Nigeria’s air crash investigations: The unending, undisclosed reports
November 22, 2021544 views0 comments
By Adolphus Aletor
Adolphus Aletor, FCA, MCIB, a banker and finance analyst, is the managing director/CEO, Rigo Microfinance Bank; he can be reached on +2348033410380 (WhatsApp only) or email@example.com
In 2009, Air France flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) to Paris (France) went out of radar and crashed into the Atlantic. During the search and rescue, experts from all over the world were invited to help solve the puzzle that took 228 lives. It took two years before the Field Data Recorder (FDR) along with other body parts could be found on the ocean bed. After a careful investigation, the 223-page final report (after an earlier 3 interim reports of several pages) made 25 new safety recommendations, on top of a number made in an initial report the previous year. It concluded that the crew did not know how to react to what was happening. Had the crew been alive, they would have faced criminal charges while the airline continued to operate as a going concern business entity. The issue of ‘conclusions’ in reports is the crux of this article.
When the incidence of an unexpected outcome occurs, it becomes imminent to review such an incidence to avert a future occurrence. Government and institutions in Nigeria are known to set up committees or panels of enquiry to review incidence when they occur such that people usually would joke that the government is replete with committees to the extent that committees are set up to review the reports of other committees before another committee can take the final decision. The use of committees and panels of enquiry are age-long and potent tools for unravelling hazy issues, solving complex problems, providing insight and information to aid decision making as they are usually made up of diverse personalities and skills. Many governments and agencies have used this to their advantage.
Merriam-Webster defines a committee as “a body of persons delegated to consider, investigate, take action on, or report on some matter.” Wikipedia says that “A committee is not itself considered to be a form of assembly. Usually, the assembly sends matters into a committee as a way to explore them more fully than would be possible if the assembly itself were considering them.” The content of the emanating report should contain amongst others: identifying the problem, analyzing the problem and recommendations to avert such problem in future.
Regrettably, the Nigerian experience has not been one to be proud of as reports of critical committees or panels of enquiry either end up in the trash bin or are shrouded in secrecy thereby defying the primary purpose of such committees. Many schools of thought have argued that the findings in a report are meant for the constituting authority and not a jamboree, emphasizing that the public is not entitled to the content, especially if it has to do with national security, public peace or one deemed too sensitive for public consumption. They have concluded that once the constituting authority is satisfied, it helps them put in place the necessary checks. Nothing more is required!
But another school of thought argues that when an incidence of massive proportion such as a plane crash, a strategic building collapse that affects lives, careers, business and threatens the going concern of an entity or capable of driving the public into a frenzy, the public deserves to know the outcome of such report; in which case the public reserves the right to know what happened, how did it happen, what made it happen, what could have been avoided? Who was culpable? Who is complicit and what is to be done to avoid a recurrence.
Exactly twenty-five years ago, Aviation Development Company Airlines (ADC) Flight 086 from Port Harcourt to Lagos crashed at Ejirin, Lagos State. A total of 144 people died. Investigation revealed that the crash was caused by the Air Traffic Controller. Ten years later, another ADC crash was to occur killing 96 people in a flight from Abuja to Sokoto. The investigation laid the blame at the feet of the Pilot. The government, however, went ahead to suspend the license to date.
In 2005 Sosoliso flight 1145 carrying 110 souls crashed in Port Harcourt airport with only two survivors. The government laid the blame at the feet of the pilot and consequently withdrew the license a year later, due to what it described as a failure to meet safety standards. Since both incidents happened, there is no known press briefing/conference or a formal release to the public of the report, conclusions reached and recommendations made. However, information on the progress of the investigation by Nigeria’s Accident Investigation Bureau is available on Wikipedia and subject to update by anyone with facts on the matter.
While marking the 25th anniversary of the ADC crash, a Facebook article disclosed that the report of that incidence had long been ready following the investigation, and that an employee of the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) was complicit, a discovery which the government were desperate to cover up prompting a soft landing for the airline without the knowledge of the public.
While many may be satisfied with the way the government handled the outcome of the investigation, by letting sleeping dogs lie, others may be concerned that the pains of families and friends of victims are made worse when there is no transparency, openness and there is no deliberate move to engender trust on the part of the government. It is believed that the government should have come forward to simply say “we are sorry.” Many believe that this would help them heal faster as families of victims still hold the airline operators culpable.
The brand is now synonymous with disaster and cannot be related to anything good. Also of interest is why the brand was not restored. There is the argument that global standard practice for airlines with crash incidence does not immediately attract a shutdown of the business but prosecution (for criminal, technical and personal negligence), compensation and improvement of operations. In these cases, reports reveal the occurrence of the incidence plus who and what was responsible. The business, owners, structure and attitude were not found culpable as the aircraft was certified to be in good condition.
In conclusion, therefore, there is a need for the public to trust the actions of the government while the government should take it as a matter of obligation to carry the public along and take actions on the recommendations of committees. Two, the government should avoid preempting the outcome of any committee by taking actions or steps that become embarrassing and difficult to reverse when the facts become open. Temporary measures can be taken when incidents occur (as in Air France 440 where there were three interim reports before the final report) and responsibility should be apportioned dispassionately. Three, the government should as a matter of responsibility make all findings public and complicit individuals or entities made to make restitution, render apologies or face the law openly and transparently.
The USA has a “Convention on Damage” called the Rome Convention which helps to establish liability of “Third Parties on the Ground”for plane crashes. Apart from the business and crew, complicit third parties should be brought to book. Four, where the government has been hasty in taking actions against the business and its promoters, steps should be taken to restore the dented public image of brands, individuals and entities. Five, businesses are funded by people’s investments. Most investors depend on this investment to meet their basic needs. Government should be circumspect when it comes to closing down businesses without thorough investigation and avoid doing so for face-saving purposes.
The wellbeing of the regulator (that he strives to protect) is as important as the wellbeing of the investor (most times investing his life savings) in the business. Issues could lead to a bigger crisis when investments are treated without caution. Any entity with an incidence should first be treated as non-complicit unless proved otherwise.
*This article is dedicated to the individuals and families of those involved in ADC and Sosoliso airline crashes and especially to my wife, Mrs Ejiyere Aletor, who continues to grieve the loss of her colleagues in ADC. Additional reading can be done on the following link.
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