of government. People are encouraged to report shortcomings by public bodies. To protect them, the Legislature passed the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. Thus a government worker can report violation by a Government agency of a law, rule or regulation, gross management, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or substantial and specific danger to public safety or health. If he does this, he is protected by the law and his employer cannot take or threaten retaliatory action against him. There is also the witness Protection Program which enables qualifying witnesses in serious criminal prosecutions to adopt new identities so as to protect them from retaliatory attacks from convicted persons or their comrades. Perhaps the National Assembly can take a cue from this and enact similar laws in Nigeria. There must be a change in attitude.
Whatever may have influenced the comments of Lord Lugard, I have no doubt that his observations of the character make up of the African still ring through today. In every aspect of our lives we continue to confirm those words spoken so long ago. To shake off these character traits and set Africa and Nigeria on a strong footing, there must be concerted efforts from the governed as well as the leadership. This is a continent rich in human and natural resources. If properly harnessed, the continent will be able to achieve its full potentials. Already Africa has been identified as an emerging global giant, economically and politically. Its leadership must rise to the challenge. As the 100th anniversary of the publication of Lord Lugard’s comments approaches, all hands must be on deck to ensure that come 2022, Africans would have shaken off the traits attributed to them in 1922.