Femi Fani-Kayode was drafted from the Ministry of Culture to the Ministry of Aviation in late 2006. As expected, he got there and stormed. Usefully, Fani-Kayode’s tenure experienced what has been described as a turn around because just within a year preceding his posting, five air disasters had occurred. And once he left the ministry, either by a mix of ill-fate or coincidence or negligence, things began another turn around for the worse. Last Sunday’s Dana Air crash in Lagos forced Sunday Vanguard to seek Fani-Kayode out.
In this revealing session, he insists that government should demonstrate more willingness to safe-guard the skies. And whereas he says the current aviation minister is trying her best, things could still be better.
For about 6 years now we had no cases of air crashes in the country and now we have this. What does it say about air safety in Nigeria?
What it tells you is that our skies are no longer safe and that we have gone back to the pre-2006 level of degeneration and rot when it comes to aviation and air safety in Nigeria. It tells you that since 2007 something has gone very wrong and there has been a slow but systemic dismantling of all the standards, reforms and measures that we put in place to save the lives of our fellow Nigerians and to improve the quality of aviation and flying in our country when we were there. It tells you that someone is not doing his or her job in the way that it should be done or with the firmness, discipline and commitment that is needed for Nigerian aviation.
It also tells you that things will get far worse unless there is an attitudinal change from those that are charged to run aviation and protect our skies and our air travelers. It tells you that that change has to come at all levels of the sector from the top to the bottom and that the whole place needs to be overhauled. It tells you that the mafia and the cartel that had controlled aviation for many years before and that always cut corners and cover up evil and wrongdoing in the sector have crept back in, have been given a free hand again and are operating with impunity behind the scenes.
It tells you that the airline operators themselves have not been adequately kept on their toes and they, once again, are putting profit before safety. It tells you that we need to rededicate the sector to the Living God, to work hard and to pray hard. It tells you that we need to ensure that every single person in that sector, including the Minister, the parastatal chiefs, the regulators, the aviation officials and the airline operators themselves do their job properly.
The whole thing is so painful to me. Last Sunday 153 people had their lives cut short just like that in the Dana crash and I am sure that it could have been avoided. It reminds me of the darker days of just a few years ago in 2005. This is how it all started then. It was evil and it was frightening and everyone was scared to fly throughout that period. It is just that Nigerians have such short memories otherwise they would be thanking God everyday for what He delivered us from then.
Just before you were re-deployed to the aviation ministry, there had been five air crashes in just one year?
Yes! We had a total of 5 plane crashes in just one year and no less than 453 people died in those crashes before I came on board. After the 5th crash, which took place in Abuja and in which the Sultan of Sokoto, his son and grandson together with over 150 other poor souls perished, I was redeployed by my boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, from the Ministry of Culture where I had been serving as Minister, to the Ministry of Aviation. What I met at Aviation was a demoralised and traumatised sector which reeked of death, destruction, corruption, blood and evil.
What was the specific charge of Mr. President?
My job was to turn things around with a very firm hand, put a stop to those crashes, introduce a series of far-reaching and long term reforms, return the light of God to that sector and restore sanity, law and order to the place. My team and I worked hard, prayed hard and took on the powers that be in that sector and, by God’s grace, we achieved all those objectives. Throughout our tenure there was not one crash of either a large or a small plane. Sadly though when we left power in 2007 things immediately started to change for the worse and by 2008/ 2009 they had completely degenerated again and the evil was back. Unfortunately and predictably after we left and after the rot and indiscipline had completely returned to the sector there were three more plane crashes and two helicopter crashes.
The three plane crashes were all light aircraft and there was loss of life in each one of them. This was the same with the two helicopter crashes. All this took place under President Yar’adua’s tenure. Sadly it didn’t stop there though.
There was another helicopter crash just a few weeks ago in which my friend, AIG John Haruna, and a number of others died and then there was the huge plane crash of last Sunday which constituted the 7th crash since we left in 2007. I have purposely not included the Nigerian cargo plane that crashed in Ghana last Saturday killing 10 innocent Ghanaians. that were driving past the airport in a bus because that crash did not take place on our soil. Nevertheless lives were lost there too.
These crashes were all terrible but the Dana one of last Sunday was particularly horrific and really was a tragedy of monumental proportions simply because so many people died in it and because many were killed when the plane dropped from the skies and unto their homes. Can you imagine anything more horrific than that? A plane dropping from nowhere on your house! My heart goes out to all those who lost their loved ones and to those that died in that crash and all the other crashes and my prayer is that their souls rest in peace and that the Lord, who is the great Comforter of all, forgives them of their sins and welcomes them into heaven’.
Are you satisfied with the response to the Dana air crash?
Well like everyone else I feel a sense of deep outrage about all this and that is why I am speaking out. When something as terrible as this happens I just will not keep quiet and sit in my room and say ‘’it is well’. That is because it is not ‘’well’’. It is not well at all. If it is not Boko Haram bombing people in their churches today then it is plane crashes tomorrow…