“Another plane crashed in Nigeria” the MBI newscaster announced on the evening of Thursday, May 24, 2002 as I returned home after a hectic day in the office.
What . . . What . . . Oh my God . . . ! I shouted. The screaming was such that my family asked what could have happened. With quivering voice I found it extremely difficult to narrate that one of my benefactors, in fact a very humble and highly workaholic gentleman boarded a flight about three hours earlier. My God! I prayed fervently that he should not be involved in the plane crash. I expected the television station to give the details but as is the tradition with some of the electronic media in breaking-news, it started the news with a less newsworthy item, a deliberate attempt to keep viewers glued to their screen in suspense. My state of mind pondered heavily about the sterling qualities of my mentor, caring, responsible, reliable and always giving others the freedom to operate at their pace.
Before his departure that fateful day, I and the officer in charge of arranging his travelling requirement were debating the better means of traveling in view of the obvious frequent calamity in the air. Within days after the EAS had crashed, Freedom Air Service plane escaped crashing at the same Kano airport and the following week, Chanchangi Airlines was also reported to have made a quick return after the pilot noticed an engine problem few minutes after it took off from Lagos Airport to Port-Harcourt. We had argued whether travelling by air is reasonable considering the incidences.
Soaring in the air, away from potholes on deplorable roads and with less likelihood of hijacking , which is not prevalent in Nigeria anyaway, does have its lure, but the possibilities of surviving the mishaps is very remote. Even the professional air hostesses, the best advisers on precaution and emergency landing, hardly escape the pang of such disasters. In fact the most miraculous escape of Thisday Editorial teams last year, when their aircraft crashed in Maiduguri, makes one wonder whether they had special juju that day.
The other options are quite scary too. Earlier in the day it was reported that no fewer than four persons who were returning to Lagos from Onitsha in a luxury bus belonging to a popular transport company were feared killed following attack by armed robbers. Many of the passengers sustained severe injuries.
We discussed extensively about travelling in commercial vehicles where even commercial conductors or close insiders with transport companies are known to be conniving with armed robbers by giving them clues on their passengers. Such information leakages have seen to the emergence of armed robbers operating within vehicles after departure from the park or trailing vehicles to spots where the operation can be undertaken in clean exercise. Passengers who do not have enough money or items on the demand receive merciless rough- handling that one often wonders on seeing innocent victims, whether Sierra Leone rebels noted for human parts amputations have not invaded Nigeria.
It is in view of unexpected marauders that drivers and passengers alike are known to be carrying with them while traveling, life insurance packages, i.e., enough sums of money and acceptable items with which to trade off their lives when confronted. The not- too- rich but smart passengers wear tattered and dirty clothes to disguise and win the sympathy of these wicked, undesirable elements.
We further discussed traveling in private and personal vehicles, which strangely is also hazardous with its gory tales. A private driver may not be as professional as reckless commercial driver who can easily anticipate dangerous zones for tactical maneuvering of the vehicle. Most of the vehicles that somersault in long distance highways belong to private individuals who were either confronted by strange animals, mad persons or even big stones from night marauders and lost total control. After all, most drivers, were only taught the application of break, turtle and use of horn but not how to manouevre to safety when they are confronted with dangers.
We even wondered why we are not blessed with rivers that we could be cruising peacefully on boats and ship. But that too may have been a nightmare since it takes the effort of the Nigerian Navy to control the excesses of pirates in the riverine areas and in territorial waters.
It was cheering tidings that the federal government banned aging aircrafts especially those that are involved in the air mishaps in recent times and reorganized that sector of the industry. In addition to that in order to facilitate the hitherto failed search and rescue operation during emergencies, the Federal Government awarded over N400million contracts for the procurement of satellite equipment to detect both the disaster and trouble spots.
While the effort of the government is commendable, the need for tighter security on our highways and the revitalization of the ailing railways services are quite evident. Those who have travelled by the train during those good old days and those who have the opportunity of the service of the neglected means of transport will agree with me that the fun, thrilling excitement, not to talk of the music sounding rail track, may likely be the best form of transportation, after all nobody in his right sense attempt to attack the heavy machine whether in the daylight or night.
While the Minister of Transport, Ojo Madueke is busy championing the cause of bicycle riding in cities to decongest hectic roads and reduce air pollution, it would also be worthwhile if aggressive promotional campaigns are embarked upon by the Ministry or the Chairman of Nigerian Railways Corporation Alhaji Waziri Mohammed to encourage Federal and state executive members with their legislative and judiciary counterparts to travel by rail. After all it is easier to provide all luxury and official amenities in the train than other means of transport. This may include television set with satellite station, bathroom, library, drinking bar, living and bedroom. In fact it may be the luxury on land.
“Now to the news on the latest plane crash,” came the announcement from my television screen. I was jolted back on the continuation of the MBI news. I didn’t know that within few seconds I had thought far and near about transport and aviation disasters in the country.
The news on the television continued that another air disaster had occurred in Cross River State, South Eastern Nigeria the night before with all five occupants of the plane feared killed. My God! I heaved a of sigh relief. My benefactor traveled today not yesterday and was headed for the North-Eastern Axis of the country.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Monitor June 5, Champion June 6, Thisday June 9, Daily Times 10, Tribune June 12, 2002