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Agagu: Senate summons Oduah over plane crash

By The Citizen
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The Senate on Tuesday summoned the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah to appear before its chambers following last Thursday's Associated Airlines plane crash in which about 15 out of the 20 passengers and crew on board were confirmed dead.

The invitation to Oduah to appear before the lawmakers was also extended to the heads of agencies under her ministry for them to shed light on the state of the aviation industry.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, while briefing journalists said the minister and the aviation chiefs would appear before the Senators after their resumption on October 22.

The decision to summon Oduah was taken after the Senators exhaustively discussed a motion moved by Senator Hope Uzodima. In the motion, the lawmaker drew the attention of his colleagues to the   Associated Airlines plane crash and expressed serious concern that the incident had underscored the need for the country to re-examine its aviation sector.

He also  noted that the incident, the seventh between June 2, 2012 and October 3, 2013, was 'suggestive of a deep-seated systemic problem that must be unravelled and resolved to avert futher occurrences.'

Other senators, in their contributions, also  lamented  that reports on past crashes had offered recommendations on what should be done by the relevant agencies in the aviation sector to avoid future occurences.

For instance,  Senator Abiye Sekibo, challenged the Senate Committee on Aviation to, as part of its oversight functions, find out the airworthiness of all the aircraft on the fleet of the  airlines  in the country.

Senator Barnabas Gemade,who  noted that the aviation ministry had   improved facilities at the nation's airports, said  there was an urgent need for  professionals to be fully in charge of the sector to enhance its efficiency.

Senator Oluremi Tinubu   noted that Nigeria had the worst airport runway in the world, a situation  she argued,  posed a great risk to   air travellers.

She also described as frightening and disheartening,  statements credited to the aviation minister that accidents were 'an act of God and therefore inevitable.'

Senator Smart Adeyemi  said his  findings showed that the plane was supposed to be on a test flight to Akure and therefore should not have  carried  passengers.

Adeyemi added that the   plane was being repaired and had not been flown for sometime hence there were engineers on board to ascertain its performance.

Other senators submitted that the current situation  demanded an holistic approach because the sector  was already in a state of emergency.

The session,  presided over by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, observed a one-minute silence for the victims and condemned the  inability of relevant agencies to unearth the causes of air crashes in the country.

The senators therefore unanimously agreed to summon Oduah  and the chief executive officers of all the agencies under her supervison to explain the true state of the aviation sector.

Ekweremadu, while ruling on the submission of the Senate, however,  clarified that the invitation of Oduah  and others was not an indictment of their competence.

Rather,  he said it  would afford the aviation chiefs, an opportunity to state their efforts at implementating past reports and recommendations of the Senate aimed at ensuring safety and sanity in the industry.

He said, 'The observation of lapses in the aviation industry expressed by   senators is not also an indictment of the Senate Committee on Aviation.  The senators expreseed frustration on the issue and not that they passed a vote of no confidence in the committee.'

Oduah who also explained again that Dana Air's operations were suspended due to operational lapses, said additional financial assistance would be given by the government to domestic airlines to enable them to keep afloat.

She said, 'Certification of airlines is a routine and regular exercise and in the course of certification, there may be operational lapses and when they are  noticed, we have to look at them  again and take the necessary steps that would  ensure safety and security.

'If somebody has high BP (blood pressure) and takes medications and the sickness calms down, if he stops his medication wrongly, what do you think would happen? If an airline has a clean bill and fails to maintain it, it will be suspended.'

The minister also  said the government would  by the end of this month announce when a  national carrier would commence operations.

'I guarantee you that before the end of this month we will announce it, 'she told the journalists.

On the  financial assistance to airlines, Oduah  explained  that  it would be   a  single digit interest facility.

'This will be for a period of 20 years and it will help boost their operations. We are currently waiting for approval by the Central Bank of Nigeria,' she added.

Also,  the Managing Director, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Mr. Nnamdi Udoh, stated that the pilot of the Kabo air plane that had a burst tyre while landing in Sokoto had been suspended.

He said, 'The airline had investigated and found out that it was an operator fault and as I speak to you, Kabo Air has suspended the pilot that was involved.'

It should be recalled that the 23-year-old aircraft belonging to Associated Airlines was conveying the body of a former Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, to Akure, when it crashed  barely a minute  after take-off from the Murtala Muhammed Airport in  Ikeja, Lagos.

Also, last Friday a Saudi Arabia-bound  Kabo Airlines aircraft with 400 passengers on board in Sokoto made an emergency landing when it lost its two main body tyres during take-off.