The world in mourning

Several countries were unexpectedly thrown into mourning early last Sunday when an Ethiopian aircraft crashed within minutes of its takeoff. The waves of the tragedy swept through 30 countries including Nigeria, claiming three of our illustrious sons, two of whom very well known. I am referring to Professor Pius Adesanmi and retired Ambassador Abiodun Bashua.

The flight was from Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, to Nairobi in Kenya. The pilot was said to have reported difficulty and asked to be allowed to return to Addis Ababa. The aircraft went down before he could do so, near a town called Bishoftu, 60 km south east of Addis Ababa.

It is good that the president sent his condolences to the family of the departed. Those in affliction and pains cannot have enough of words of succour and encouragement. In view of safety concerns raised about the 737 Max 8 from the stable of Boeing, Nigeria must go beyond that and take more than passing interest in the disaster. Ethiopian airline is the biggest and the most commercially thriving in Africa. It is the airline Nigerians going to China, South Korea and some other Asian countries use. It competes with Kenya Airways for the Democratic Republic of Congo route as well as for flight to Kenya enroute to South Africa.

It is not enough to say as the Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika has done that Boeing 737 Max 8 is not in the fleet of any airline in Nigeria. Air Peace has placed orders for 10 of the model and Arik eight, according to reports. Theirs are among the 5,011 orders the Boeing has received from around the world out of which it has delivered 350. A definitive statement by our government does not appear to be on the way beyond the tepid statement by the Aviation Minister that the airlines in the country do not have them in their fleet.

Indeed, the air safety concerns in the wake of the crash in Ethiopia cannot be said to be felt thick in the air. Our accustomed insensitivity to horrendous loss of human lives must undoubtedly have found a ready alibi in the state elections. By the time the news of the crash sank, say mid-day on Sunday, many were already glued to the television and the eagerness to know the results: Who won and who lost overshadowed everything else. And hardly is the crash a subject of discussions in most gatherings beyond 24 hours after it happened. The crash had been crowded out of our minds. Since there is still a government in place, there ought to have been a sharper reaction from the government and an active engagement of a sort on the disaster especially as Nigerians numbered among the casualties.

Ambassador Bashua worked for the UN. He was former UN and Africa Union (AU) Deputy Joint Special Representative in Darfur, Sudan. Prof. Adesanmi was Director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He was lecturer of English and Literature in Carleton University. Although they were not carrying Nigerian passports—Bashua, UN passport and Adesanmi Canadian passport, BBC News promptly identified them as Nigerians.

Hear what was said about Prof. Pius Adesanmi. Pauline Rankin, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences said: “the contribution of Pius Adesanmi to Carleton are immeasurable. He worked tirelessly to build the Institute of African Studies, to share his boundless passion for African literature and to connect with and support students. He was a scholar and teacher of the highest caliber who leaves a deep imprint on Carleton.” President and Vice-Chancellor of Global Affairs, Canada, Benoit -Antoine Bacon in his own tribute said: “Pius Adesanmi was a towering figure in African and Post-Colonial Scholarship and his sudden loss is a tragedy.”

Back home, editors, print or digital will remember Prof. Adesanmi as a prolific contributor to opinion pages, for his grasp of Nigerian issues, his perspicacity, breadth and depth, and masterly use of English language. Never for him tired words or beaten tracts. The language was ever fresh and enchanting.

The Nigerian authorities ought to have regarded the crash as one too many. It was the second in five months. The first in October, last year when an Indonesian carrier code named Lion Air crashed 13 minutes after take-off on a domestic flight from Jakarta. It killed all 189 passengers and the crew. The Boeing 737 Max 8 model was rolled out in 2017. That it has become problematic is thought by many countries as strange and the suspicion by aeronautic experts is that it has a serious factory defect, resulting in instrument failure. The experts are blaming a new autopilot system said to have been added to curb the jet’s tendency to pitch up. The autopilot was meant to pitch the nose of the aircraft down. But then the anti-stalling system pushes the nose down suddenly that pilots struggle to raise it up.

After pilots on two flights have confidentially reported experiencing problems flying Boeing 737 Max 8, with the planes nose tilting down suddenly, experts are suggesting that the anti-stalling device installed may have been responsible in both the Indonesian and the Ethiopian crashes. Boeing may have tacitly agreed that the anti-stalling system may have been the problem. Reports say Boeing sent an emergency notice to airlines that it was going to release a software to deal with the issue.

Countries not wanting to take chances have swiftly suspended 737 Max 8 flights from their airspaces. The United States President, Mr. Trump reflecting, said in a sarcastic and warning tweet: “Airplanes are becoming too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further when often old and simpler is better…. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot.”

Trump later spoke on phone with Boeing CEO who predictably expressed confidence in the safety of the Max fleet. But there are increasing concerns among leading American Congressmen, who are displeased with what is seen as the wait and see attitude of the Federal Aviation Administration. They are pressing that the Max 8 be grounded. A lady Senator, Dianne Feinstein, for example, wrote to Aviation administrator asking that all Boeing 737 Max 8 be grounded “until their safe use has been confirmed. This weekend’s tragic airplane crash near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, bears several troubling similarities to the October 29, 2018 crash near Jakarta, Indonesia.

“Both tragedies involved a new Boeing 737 Max 8 series crashing only a few minutes after takeoff. The two accidents killed all people onboard, resulting in a combined loss of 346 lives, including eight US citizens. This has raised legitimate questions about whether an unknown problem exists, which must be discovered and remedied as soon as possible.” FlyersRight association also decried the attitude of the Federal Aviation Administration saying it was putting lives at risk as well as the reputation of the US Aviation Industry.

As of yesterday, about 10 countries had either banned or suspended the aircraft model from their airspace. The first was China, followed by Indonesia, not surprisingly. Another is Australia which says it is suspending flights of the plane in and out of the country while awaiting further information on the crashes. The other countries are France, Germany, Ireland, Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore and United Kingdom. Indeed, Singapore said it was suspending flights of all variants of the Boeing 737 Max. The EU has announced the banning of the aircraft model from the airspace of member countries even where some have taken individual steps to safeguard the safety of their citizens.

The victims came from Kenya that lost 32 of her citizens; Canada, 18; Ethiopia, nine; Britain, nine; Italy, eight; China, eight; the US, eight; France, six; Egypt, six; Germany, five; India, four; Slovakia, four and 21 who are connected with the UN and were travelling to Nairobi for its programme. A deeply moving one was the case of a 24-year-old girl who was going for the UN conference. According to BBC News, excited Danielle Moore posted a message on her Facebook the day before the crash: “I ‘m so excited to share that I’ve been selected to attend and I am currently enroute to the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya. Over the next week I’ll have the opportunity to discuss environmental issues, share stories, and connect with other youth and leaders from all over the world. I feel beyond privileged to be receiving this opportunity and want to share as much with folks back home.”

Miss Moore studied marine biology and she was working as a member of Clean Ocean advocacy group, Ocean Wise and as an education lead at Charity Canada Learning Code. Sarah Auffret a polar tourism expert and a product of University of Plymouth was going to the conference to talk about Clean Seas. Dr. Kodjo Glato, a professor at the University of Lomé was said to have passion for sweet potatoes and was going to the conference on how they could be used to improve food security.

Among the Canadians was a family of six. The couple was taking their daughters, one 14, and the other 13, to visit Nairobi, the birth place of their mother. They were accompanied by the parents of the said mother, Kosha, 37. There was also a third-year law student at Georgetown University. Cedric Asiavugwa was reportedly travelling to Nairobi to attend the funeral of one of her relatives. Georgetown University Law Dean, said of him: “With his passing the Georgetown family has lost a stellar student, a great friend to many, and a dedicated champion for social justice across east Africa and the world. He carried out research on subjects ranging from peace to food security in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan.” Kenya football administrator , Hussein Swaleh was returning home after officiating in a CAF Champion League match in Alexandria, Egypt. So was Kenya journalist, 49, who had just represented Kenya at a UN conference in Paris. As of the time of the crash, he was with UNESCO as deputy director of communications.

Canadian-Somali Amina Ibrahim Odowa was travelling with her five-year daughter for her wedding.What I am getting at is that it would seem Nigerians have seen so much violent deaths that they are hardly moved and alarmed any longer by reports of tragedies of that nature. Were it not so the government would have regarded the Ethiopian plane crash in which illustrious citizens of this country died as one crash too many, and our airspace closed to any variant of Boeing 737 Max until after ongoing investigations are concluded and there is guarantee of safety.

The plane that crashed was one of the six of the Max 8 model in the fleet of Ethiopian Airlines. It ordered 30 in the quest of its expansion programme.

Prof. Adesanmi evidently had a premonition of his demise. He wrote on 09 March, quoting Psalm 139; 9-10: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”

Antonis Mavropoulos, a Greek missed the flight two minutes. As it turned out, the two minutes separated him from death. According to BBC, Mavropoulos was late to get to the boarding gate. He was furious nobody helped him to reach the gate on time. It is said he now calls the day his “lucky day.” A Kenyan from Nairobi, Ahmed Khalid similarly missed his flight, because his connecting journey was late!

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