The slanging match over compromised safety standards and the mismanagement of the nation’s aviation sector has taken another turn with the allegation made by the pioneer Commissioner and Chief Executive of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) Angus Ozoka that he was ordered by a former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, to inform the world that the Bellview Airlines Boeing 737-200 aircraft, which crashed at Lisa, Ogun State on October 22, 2005, was bombed during the investigation of the accident early in 2007.
The Bellview Airlines’ crash led to the death of 117 people who were on board the aircraft.
But in reaction, the former minister, who served under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration and has since the Associated Airlines crash two weeks ago been engaged in a duel with the current Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, dismissed the allegation, calling Ozoka a “pathological liar” with an axe to grind following his removal.
Ozoka, who spoke exclusively in an interview, said: “At a time everybody knew they were singing a song that it was a bomb that blew down the Bellview aircraft.
“So when somebody was appointed aviation minister (Fani-Kayode) in 2006. He said to me, call a press briefing and announce that it was a bomb that blew down the airplane. We were still investigating the crash then and he said that right in his office with his permanent secretary, his aides and other staff.
“It was not a one-on-one directive, everybody was there. And I said I would not do it. I said: ‘Hon. Minister I will not do it. It was not a bomb I will not do it’. Then he said: ‘I hope you know I can remove you.’ I said: ‘You are the Honourable Minister’.”
Elaborating, Ozoka added: “When I was in AIB investigating that fatal crash on October 22, 2005 that killed 117 people, I was forced to hand over to somebody who was the Director of Air Worthiness at NCAA when the crash happened. He was advised not to allow the plane to fly and he defied the advice.
“When the crash happened, he was removed. Only for somebody that called himself a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to bring that same person and appointed him to head the investigation into that crash as Commissioner of AIB.”
Ozoka admitted he was angry at the level of hypocrisy in the country and the criticism concerning the recent Associated Airlines’ crash, noting that many of those who are talking now, were aware of why he was removed and replaced by somebody who indirectly had a hand in the crash to investigate the accident.
“And none of these people that are talking now saw anything wrong with that appointment; none of them said anything against that. If they said anything, let them produce what they said. So I don’t take their criticism seriously.
“To me, that is the height of hypocrisy. The people who are criticising now knew what happened. They were in the system; none condemned that action. I don’t take them seriously and that is why I said a lot of people go to the television to make noise.
“Aviation is not where you go and make noise. A plane has crashed; we are supposed to be in mourning,” he said.
Ozoka also dismissed the notion that there might have been two reports on the Bellview crash, noting that his work might have been abandoned because it did not tally with what his successor wanted, but it was his report that was concluded by the present Commissioner and Chief Executive of AIB, Muktar Usman.
“I submitted a preliminary report, submitted an interim report, and submitted an updated report. We had not got to the conclusion and safety recommendations before I was removed. I spent over two years there.
“When the person that took over from me came in, it is possible that the report that I submitted wouldn’t be in tandem with what he wanted, so it was delayed until luckily, God in His own way made it that the person was removed.
“Then Captain Usman was appointed and completed the report, following the footsteps of what I had laid down,” he said.
Ozoka said when he was removed, he wrote and informed all the security agencies, disclosing: “I told them that the aviation ministry wanted to manipulate the investigation.”
According to him, “I copied the Inspector General of Police, State Security Service (SSS), National Security Adviser, Senate Committee on Aviation, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Head of Service and Civil Service Commission and said they wanted to manipulate the investigation.
“It was only the Secretary to the Government of the Federation at the time that wrote a letter to the Ministry of Aviation asking why were they doing this? Nobody else said anything.”
Ozoka explained that the establishment of AIB required National Assembly legislation for the establishment Act, which took at least one year and a public hearing before it was signed into law, stating that it was not Fani-Kayode that established AIB.
“AIB was established by an Act of parliament and to pass a law takes one to two years, so the former minister cannot say that he was the one who established AIB, although it was signed into law by the then president (Obasanjo) on November 14, while the minister was appointed on November 7, 2006, so how did he establish AIB?” he asked.
But a personal aide to Fani-Kayode, Taiwo Lawal, yesterday denied the allegation, saying Ozoka was a liar and had falsified the reports of the accidents that had occurred at the time because he was a corrupt man.
“How the former minister could have asked him to include something in a report that was submitted a year before we came into office beats my imagination.
“His report was formally submitted to Chief Fani-Kayode’s predecessor in office before he became Minister of Aviation so the suggestion that he or anyone else asked Ozoka to doctor his report and say that there was a bomb or anything else on board is ludicrous.
“How can you doctor or change something that had already been submitted and released? The reason that Ozoka was sacked was because Chief Fani-Kayode discovered that he was incompetent and all his reports about air crashes had question marks.
“The former minister suspected him of doctoring accident reports and he told him that to his face and promptly sacked him,” Lawal said.
Lawal maintained that Ozoka was lying and alleged that all the accident investigation reports he submitted were unreliable.
“It was not only the Bellview crash report that he submitted that was suspicious and unreliable but all the reports he submitted, of all the five crashes that took place between 2005 and 2006 that resulted in the death of 453 people.
“Consequently, he had to go because the former minister felt the federal government could not protect the lives of air travellers as long as such a questionable and shady character was in the aviation sector.
“The final report of the investigation on the Bellview crash which commenced after Chief Fani-Kayode left office and which was conducted by the new AIB, a new agency which the former minister set up after Ozoka’s exit, vindicated his position about Ozoka’s earlier report because it contradicted all his findings,” Lawal added.
Lawal noted that the final report of the Bellview crash was not submitted until 2010, a good three years after Fani-Kayode left office.
“If you have any doubts about the fact that it contradicted Ozoka’s earlier report substantially, ask Engineer (Sam) Oduselu (Ozoka’s successor), who was the person that was in charge of AIB when the investigation was conducted and who submitted that report to both the present minister and the one that came before her, for a copy.
“The report was meant to be passed on to the president but it never was. Dr. (Harold) Demuren, who was in charge of NCAA (Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority) at the time and the American NTSB investigation agency were also given copies of Oduselu’s report in 2010.
“Chief Fani-Kayode did the right and proper thing by sacking that man Ozoka because he was a disaster and a danger to the Nigerian air-traveller,” Lawal said.
The former minister’s aide said even former President Obasanjo felt the same way about Ozoka which is why he approved his sack and gave Fani-Kayode permission to set up a “new and more or less independent agency.”
The new AIB, he said, was autonomous of the ministry and an entirely new parastatal set up specially to investigate aircrashes and to report directly to the president in the event of a crash.
About a year after the Bellview crash, a kite was flown by some government officials in the aviation sector who had alleged that a bomb was planted on board the ill-fated aircraft.
Those in the know said the story was propagated in order to absolve the airline of liability and manipulate the insurance claim on the aircraft.
But the bomb conspiracy theory was in stark contrast to the investigative report made available by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and AIB, which attributed the crash to a technical problem with the aircraft and pilot error.
AIB’s investigation report had said: “The investigation considered several factors that could explain the accident. They include the PIC (Pilot in Command) training of the captain before taking command of the B737 aircraft, which was inadequate. The cumulative flight hours of the pilot in the days before the accident which was indicative of excessive workload that could lead to fatigue.”
Furthermore, the AIB investigative report revealed that the airplane had technical defects and should not have been dispatched for either the accident flight or earlier flights.
Posted by SirVic for wetopup(News Laboratry)