Senate summons minister, others over aviation sector • Blames accidents on graft • ‘Crashed aircraft on test flight’ • Ondo denies hiring plane for Agagu’s burial • ‘National carrier ready by month end’

PIQUED by the recurrence of plane crashes in the country, the Senate Tuesday summoned the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi and chief executives of aviation parastatals.
They are expected to brief the chamber on the state of the aviation sector and the likely reasons for the high level of air disasters in recent times.
They would be appearing when lawmakers reconvene on October 22. The Senate, which was just resuming from its one-week break, yesterday adjourned for another two weeks to enable various committees complete their oversight duties in anticipation of the 2014 budget.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Hope Uzodinma (Imo West), had moved a motion on the crash of Associated Airline’s plane bearing the remains of the former Governor of Ondo State, Chief Olusegun Agagu, on October 3.
The Senate observed that out of 20 passengers on board, 16 had been confirmed dead. It also expressed worry that the country had witnessed seven fatal air mishaps and averted two within two and half years.
Worried that the plane crashes in the country since 2011 were an indication of a deep-rooted problem, the upper legislative chamber mandated its relevant committee to identify lapses in the operational laws and regulations guiding the aviation industry with a view to averting future occurrences.
Besides, more facts emerged about circumstances surrounding the crash of the Embraer 120 aircraft.
Senator Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West) revealed that the ill-fated airplane was on a test flight and was by law, not expected to carry passengers except the pilot and engineers.
Adeyemi therefore blamed the incident on corruption and urged the Committee on Aviation to unravel those behind the action.
He said: “I was in Lagos after the crash and in the course of my stay, I interacted with my colleagues in the media and I was surprised to gather that the plane crashed as a result of corruption.
“I gathered that the plane was meant to be on a test flight and as such, it was to shuttle between Lagos and Akure without carrying passengers except the pilot and engineers. But someone thought it wise to pick passengers to make quick business.”
Adeyemi added that unless the problem of corruption was addressed in the aviation sector, no amount of funds would bring about the required reform. Commending ongoing efforts by the Federal Government at upgrading airport facilities, he insisted that much was desired in areas of regulation and management.
“There is no amount of money that can help if we don’t tackle corruption. We need to know who bought the aircraft and who is managing it.
“The ongoing renovation at the airports is good but the problem is management and regulation. The truth is that there is corruption in the aviation industry. We must be courageous enough to speak the truth. Our chambers would do the country good to unravel the owners of the Associated Airline”, he said.
In his contribution, Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, said that the industry was in a state of emergency and expressed the need to question the activities of the minister and heads of parastatals, especially as regards safety regulations.
Earlier, Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (Ekiti East) blamed the recent incident and several others before it on poor aviation regulations and enforcement.
“What we are suffering from is the regulation. The duty of the government is to regulate the industry to ensure safety in the air and that is what we are not getting. There is nowhere in the world where we have this level of disaster. Yet, we have a minister telling us about the safety of aviation and the construction of terminals.
“We do not need anybody to make us know that due diligence is required. We must ask ourselves questions about our oversight duties and monitoring of regulatory agencies, if not, we will continue to make mockery of the parliament.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi, has said that national carrier would be ready at the end of this month.
Addressing journalists yesterday in Abuja, she stated that what was left for the national carrier was the approval of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Adetunmbi also blamed the media for unnecessary hype of government’s efforts at reforming the aviation sector. According to him, upgrading airport facilities is necessary but greater challenge lies with the people and the procedures for the regulating agencies.
Senator Solomon Ewuga (Nasarawa North) called for a better understanding between government agencies saddled with the responsibilities of aviation safety and the Legislature.
He stated that going by the report of the aviation committee from various incidents, there was a gap between both bodies, especially with regard to aviation regulations and maintenance operations.
Ewuga, therefore, urged the committee to be thorough in its investigation with greater emphasis on professionalism and training pattern of aviation regulators.
He said: “I am disturbed that in suspending the operations of DANA Airline, not much has been said about air safety in the country. We have no sympathy for ourselves.
“It is very sad the way we treat ourselves. Let us not look at the aviation problem in isolation, the problem is holistic and should be treated as such. The chairman should go into the training pattern, the organisation, artisans and if need be, look into the issue of funding training of technical members of staff.”
In his reaction, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, commended his colleagues for transcending ethnic and political divides in their contributions.
Again, he blamed incessant plane crashes in Nigeria on the regulators of the industry and maintained that so long as Nigerians would not take responsibility for their actions, the Senate had no option than to summon the minister of aviation and heads of parastatals in her ministry.
“The issue is that in some places, when something like this happens, people take responsibility and resign but because such things do not happen here, we will keep repeating ourselves.
“The problem here is the safety standard and not just the plane because the standards are same everywhere. There is the need to ensure that those responsible for regulating the industry do so.
“We have tried a number of things, including investigation, but time has come to consider invoking Section 67 of our Constitution. We are inviting the minister to brief us on the situation.
“It is not to indict anybody but to know what is happening in the aviation sector and how we can help to ensure that this does not continue. We also need to make our roads and waterways safe and all these could be done if we do our work well”, Ekweremadu sad.
Yesterday too, the committee members investigating the recent Apo killings requested additional two weeks to enable them conclude their reports.
Meanwhile, the Ondo State government Tuesday clarified that it did not hire the aircraft of Associated Airline that crashed.
In a statement by the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Kayode Akinmade in Akure, the government said the clarification would not have been necessary at the time the state and families were still mourning those who lost their lives in the crash, but for inaccurate media reports.
It explained that its determination to give the former governor a befitting state burial made it set up a committee, which met regularly with the family members of the deceased to arrive at a burial programme agreeable to the family.
At one of the meetings, the statement said, the issue of transportation of the body from Lagos to Akure was discussed. “The committee deferred to the family’s insistence that the body be moved to Akure by air. The family thereafter introduced Mr. Tunji Okusanya (now deceased) of MIC Funeral as the official undertaker, who would make necessary arrangements regarding the movement of the body and the funeral.”
“Thereafter”, the statement further explained, “the MIC boss forwarded the names of various airlines through an e-mail message to the committee, namely, Aero Contractor; OAS Helicopters; Chachangi; Arik; DANA; and IRS as the airline operators that have been contacted.
“It was indicated in his message that IRS was not available for conveying human remains; DANA aircraft had gone for maintenance; and Arik does not fly the Akure route.” He, therefore, suggested Chachangi as “the best offer.”
The government further indicated that it was neither the wish nor the prerogative of government to indicate any preference for a particular airline, stressing that the interface with MIC at the instance of the family was necessary for facilitation of payment, insisting that “at no time was Associated Airline mentioned.”