“HEAR OUR VOICES” - A PETITION FOR A PUBLIC INQUIRY

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SEADOGS

 AS TO THE CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA

IN THE MATTER OF A PETITION INTO THE PRESENT AND FUTURE STATE OF THE AVIATION & TRANSPORT INDUSTRY

“HEAR OUR VOICES” - A PETITION FOR A PUBLIC INQUIRY

 

PREAMBLE

We, the National Association of Seadogs (NAS) [1] on behalf of ourselves as concerned citizens and the entire people peace-loving and safe conscious Nigerians; and as stakeholders in the Nigerian Aviation Industry, present the following petition for an immediate audit of the operational mechanics of all airline operators; an immediate audit in the operation mechanics of all Government agencies involved in the aviation industry and the public inquiry of the aviation industry as a whole, paying particular attention to the tragic air crashes of 22 October 2005 involving a Bellview Airlines flight 210 from Lagos to Abuja and 10 December 2005 involving a Sosoliso flight from Abuja to Port Harcourt.

We are pursuing this petition with every sense of responsibility by utilising, in the main, information at our disposal as well as information currently available in the public domain, to which we have access as concerned Nigerians and patrons of the aforementioned industry.  For the purpose of this petition, it will be appropriate to assume that the petitioners are ourselves.  Our interest in presenting this petition stems the compelling need to, as a matter of urgency, undertake an incisive investigation into our aviation industry with a view to unearthing the quite significant problems that the industry is experiencing, analysing these problems with a view to identifying solutions which will have the effect of overhauling the entire industry and forestall any similar occurrences to those that have thrown the nation into tragedy as well as restore consumer confidence.  In addition, we hope that by opening up the issue for discussion, it will be possible for Nigerians to utilise the opportunity to consider the state of the Transport Industry as a whole; the suitability and inadequacy of the alternatives available to air travel and the necessity to assess this suitability against a growing and necessary need.  Our locus standi is fortified by the fact that our organisation, like many Nigerians, has lost friends, associates and family in various air mishaps in the country, including the recent incident.

BACKGROUND

From information available in the public domain, the first flight in Nigeria was recorded in 1935.  The growth of air travel in Nigeria was slow and expansion very measured.  It was not until the early 70’s following the “oil boom” that there was, effectively, an introduction of more aircrafts and airlines to cope with increasing demands.  This development, as a spring board, created an increasing demand, which led to a rapid growth in the industry.  Available statistics appear to suggest that annual growth in patronage is estimated at some 14%.  In effect, this translates to a considerable increase, not only in usage, but correspondingly, revenue.  Sadly, it is undisputed that this increase in both usage and revenue has not brought about corresponding increase in benefits to the traveller in terms of higher or better quality of services.  Sadly, increased interest and patronage did not bring with it, an increase in the level of observance of air safety standards.  The result is that absurd and certainly avoidable problems occur at our airports, virtually on a daily basis.  These include, but are not limited to the following:-
Poor conditions of aircrafts – This is the most commonly cited and probably most serious problem.  It is  commonly known that the airworthiness of aircrafts that are in use in Nigeria is seriously questionable.  Most airline operators are small, which means that they maintain a very small fleet.  Some airlines have only one aircraft, which, in effect, precludes either time for necessary and proper checks to be undertaken or maintenance of such aircrafts.  Insufficient rest time is a key contributor to aircraft fatigue.  What is more, these aircrafts are inherently aged, many of them being 20 years old.  Indeed information in the public domain suggests that the Sosoliso aircraft was 32 years old.  Older Planes, like any mechanical vehicles, are significantly more expensive to maintain. [2]   This places huge demands on airline operators who have wrongly, even incompetently exercised choice to purchase much these aged planes.  The result is that cost and corner cutting aimed at maximising returns occur shamelessly and with significant risk to the lives of customers. exercise;
Haphazard ticketing system – the ticketing system utilised by airline operators is, at best, disorganised and uncoordinated.  Tickets are sold up to last minute of departure and, in many circumstances, in much the same manner as road transport vehicles.  Scant regard is paid to identity of travellers.  There are no luggage limitations.  Seating arrangements are often determine by the crew when the passengers are “on board” as “free-seating”, - a term used to connote removal of specific seating- is often the norm;
Disorganised and disrupted schedules – flights are cancelled and/or rescheduled frequently and at will by the operators.  Reasons for cancellation can range from the flimsiest explanations to serious developments.  Airline Operators often delay flights so that more passengers can purchase tickets and board flights even after the scheduled departure time has long passed.  There mechanism for disseminating information to passengers on delays and cancellations is poor and well below acceptable standards;
Poor management and decision making by airline operators and aviation officials – this is probably the single most critical reason for the abject mismanagement that exists in the airline industry.  It is within this period that some of the gravest mistakes are made.  Poor decision making is rife amongst management and technical staff.  There is inconsistent decision making, particularly in departures and landing.  Airline operators work to different safety standards, such that some will, in certain circumstances, fly when others will not.  This inconsistency exposes lives to grave and unnecessary risk;
Poor infrastructure – It is manifestly clear that that the technical infrastructure present in all our airports is dated.  Ground staff are poorly trained, thereby limiting exposure to contemporary aviation techniques.  The result is that this informs poor decision making and places of patrons at risk.
THE COMPLAINT

Our complaint in this petition seeks to draw to attention to the inadequacies some of which we expect are common knowledge but which, for emphasis reiterate hear in;

a.     Non adherence to safety standards

Airline operators are, simply, improperly regulated and supervised in relation to the implementation of maintenance and safety standards. [3]   But for the reaction to the recent tragedies, it appears from the attitude and indifferences of Government agencies, the airline operators appear to be working virtually on their own.  There is poor monitoring of maintenance and safety standards.  The result of this is that accidents have occurred which are and continue to go unnoticed.  The recent incidents in the aviation industry in Nigeria call to urgent questioning the activities of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority in the discharge of its regulatory function in the industry.  The management of the authority has come under the spotlight considering its inability and total failure of authority to discharge the functions thereby leaving airline travellers at the mercy of airline operators who consistently fail to adhere to strictly stipulated air safety standards.  The grounding of several airline operators by the Task Force in the recent audit is prima facie evidence of the ineptitude that has hitherto, been demonstrated by the regulatory authorities.
b.     Absence of Adequate Emergency Response Infrastructure

Recent incidents have also sadly but amply demonstrated the poor and incomprehensible state of the agency response machinery of the appropriate authorities.  NEMA or any agency charged with emergency response appears clearly to have failed, time and time again to respond to aviation accidents in Nigeria properly; within a reasonable time frame or at all.  The inability of NEMA to locate the 22 October crash site is a typical example.  The poor response to the 10 December 2005 incident has left unquantifiable loss.  We consider that there are two reasons for this situation.  The first, regretfully, is directly attributable to professional indifference in respect of which those whose professional competence has been so challenged.  The second, is infrastructural decay, itself a consequence of the lethal cocktail of under-funding and corruption.
c.      Poor Human Resource Development

It has been pointed out by experts in the industry that training levels have been allowed to drop significantly.  It is currently understood that training of staff of Government agencies to fresh or update knowledge of existing staff and upgrade equipment is hopelessly disproportionate to the demands and needs of modern day aviation.  The inadequacy has been brought about again by poor decision making and corruption the consequence of which is that staff do not possess expertise that is anywhere near the desired or required level.
d.     Poor information Management

The last two incidents have clearly demonstrated not only the unpreparedness of senior management in dealing with information arising out of accidents, but, in particular, the lack of exposure and experience by those involved.  The consequence is that incomplete, speculative and unreliable information gathered about incidents inform even more abject dissemination to the anxious public.  As a result, considerable doubt is cast on the reliability of any information that is released to the public.  Sadly, this criticism exists at all levels of management including the highest levels.
REQUEST

In respect of this petition, we seek the following:-

  1. An immediate audit of operational aspects of all aviation activities including specific scrutiny of current fleet; maintenance and risk management arrangements; infrastructure and work ethics of Government agencies and private airline operators.  We note that parts of this request have already been put into effect but feel that these measures, desirable for dealing with the urgent situation, have not been anchored on a clear policy that will have enduring effect;

  2. That the Federal Government, as a matter of urgent national importance, constitutes a public enquiry, headed by a sitting/retired Supreme Court Judge, into the aviation industry as a whole with specifically framed terms of reference, which will cover all issues arising from the recent air mishaps and that evidence before the search enquiry be obtained from individuals competent in the technical, operational, safety, management risk assessment aspects of the aviation industry in particular, and the Nigerian Aviation Industry in the future.  The Inquiry should hold at least three public sittings in Lagos; Abuja and Port Harcourt.  The terms of reference of this enquiry should include, but not necessarily limited to:-
  • Urgently investigate the circumstances, remote and immediate, leading to, during and after the incidents involving Bellview flight 201 on 22 October 2005 and Sosoliso flight of 10 December 2005 and the subsequent loss of human lives;

  • Urgently investigate whether there is both evidence of negligence or criminal activity prior during or after the incident involving both flights and recommend action for individuals or corporate entities involved;

  • Urgently investigate whether the emergency rescue facilities available at the Port Harcourt International Airport on 10 December 2005;

  • Highlight lessons to be learnt for future use and recommend improvements to better manage such incidents;

  • Formulate extensive reform practices into the aviation industry as a whole.

  • Such further or other identified issues that an Inquiry such as this should be invited to consider and examine.
THE CASE FOR A PUBLIC INQUIRY

The government’s immediate response to these accidents have involved a number of measures.[4]  Apart from specific directives aimed at dealing with immediate but long-lasting inadequacies which have persisted in the industry, a Presidential Task Force has been constituted.  Its immediate responsibilities are all short-term.  The seriousness and impact of the recent accidents require, indeed demand that the widest possible consultation is undertaken.  There are several interested Nigerians who must be allowed the opportunity to input into the long term resolution of the quite serious problems that have beset the Aviation and the entire transport industry.    At present, there is no consultative forum set up to provide interface between the long-suffering Nigerians who experience the anguish of these complaints and government.  The people most severely affected are the Nigerian people of whom approximately 8 million use air travel as the principal means of long distance travel.  But this is only a part of the problem.  In his address whilst publicising government response, the President said
“…“I believe we have now got to a stage where public travel by air has become apprehensive. I am apprehensive that our economy will be affected, tourism will be affected. Movement by road is becoming a preferable option”
There is no doubt that the domestic economy will be very badly affected.  Foreign Direct Investment that this government has so fully pursued will be savagely diminished as potential partners will not be able to travel within a country wherein they are invited to invest.  The reality is that road travel is in just as poor a state as air travel.  The condition of the roads and the vehicles that ply them; the menace of armed robbers are all features that make road travel anything but a preferable option to air travel.  The decay in the industry calls into serious question the viability of alternatives available to Nigerians.  The ability to travel from place to place to pursue personal and professional endeavours is central to the existence of Nigerians and the Nigerian nation.  The lifeblood of the nation especially one as large as ours is simply the ability to move from place to place, safely and with minimum inconvenience.  It is an issue that affects all 120 million or so Nigerians, without exception.  Opportunity for the voice of Nigerians must be provided by a government that frequently asserts its “listening” qualities.  The President, on 12 December 2005 also said
“…Only an irresponsible government or human institution will have such a thing  without waking up to its obligation to the people, its obligation to the governed, its obligation to the traveling public, its obligations to Nigerian and non-Nigerians...”
A Public Inquiry will answer these burning questions.  It will provide a legitimate and organised platform for dialogue.  It will enable views about experiences and solutions to be canvassed and collated.  It will provide an opportunity for people to air their views and acquire a stake in contributing to the solution to the problems.  In short, it will bring all the issues together under one discursive umbrella.

CONCLUSION

The National Association of Seadogs (the Petitioner) and other stakeholders in the Nigerian Aviation industry strongly believe that we must seek ways to increase accountability to airline users and Nigerians as a whole as well as increase awareness of risk and information awareness in preserving the lives of Nigerians and property of Nigerians.  Ultimately, it is our belief that urgent measures arising in respect of this petition and requests thereof will go some considerable way to assuaging all those who lost their loved ones in the recent incidents and will, no doubt, assist in restoring consumer confidence of teeming and willing Nigerian patrons in the aviation industry.   Our belief is that this Campaign should serve as a call for an inquiry into the fortunes of transportation in Nigeria as a whole

Our public position on both incidents and what we consider to be the decay in the aviation is captured in our two press releases dated 28th October 2005 and 14th December 2005 which are annexed to this petition.


Signed

Andrew Obinna Onyearu
NAS Capoon
National Association of Seadogs(NAS)

6th January 2006

APPENDICES


 “AGAINST THE ROPES” – A NATION’S RESPONSE TO ADVERSITY

 “HEAR OUR VOICES” -  A NATION’S REACTION TO TRAGEDY

[1] For completeness, we feel that it is appropriate to set out, very briefly, our antecedents.  The National Association of Seadogs (NAS) is an organisation whose principal objective is to champion social developments, stability, societal prosperity, equity and fairness in Nigeria and any other countries where we have found ourselves.  Principally registered in Nigeria under Company & Allied Matters Act, our organisation is made up of thousands of professionals and individuals from virtually every background of life.  Formed in 1952 by Professor Wole Soyinka and 6 others in 1952, we have 23 full branches in Nigeria, infrastructural presence in most states in Nigeria and 11 full branches outside Nigeria, including 6 in the United States and 1 each in the United Kingdom; Canada; Holland; Japan and South Africa.  Our work in the international communities has spanned the last 52 years and in several respects we have received recognition for this.  In 2002, our organisation was accorded special recognition by the United States Congress for our outstanding and invaluable services to the city of Oakland and February 14 is now observed in that city as the “National Association of Seadogs Day”.

[2] Aviation Safety Alliance (Aviation 101 – Aircraft Design & Production):  “Since the advent of the jet age, new aircraft models typically have had a "design" life of 20 years. That does not mean aircraft are too old to fly safely after 20 years of service. It means they were designed to provide airlines with good economic value for about 20 years. Airlines can fly them safely well beyond that point - even indefinitely - if they choose to do so. It just becomes more expensive to keep them in service because of the additional maintenance and modifications required for older aircraft. In addition, manufacturers assume that over a 20 year period there will be enough technological advances that airlines will want to replace their older planes with new ones incorporating the new technologies”

[3]   Cyrus Kinyungu -Old Planes Blight Africa's Air Safety Record  - The Nation (Nairobi) November 22, 2005 “…But the airlines noted that the only way to meet the safety standards required to operate on all routes and compete fairly with other airlines was to get IATA operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification. IOSA is designed to assess the operational management and control systems of the airlines based on internationally recognised operational standards. The audit enables the airlines to enhance safety and make clear statements about the integrity of their operations, and their ability to manage safety associated risks. Joining the IOSA program, the airlines noted, would improve their image and thereby enhance their competitiveness. But the cost of getting the certification is a challenge to many of the African airlines which are struggling to stay afloat...”

[4]   The measures announced by President Olusegun Obasanjo at the conclusion of the Presidential Stakeholders Forum on  12 December 2005 are summarised as follows:-
“•All aircraft flying and operating in Nigeria’s domestic airspace will be checked out within a week and those found to be defective in any way in servicing records, age, maintenance and operational capacity, will be grounded.

•Sosoliso and Chanchangi airlines will be grounded with immediate effect, until all their aircraft can secure clearance by a new inspection agency within one week.

•To ensure integrity of inspections, two International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) officials have been seconded to Nigeria to join the team of inspectors. If necessary, we will ask for more of ICAO officials.

•New classification and method of inspection is being established through International Air Transport Agency (IATA) and will be in place before the end of January 2006.

•A committee headed by AVM Paul Dike is hereby established as a Special Task Force to carry out urgent supplies, repairs and maintenance of all airport facilities and equipment to meet international standard. The members of the committee are Captain Roland Iyayi (chairman FAAN), Eng. Mohammed Danbaba, Captain Austin Okon, Arch. Tunji Bolu, Mr. Tony Elumelu, and the Managing Director of Virgin Nigeria.

•Global radar is being established for the entire country and particularly, for all airports, and this will be completed by December 2006.”

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