The Pain and Agony of Hon Ike C. Ibe: Dana 153 Plane Crash

Submission of Rt. Hon Ike C. Ibe to The National Assembly Committee on Aviation on The Dana Airline Crash of June 3, 2012

Mr Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak at this public hearing. I have come neither as a regulator nor as an operator, neither did I come as an official or stakeholder. I came because I’m involved, and I’m involved because I’ve been dazed by Dana. Half of my family – my wife Nancy, my daughter Jennifer and my wife’s Aunt Maria were victims of the Dana crash.

On January 1 1997, I married an angel called Nancy Echendu Ibe (nee Okwulehie). God blessed us with a warm and caring family and sent two other angels to the world through us named Jessica and Jennifer aged 13 and 11. On Sunday June 3, 2012, I drove my family to the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport for Nancy and Jennifer to catch a flight to Lagos on their way for a family event in India. They were joined by another family member, Mrs Maria Okwulehie. They were to be away for ten days. Now they will be away permanently.

When I decided to move my family back to Nigeria from the United States, many people thought I was crazy and that I would regret the move before long. They were right. Here I was, yanking my family away from a society where everything works, where life is good, where the government works, where rules and regulations are obeyed, where there is a high level of certainty of public and private actions, where schools are highly rated, where hospitals are properly equipped and very well staffed, where drivers are intelligent enough to pass junctions without relying on traffic wardens or lights, where there are hardly potholes in the roads, where official corruption is hardly present, where leaders are trustees of the people’s power and people are the custodians of the power. I was dragging my family out from this society and taking them to Nigeria where everything seemed entirely and sadly apocalyptic.

My wife and my daughters tried so hard to adapt after the first year, but it was tough for them. Of all things, my family couldn’t understand the constant blaring of horns by drivers on the road, nor why there were always traffic jams, especially at intersections. They did not understand why there was constant power failure and blackouts, or why we always had to generate our own home electricity, pump our own water and hire our own security personnel.

They could not understand either why we had to spend hours on fuel queues, or why people were always angry and desperate on the roads. They wondered whether Nigeria will survive, whether our people will ever be happy, whether our officials will ever be responsible, whether the legal system will ever work, whether the ordinary masses will ever benefit from our vast natural resources, whether there will ever be electricity or good schools or running water or good roads or clean hospitals or safe skies. They wondered whether the street children who hawk goods will ever leave the roads and go home to comfortable environments where government will provide their needs.

In the last several months, my family had become more worried each time I set out to travel. They would always be curious about where I was going. “Dad!” they would always yell. “Don’t go to the East, they will kidnap you.” Or, “Don’t go to the North, Boko Haram is bombing there.”

I dare not let my kids see my travel tickets and each time they did and saw an endangered territory written on my ticket, I tried to assure them that I would come back safely, even though I couldn’t be sure of that myself. Whenever I was out of town, they would call a hundred times a day to check whether I was safe.

Nancy, my wife, was a medical laboratory scientist and a public health specialist. Since she relocated from the United States of America barely three years ago, she had not held any paying job. The last position she held in America was head of blood transfusion services at the Laurel Regional Hospital in Maryland.

She devoted her three years in Nigeria to charity work and philanthropic activities. She spent her time traversing different rural areas with her groups, giving medical assistance, public health education, food, money etc. to the most vulnerable people in the communities, especially women and children. She spent her time campaigning about the issues that matter most to the ordinary person, the voiceless, the weak and hungry. Week after week, the lowest of the low looked up to seeing them for their salvation.

These people will never see Nancy again. She had written to many government agencies and organizations, making suggestions and giving ideas about how to make life better for ordinary Nigerians. These letters have never changed anything, but she has touched many lives in amazing ways. Nancy believed in her cause in Nigeria. She gave her time, her money, her sweat and now her blood.

Jennifer my daughter was just 11 years old. She was innocent, pure and angelic. All she did was sing, smile and make people happy. She took to the stage early – in kindergarten in America and all the way to Nigeria and up until her last day in International Community School Wuse, the weekend before she boarded the Dana aircraft that fateful June 3rd afternoon. Jenny will never sing again here on earth.

Mrs Maria Okwulehie was a consummate administrator who turned the Federal Government College Bwari from nothing into something. Her family loved her dearly. Her students loved and admired her, but they will never see her again. They have also been dazed by Dana. So have the families of all the other victims; each will never see their loved ones again. This crash was one too many. Enough!

All kinds of commentaries have been written and all shades of reasons have been adduced for the Dana crash. I have read stories that the black box has been recovered and taken abroad for analysis. If my wife were to be here, she would tell you that there is only one reason that the black box will give for the crash and that is corruption.

I agreed with my wife on many things during our 15 years of marriage. I would have agreed with her on this. I will therefore not bother to speak on the reasons for that crash. It is very clear that over the years, the Nigerian system and structure has broken down. For every disaster or incident in Nigeria the same templates have been adopted, being investigation, recommendations, white papers etc.

There is never implementation until the white paper turns brown, or another disaster happens and the template is dusted off as the cycle continues. In Nigeria, operators are regulators and regulators are operators. Government officials are contractors and contractors are government officials. There has never been a shortage of investigations of corruption. More often than not, investigators unearth massive fraud in the system, but end up also committing their own fraud. The tendency has been for the investigators to end up being investigated and the beat goes on, as if government is one huge joke.

I am therefore here today on behalf of Nancy Echendu Ibe, Jennifer Ibe, Maria Okwulehie and all the other victims as well as our dazed families and friends, to charge this National Assembly and indeed this nation, that the bloodshed from corruption has got to stop. I have been to many countries of the world. I have flown in all manner of aircraft, long haul and short haul flights in all regions of the world.

The aviation sector is very tightly regulated and controlled. But here in Nigeria, it’s all about business and profits. Many questions are left hanging. Was the Dana airline qualified to be an operator in our country? Were its aircraft worthy, or were they just certified with money? Was their technical crew qualified? Were their planes a danger to our people? It is obvious now that from all the information available, my wife, my daughter, my sister-in-law and all the other victims of the ill-fated flight walked into an untimely death once they boarded that flight.

They didn’t know it, but the regulators knew it. Safety is the least of our considerations. Unnecessary loss of life has occurred because regulators in this country close their eyes to even latent irregularities, because money usually changes hands. I have been a legislator for over twenty years, I have practiced law for over twenty-four years in different jurisdictions and I have participated in congressional public hearings in the United States.

I can state, therefore, without prevarication, that the real last hope of the common man is the effective and responsible use and application of the nation’s legislative powers. This Legislature has often cried that their resolutions and laws are not implemented by the government. I also watch with amusement how the Legislature does not apply its constitutional powers to ensure that things are done properly.

I have often wondered whether it is because of the climate of corruption also.
Mr Chairman, I came here today not to cry, because my wife already cried a lot for Nigeria. I am not here to sing praises, because my daughter sang enough.

I am here to formally tell Nigerians what my wife has been trying to tell us all these years. Her voice was not heard by our leaders during her lifetime, perhaps it will be heard now that she has paid the supreme price of dying in and for a nation that did not bother to do anything for her.

Will these investigations give us hope as the chairman answers, or are we going to continue to be a hopeless nation? Only time will tell. But I am certain of one thing, the blood of my wife Nancy, my daughter Jennifer, Aunty Maria and all the other victims will be a wake-up call for this nation, so help us God.

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