· As family members thank State Government, promise to cooperate on identification of bodies
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), Sunday met with families and members of the diplomatic community whose members and nationals died in the Dana Air plane crash of June 3, 2012, offering free legal services to those of them that need to use legal process in pursuit of their rights.
The meeting which was held behind closed doors took far-reaching decisions on the way forward concerning the identification and release of bodies as well as sharing of detailed information with the families.
Addressing the families as well as top management and officials of the Aviation industry and religious leaders, at the Lagos House, Ikeja, venue of the meeting, Governor Fashola said the Office of the Public Defender would be on hand to handle all such legal processes free of charge for those who need the service.
According to the Governor, “In terms of compensation issue and all of such issues, they are important to varying degrees, but the Office of Public Defender will provide legal services that you require without charge and you can liaise with them through the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice”.
The Governor, who said the offer was voluntary, said the head of the legal department of the Office would constitute a legal team with representatives of the families so that the Office would begin to take legal issues and give legal advice to those concerned.
On the issue of finding who was wrong in process of decision making or use of equipment or other issues that resulted in the crash of the ill-fated plane, Governor Fashola cautioned, “To me, and this is personal opinion, this is not necessary yet. We cannot begin to lay blames until we know what caused the accident and we cannot do that until we are through with the bodies and related issues”.
“We have to take it step by step. The result of this investigation or any air plane accident investigation all over the world is not for only one country but for the Aviation industry globally. We must proceed from one step to the other in order not to confuse or complicate the issues”, the Governor said.
Governor Fashola also spoke on disaster management in the country saying the people still needs to learn a lot in that direction. He recalled his experience at the crash site on his visit saying he had to personally ensure that every other person who had no business at the site, apart from the emergency workers, moved away from the place.
“I told them this is not a tourist site but an accident site, an investigation site where the people needed at the first instant were the doctors and paramedics as the first responders”, the Governor said adding that such issues would come up for discussion when all the main issues concerning the accident have been disposed of.
He advised all those who have identified the bodies of their relatives to begin the process of taking them away from the morgues for burial.
Some of the family members of the victims who spoke at the meeting expressed gratitude to the Lagos State Government for working assiduously towards the identification and release of the bodies of their relations in order to take them home for proper burial.
One of the relatives of the victims of the crash, Dr. Benjamin Iyene, pleaded with the Lagos State Government to do everything in its power to ensure that they get the bodies of their relations pointing out that Nigerians are very attached to their dead.
Dr. Iyene, who said he lost nine family members in the crash, suggested that a small work group, comprising government officials and some members of the victims’ families including affected members of the diplomatic corps, be set up to continue to work on the process of identification and release of bodies to their respective families
Noting that the process is a tedious and long one, Dr. Iyene who also commended the State Government for doing its best in the matter, however, urge the Government to do more. “It is very tedious, it is a very long process, but we think Your Excellency should not give up. You should work harder. If the Federal Government doesn’t want to support you, go ahead and do what must be done for the sake of everybody”, he said.
With a voice laden with emotion, Dr. Iyene said, “Because of the way we are, we Nigerians are very, very attached to the dead. Two days ago, my Vicar in the village called me that they heard that three children woke up adding, “I replied, ‘is it possible? If people are put in the mortuary for at least five days, how can they wake up? Nobody has woken up. So we have to manage the environment”.
Thanking the State Government for all its efforts since the unfortunate incident to assuage the sorrows of those who lost loved ones, Dr. Iyene told his colleagues, “If we stay here for the next one hour, emotions will be running high. My fellow grief-stricken people, this man does not have the solutions or answers to all our questions because the State Government does not own or manage aviation. There is no Ministry of Aviation in Lagos State, Ministry of Aviation is owned by the Federal Government; so he is trying to help; let’s work with him and help ourselves”.
Others who spoke in the same vein included Mr. Anthony Iredime who expressed gratitude to the Lagos State Government for its decision to take the initiative, Mrs. Chizoba Mojekwu who thanked Governor Fashola “for doing what the Fedweral Government could not do”, a representative of the Indian High Commission in Lagos Mrs. Rashmahi and a member of the United States Consulate in Lagos who also expressed gratitude to Governor Fashola for the step he has taken to support the families in their period of grief.
The State’s Chief Medical Examiner and Professor of Pathology, Professor Oladapo Obafunwa, in his remarks, gave an insight into the work done so far in the identification process.
He also assured the families that the remains of their relations were being well preserved as, according to him, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital has the best Pathology Department in the country
Fielding questions from newsmen after the meeting which lasted for several hours, Governor Fashola said it was informed by the need to make information more detailed and more available to the families to enable them know what the State Government is doing concerning the identification and release of the bodies of their departed loved ones and what they should expect next.
Governor Fashola, who disclosed that some vital decisions were taken at the meeting, pointed out that the families agreed with the processes Government is pursuing, which is to investigate and identify the bodies before releasing them to the various families adding that the people indicated their willingness to cooperate with Government.
“They indicated that as long as this takes, they are prepared to wait. That is one decision that we took”, the Governor said adding, “We have set up now a relationship team from Government and who will be communicating specifically with them.
“They have agreed to constitute some of their members to be representatives so that we have a more coordinated approach to communication, sharing information, managing the release of bodies that can be identified and generally working through all of the twists and turns that it will take”, the Governor said.
Describing the process as very painful and very tedious, Governor Fashola, however, expressed confidence that success would be achieved at the end of it all adding that the meeting was useful in helping both the Government and the families to chat a common course.
On why the State Government has decided to take the actions it is now taking, Governor Fashola declared, “The accident happened in our State, these are citizens, these are taxpayers, the Government has to stand up for its citizens and that is the simple reason we are doing what we are doing”.
“We are doing our job; we are not doing anything special here. We must empathize, we must respond, people must look to us; that is why they voted and we hope that our best will be enough”, the Governor said.
Also present at the meeting were the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, his Special Duties counterpart, Dr. Wale Ahmed, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaiye, Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Lateef Ibirogba, Special Adviser on Health,Dr. (Mrs.) Yewande Adeshina, Vice Chancellor of Lagos State University, Professor John Obafunwa, Direstor General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, members of the diplomatic corps and other top government functionaries.