NINETY-EIGHT days after the Dana Airline plane crash in Lagos, which killed 153 persons, the Federal Government, yesterday, cleared the airline to resume operations eliciting outrage in the polity.
Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, in a statement by her Special Adviser (Media), Joe Obi, said government decided to restore the operating licence of Dana airline because it was satisfied with the air-worthiness of the airline after a rigorous technical, operational and financial audit was conducted.
According to the statement: "The Federal Government has lifted the suspension of the Operating Licence of Dana Airline. This follows government's satisfaction with the air-worthiness of the airline after a rigorous technical, operational and financial audit of the airline.
"By this development, Dana Airline is free to resume its normal commercial flight operations. Government will, however, continue to strengthen its oversight and regulatory functions to ensure that all airlines operating in the country, including Dana, adhere strictly to safety procedures as required by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act and all other relevant local and international regulations that ensure and promote sustainable air safety.
"The operating licence of Dana Airline was temporarily suspended following the crash of one of its aircraft on June 3, in Lagos as a safety precaution".
Immediately, the clearance elicited condemnation from Labour, rights activists, lawyers and relations of the Dana crash victims, who said it was premature. Among those who criticized the decision, yesterday, were legal icon, Mr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Mr Femi Falana (SAN), Dr Osahon Enabulele (president, Nigeria Medical association, NMA), President-General of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, Comrade Peter Esele, and Mr Achief Olajide (a relative of a victim).
AON, ATSSSAN celebrate
However, some aviation stakeholders such as the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) and Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN) hailed the decision, which came at a time that only 45 families of the victims of the crash had been compensated.
Meanwhile, Spokesman for Dana Airlines, Mr Tony Usidamen, said the Airline was yet to get a letter to the effect.
"We have just heard the lifting of the suspension of Dana Airlines in the news just like you, but we have not received any official letter to that effect. As soon as we get official letter to that effect on lifting of the ban on Dana Air, we will issue a statement on that," he told Vanguard, on phone.
It is hasty - NLC, TUC, Falana
Reacting, Deputy General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Joe Ajaero, faulted the lifting of the operating licence of the airline, when all the issues surrounding company's air crash had not been resolved.
Comrade Ajaero, who is also the General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE, said it shows that we place value on money more than life.
It's unfortunate -- Falana
Mr Femi Falana said "it was unfortunate that the step was a mockery of the coronary being conducted in line with the law by coroner court in Lagos State. Once government has taken this step, the unfortunate Dana air tragedy has been put behind us while we unfortunately wait for the next similar tragedy."
Similarly, TUC President, Comrade Peter Esele, said, "one would have expected the Federal Government to order proper investigation of what led to the crash of the airline's plane, apply sanction where necessary and, after that, conduct audit on all the airlines in the country and state the way forward.
"However, if Government has done its own, it is left for Nigerians to do the needful. It happened with Bellview when its licence was lifted after suspension, Nigerians boycotted the airline. So, if Nigerians feel the government did not do what they expect, they are at liberty to do what is needed and necessary."
Where govt erred -- Agbakoba
On his part, Agbakoba said the government should have ordered an inquiry on the matter, establish the cause of the accident before clearing the airline to resume operations.
His words: "I hope that Dana Airline would have learnt its lesson from the recent fatal accident. As a rule, it must be made clear that an accident does not mean that an airline must not fly again. The only thing I see is that if the regulatory authorities have cleared them to fly, they can resume operation. I am not talking specifically about Dana now.
"What happened in the Dana case is that we do no have full disclosure on what went wrong with its ill-fated flight. The clearance came out of the blues. The decision clearing Dana must be in the public domain. In Aviation business, there is no way you can say that because an airline was involved in an accident, it can't fly again, if you say so, most airlines that have had one accident or the other would have been wound-up.
"So if the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authorities, NCAA, had conducted an investigation, which must be thorough and if after investigations, it comes out to say the airline can fly again, that will be acceptable. But the only problem I see is that we have not seen the report of the accident and we don't know what went wrong with the ill-fated flight."
The decision is hasty - Enabulele
To NMA President, Osahon Enabulele, the decision came as a big surprise because "Nigerians are still trying to grapple with even the findings of the last investigative panel of the inquiry into the last disaster.
"Going by the trend in this country, the citizens may not get to see the implementation of the inquiry. We thought that this would even be a departure from the past. Now, in less than three months or thereabout, we are now having a situation whereby the ban on Dana Air is being lifted; we want to question the rationale and the basis for that. Nigerians need to know what the finding of the panel was. To what extent was it carried out in terms of implementing the findings of the panel and in what direction will this lifting of suspension take Nigeria? Are they saying that Dana Air has substantially cleaned its own house, or perhaps they have put in place the recommendations of the panel?"
He continued: "I thought that a bit more of scrutiny ought to have been done by the Federal Government before making a move to lift the ban. I do not know why they did this but for somebody who has been monitoring events of the disaster, it is totally not acceptable. Certainly for me, it is a hasty decision and Nigerians would want to know what happened along the line."
I'm stunned -- Olajide
Mr. Achief Olajide, a nephew of Mr. George Moses, one of the victims of the June 3 Dana air crash was too stunned to react. "I have not heard the announcement so I have nothing to say now. But I am waiting to get the details. When I do, I will get back to you," he stated in a telephone interview.
Olajide had earlier threatened that the relatives of the late Moses would go to court if his body was not released after a second mandatory DNA test by the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH.
Only 45 families of victims compensated
Meanwhile insurers of the ill-fated flight have only been able to pay compensation to just 45 families of victims out of the 135 that were involved in the crash.
The consortium of six insurance companies led by Prestige Assurance Plc have been able to settle just 45 of the victims as according to findings, the remaining families are still undergoing the process of acquiring letters of administration which they will use to claim the compensation.
Although the local insurers have promised to pay the 30 per cent of the share of the insurance cover, the foreign insurers who have 70 per cent of the cover are yet to commence any form of payment.
Commissioner for Insurance, Mr. Fola Daniel said that some victims of Dana air crash have received $30,000 adding that the balance $70,000 of the $100,000 would soon be paid. He noted that the National Insurance Commission (NAICOM) would ensure that the local insurers that underwrote the risks live up to expectation. Daniel noted that the sum assured of the risk was $350 million which comprises life and third party liability excluding the claims for the aircraft. He said families of those that died in the mishap have to present death certificates and certificate of administration before they would be paid the outstanding claims. Daniel noted that the No Premium No Cover would not deter the operators from paying the claims, adding that only legitimate claimants would be paid. He said: "Whether the co-insurers pay or not we would hold the lead insurer responsible and legitimate claimants would be paid adequately."
AON, ATSSSAN celebrate
Amid the outrage, however, came praises from a section of the aviation sector.
President of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), Dr. Steve Mahowu while speaking on the issue said that it was a welcome development, adding that all the stakeholders in the aviation industry were hopeful that the Federal Government would lift the ban soon , which he noted had has finally come to reality.
He further noted that the association, AON had written a petition to the government on the matter before now urging the government to lift the suspension so that the airline could resume its operations.
Also speaking, National President of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Comrade Benjamin Okewu, said that that the decision was a welcome development and the best thing that could happen in the aviation industry in such a time as this.
"After the crash, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has done a thorough job on Dana airline in terms of auditing the airline. They have done the safety audit and economy audit and they found out that the airline has a clean bill so they have to allow it to fly and that is the manifestation that we are seeing now"