· As Governor meets with them, reports 94 percent success in DNA identification of victims
Families of the June 3, 2012 Dana Air crash victims were Thursday full of commendations for the Lagos State Government for the way it handled the aftermath of the disaster as the State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), met with them to give an update on the progress made over identification of the victims’ bodies.
Following the Sunday, June 3, 2012, Dana Air mishap at Iju-Ishaga, a suburb of Lagos, which claimed the lives of all the passengers and crew members, Governor Fashola, on June 10, 2012, convened a meeting with families and relations of the victims as well as officials of Dan Air to intimate them of the willingness of his administration to identify, through scientific tests, bodies of their relations, some of which were burnt beyond recognition.
Fielding questions from newsmen after the meeting on Thursday which was held at the Banquet Hall of Lagos House, Ikeja, Governor Fashola said 94 percent success was achieved with 141 out of 150 bodies successfully identified adding that only nine bodies have not been identified but that fresh samples had been taken from families of five of the yet to be identified victims for fresh tests leaving only four bodies.
According to the Governor, “If that is successful, we will be left with only four bodies that we will have to decide how we will proceed because we have not been able to identify them”.
“From what we have identified so far, we have a 94 percent identification and the bodies have been released to the families that we have identified and many of them have gone to bury their loved ones’’, the Governor said adding that out of 89 death certificates issued so far, 51 were yet to be collected.
Governor Fashola said the meeting discussed the various issues concerning the release of the bodies and how families of the victims could recover the personal effects of their deceased adding that the families were meeting again with officials of Dana Air to sort the issues out.
Other issues discussed, according to the Governor, centred on the way forward as to how to reform the Aviation sector so that travellers by air within the country could be assured of comparative safety adding that his administration would work with the families, in conjunction with officials of the aviation sector to tackle the problem.
“The Families have made it very clear that for them it is very important that we use this experience to reform the Aviation Sector irrevocably so that their loved ones would not have died in vain”, the Governor said adding that on that score government and the families had agreed to work in committees to engage the regulators in the Aviation Sector to work on the issue.
He said the idea of a memorial service and a memorial cenotaph for the victims also came up at the meeting adding, “For this, they will have to work with our staff and our colleagues and come back to us with the appropriate thing they think we should do”.
Describing the air mishap as “a story of mixed tragedies and grief”, Governor Fashola said the meeting was also to sympathize with families of the deceased adding, “It breaks one’s heart to see what they are going through”.
The Governor thanked all the medical staff, the police, the fire men and all others who contributed variously to achieve the level of success recorded by the Government.
“I think it is appropriate to take this opportunity to thank all the medical personnel, especially Professor Obafunwa who led the team of forensic experts from Universities of Abuja, Ibadan and Ife and other medical officers, the Chief Medical Director of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, the Commissioner for Health, Mortuary attendants, fire men, Police men and all others who have helped to bring us this far”, the Governor said.
While noting that the journey is not yet finished, Governor Fashola declared, “But I think it is an appropriate milestone to acknowledge their selflessness and their commitment to care and to provide service”.
Some family members of the victims who attended the meeting also spoke with journalists commending the Lagos State Government for what they termed “historic in a country where victims of such disasters had always been given mass burial” adding that the State Government has also agreed to work with them to engage the aviation sector regulators to reform the sector for the safety of air travellers within the country.
One of the family members, Mrs. Onyinye Okocha who lost her husband in the crash, told newsmen, “The meeting was wonderful. We are happy with what the Governor has done so far. He has promised to help form committees to engage the aviation regulators. We thank the State Governor for his kindness”.
“This is our fight. We have to fight this cause in order to prevent future occurrences. If there had been things, appropriate things on the ground on that day, there would not have been as many casualties as recorded. We would not have had the magnitude of loss because the fire that roasted the victims did not start immediately”, she said.
She was full of gratitude to the Governor and Government of Lagos State saying, “We have a kind Governor, a feeling Governor and we are lucky to be in Lagos State. The Government is caring. They have paid for everything. This is the first time in the history of this country that crash victims are not given mass burial”.
Another family member, Mr. Seke Somolu, commended the State Government for doing “a lot more than the Federal Government has done”, noting that the Stake Government gave the families and relations of victims the opportunity to talk about how they felt about their loss.
On the need to reform the aviation sector, Somolu said, “The overwhelming emotion that came out of that meeting is the determination to have this kind of thing stopped. We know there is a problem in the aviation sector. It should not be that each time we get into a plane within the Nigerian borders; we have our hearts in our hands. The reason for the crash should be made public. There should be no attempt to conceal anything”.
Mrs. Chizoba Mojekwu of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), who came to the meeting on behalf of the staff of the apex bank who lost their lives in the crash, said in her response to questions from newsmen, “I thank the Lagos State Government for all it has done since the air crash”.
“For air crashes and the way they happen, sometimes they leave the bodies of victims unrecognizable or even unrecoverable. But the Lagos State Government, working closely with DNA experts, has been able to identify these bodies.
In our aviation history, this is the first time we have not heard of mass burial. That is one of the emotions expressed at the meeting”, the CBN senior official said.
She said families of the victims were gradually coming out of their grief and learning to accept the inevitable adding, “I see signs of healing process. Even though the feeling of loss may still linger but there is improvement from what I saw the first time we held this kind of meeting here”.
She said the meeting also discussed the way forward “as to how we could partner with the Government to have a safer sky”. “It is all about safety of the people when we travel by air within the country”, she said.
Another family member, Architect Akinola Cole said, “We need to have more people like Governor Fashola. You see, it is not just the professionalism he is putting into this engagement but the human feeling he is also bringing to bear and his ability to know the feelings of the people”.
Architect Cole who said he was knowing Governor Fashola for the first time as a result of the incident declared, “For me, with 94 percent success with DNA in identifying the victims, it is a good score. And the offer that the Office of Public Defender will handle any case arising from the incident free of charge to me is divine”, adding that while praying for the repose of the soul of their loved ones, they also pray that God would sustain the Governor and his administration.
In his remarks the Commissioner for Special Duties, Dr,. Wale Ahmed, said the meeting was aimed at updating the family members of the victims of the June 3, air crash on the progress made so far by the Government regarding the scientific analysis of the bodies of their affected relatives through DNA identification and to give them the opportunity of having a say on how to move forward.
According to Dr. Ahmed, “All the family members of the victims unanimously expressed very high level of appreciation for the successes recorded by the State Government. They commended the Governor for the care and concern shown by the Government over their plight”.