DANA Air’s future was hanging in the balance yesterday, with the Senate ordering the suspension of its licence – an action the authorities had already taken.
The airline’s flight 9J-922 crashed on Sunday in Iju-Ishaga on the outskirts of Lagos – about two minutes away from the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja.
The lawmakers, at their first plenary session since the crash, ordered the suspension of Nigeria Civil Aviation authority (NCAA) Director-General Mr. Harold Demuren.
The NCAA is the aviation regulatory body in the country.
Emotion overshadowed proceedings as Senators considered a motion on the ill-fated Abuja-Lagos flight that killed more than 153 people.
A resolution that the Presidency should immediately direct Demuren and other top officials of aviation regulatory agencies to step aside to allow for free flow of information while investigation into the crash lasts was unanimous.
The Senate also directed the Ministry of Aviation to immediately release all reports of previous air mishaps and take steps to prosecute those indicted.
Senate President David Mark noted that the prompt grounding of Dana aircraft would be a test case of the preparedness of the Executive to implement other findings of a Joint National Assembly sitting on the crash.
To underscore the importance and urgency the lawmakers attached to the motion, Mark directed that the resolutions should be communicated to the Presidency without delay.
The motion, entitled: “The crash of Dana and Allied Airlines aircraft”, was sponsored by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Hope Uzodinma and 29 others.
It was seconded by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu.
Uzodimma, who represents Imo West Senatorial District, informed the Senate that the motion is supported by almost all the Senators.
He said he was worried that the crash was more tragic than previous ones, with a casualty figure of about 190 people.
Uzodimma noted that it was a clear indication of failure and or negligence of relevant regulatory functions in the industry, which, “if unchecked, could lead to more devastating air mishaps in future”.
The crash, he said, might be indicative of a greater rot in aviation, which could portend more danger ahead.
He prayed the Senate to observe a minute silence in honour of those who died in the crash, send its condolences to the families of the bereaved, direct the Committee on Aviation to jointly sit with the Aviation Committee of the House to investigate the crash and direct the joint committee to ascertain the air worthiness of all other operating aircraft and make recommendations.
The four prayers were unanimously adopted.
Ekweremadu noted that in almost all newspapers yesterday, there were pictures of those who died in the disaster.
“I can see young people, children whose dreams and aspirations were dashed.
“Those whose contributions would have helped in national development were cut short.
This is a very trying moment for us and it is very pathetic. We must draw lessons from this and confront the situation to ensure it does not happen again,” he said.
Ekweremadu said his worry is that it was apparent that the management of Dana Air did not heed the warnings it received.
“Akwa Ibom State Governor Godswill Akpabio said he warned the management of Dana Air four times,” the senator said, adding:
“The Niger Delta militancy; when it started, we failed to nip it in the bud. It cost the nation a lot of money. We were told in this chamber that when Boko Haram started, we failed to do what we were supposed to do. Every day, we read that Onitsha Bridge will collapse one day but nothing has been done. If it collapses, we will come here to mourn the dead and say it is an accident. That is our bane. We must begin to heed early warning signal.”
Ekweremadu, who said the Senate should resolve to get to the root of the crash, stressed that those found culpable must be punished.
Senator Ahmed Makarfi (Kaduna North) described the crash as “an avoidable disaster”.
Makarfi noted that the signals were there to show how delicate the aircraft was “but somebody must have certified it airworthy”.
He said: “It is condemnable to lose lives. It is sad and we must put a stop to it in this country. It is good to pray for them but we must take measures to ensure this does not happen again and those who must have contributed in making this happen must be visited with the law of the land because I will classify it as murder and not manslaughter.”
Senator Abubakar Hadi Serika (Katsina North) wanted to know the state of preparedness of the country’s rescue officers?
Senator Bindo Mohammed Jubrila said he was once a victim of air crash.
He noted that 60 people died in the crash; he is one of the 19 survivors.
Senator Smart Adeymi (Kogi West) blamed it all on corruption. He noted that the plane had mechanical problem from the day it was manufactured.
He said: “It was sold to Nigeria in 2009. When it was manufactured in 1983, it was sold to Alaska Airline; 12 years after it was manufactured, it developed problems twice in the US in November 2002.
“August 20, 2006 passengers were evacuated.
“The company parked it in Alaska for about a year before it was refurbished and sold to Indians who were asked to take it out of the US.
“Who are the people responsible for certifying aircraft? How was it given approval? People must be made to account for the lives of those who died. The time has come to take a look at certain policies we implement in Nigeria . In many countries, they do not purchase Boeing the way we do in Nigeria .”
Senator Helen Esuene (Akwa Ibom South) said: “I am the very few still leaving, who was the last to board that flight.”
She boarded the ill-fated aircraft from Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, to Abuja on Sunday, she said, adding:
“I count myself very lucky. Many said the aircraft was faulty. Our aircraft need to be better serviced. Ethiopia celebrated 50 years of accident-free air service. I want to appeal for urgent steps to be taken to have a modern aircraft servicing centre.”
Summing up the discussion, Mark said the important thing is that at the end of the investigation, “the Executive must act”.
He said: “We make recommendations but this time we must insist that the Executive acts. Not only the Presidency but the ministry. This is one offence too many. All those involved must be brought to book.”
Mark added that speedy investigation is required, saying: “We need technical experts and those who understand the industry so that we are properly guided.”
Senate Committee on Information Chairman Enyinnaya Abaribe, at a news conference said: “If this death will bring safety to aviation industry, it is a prize well paid.”
Abaribe said the Senate has directed the Ministry of Aviation to release reports of previous aviation accidents.
He said: “Bellview, Sosoliso, nobody was punished; this must not go in that direction.”