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When faced with the incessant air crashes that bedevilled the aviation sector between 2005 and 2006, President Olusegun Obasanjo redeployed me as the Honourable Minister from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to the Ministry of Aviation. My redeployment took place in November 2006. Before my appointment as the Minister of Aviation, the country had experienced no less than five plane crashes in Nigeria with the attendant loss of approximately 400 lives within a period of one year. This was not only unprecedented in peace time but was also a national tragedy and disgrace and was widely acknowledged as being so. The plane crashes were, in no particular order, the Bellview crash, the Sosoliso crash, the military plane crash (in which some of our brightest and most distinguished generals were killed), the ADC crash and the crash of a small plane that took place in Kaduna. As if to add a rather sinister twist to the whole saga, virtually all these crashes took place on a weekend. This was a perplexing coincidence and was indeed by a curious and cruel twist of fate. It was clear and obvious to the discerning and spiritually sensitive that the demons of hell had been invoked and loosed into the Nigerian airspace in that one year.
In all these crashes distinguished Nigerians from virtually every geo-political zone, all age groups and every walk of life lost their lives. The Sultan of Sokoto, his son, Senator Maccido and his grandson were amongst those that were killed. That is three generations of people were lost from just one family alone. Many other wonderful souls perished including some of my personal friends such as Senator Sule Yari Ghandi, Alhaji Mohammed Waziri, General Nuhu Bamali, Pastor Bimbo Odukoya, Mrs. Bimbo Babalola, Chief Omotayo, Chief Igwe and no less than 60 beautiful and talented children from Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja who were on their way home to Port Harcourt for their holidays. Everybody was affected by these air disasters and that period of utter despondency, sadness and despair was a defining moment in the history of our country. The whole nation was in a state of shock and fear and, of course, the aviation sector itself was in a state of utter trauma. It was in this situation and this volatile atmosphere that I came in. It was indeed our very own “annus horriblis” and many homes and families mourned for their beloved yet lost ones.
President Olusegun Obasanjo told me to go and do a job and that job, principally and primarily, was to ensure that there were no more plane crashes in our airspace. That was the mandate and directive that he gave to me and I set my mind and heart to ensure that this was done with military precision and with a firm hand. There is no doubt in my mind that what caused this series of crashes was simply the negligence, indiscipline, insensitivity and impugnity of some malignant and malevolent elements and dark forces within and outside of the aviation sector. These dark forces simply did not care that the lives of innocent Nigerians were being endangered by their daily ritual of cutting corners in order to make a bit of extra money. They did not care that their habitual breaking of the rules and regulations would inevitably lead to a monumental and horrific cycle of blood shed. Not only did they not care but some of them actually enjoyed the prospect: what we were dealing with was a cruel and unconscionable blood cult who derived their power and strength from a frenzied and insatiable lust for blood. Is it not strange that not one person has ever been brought to book or held accountable for any of these crashes? No-one has ever been sanctioned, indicted or even prosecuted for criminal negligence at the very least. That is how cheap life has become in Nigeria and that is how easily Nigerians forget. The truth is that the questions must still be asked – “What really happened in the Bellview crash?” And now the question that you will ask me is what did I do about it when I was there? The answer is that I tried to bring in the Americans to do an independent enquiry but it was frustrated. It can still be done today. Again the question must be asked – “What really happened in the Sosolisso crash” and why is it that there was no water at the Port Harcourt airport to put out the cruel flames that killed those wonderful people and those innocent children? Was provision not made by FAAN and the Ministry for water at Port Harcourt airport? Of course it was, but it was never supplied. What did I do about it when I was there? I got approval from President Obasanjo to carry out a public enquiry but again it was frustrated and could not kick off before I left office. It can still be done today. Why is it that up until now, except for the case of Bellview airline, not all the families that lost their loved ones in these crashes have had their insurance claims and entitlements paid to them? Why is that it is only in Nigeria that when a plane crashes that no one in Government resigns or is punished? Why is that the parents of the children that died in the Sosoliso crash were treated with such insensitivity and indignity by everyone including the parastatals and the Ministry before I got there? Why would no one in the Ministry see them let alone offer them any apology until I got there? I believed then and I still believe now that there should be a public enquiry into all those crashes and perhaps the Senate or House Committee on Aviation should take up that challenge. But whatever anyone says or thinks about this suggestion you can all be rest assured of one thing: as long as we do not find out what really happened and bring those culpable to book, we face the danger of it happening all over again. Besides which the blood of those innocent people and particularly that of the children, cries to God in heaven for vengeance and justice and will continue to do so until justice is done. Again let us get one thing clear: these horrific tragedies were not acts of God because God is ever-loving, ever-kind and ever so compassionate. He simply does not indulge in evil. The fact of the matter is that we cannot just put all these ugly events behind us and forget about them but rather we should work hard, pray hard and fight hard to ensure that they never happen again and this process will only begin when we find out what really happened and when we punish those that are found wanting.
My primary objective at aviation was to take on these dark forces and their agents and to restore discipline, accountability, sensitivity, responsibility and a full compliance and no-nonsense approach to safety and security issues within the sector. For me, life and the protection of the lives and welfare of the Nigerian flying public was more important than anything else. It was my job to protect these lives for the seven (7) months that I was at the aviation ministry. We thank God that in that primary assignment, by His grace, we were successful and the cycle of plane crashes stopped throughout the period that I was Minister of Aviation. For this and so much more we say “to God alone be the glory.” CONTRACTS/PROJECTS EXECUTED
Asphalt Concrete Resurfacing of Port Harcourt International Airport Runway 03/21.
The Extension and Asphalt Resurfacing of Runway 18L/36R of Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja (the Domestic Runway).
The Cargo Apron Expansion at Muritala Muhammed International Airport won by Messrs FIAT International Limited at approximately N850million
A refund for contracts that FAAN already executed and paid for with their own money before I came into the Ministry and in respect of the ICAO Audit 2006.
The local content aspect of safe tower project.
Release of Funds to Various Committees