Dana: Coping with the tragedy

Although the Dana Air plane crash that has thrown the country into mourning occurred in Lagos, the incident seems more devastating in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

This is mostly due to the fact that the ill-fated plane took off from the FCT. As a result, most of the passengers were either residents of the city or had concerns there. The implication is also that the victims generally had relatives and other loved ones in Abuja.

It was thus not surprising that apprehension gripped Abuja immediately news broke in the afternoon of Sunday, June 3, 2012, that an aircraft that took off from the city had crashed in Iju, a suburb of Lagos.

Before the identity of the airline involved in the accident was confirmed, an air of uncertainty pervaded the FCT, as people fretted over the fate of loved ones that had travelled to Lagos.

Even with the eventual confirmation that it was Dana, the air of uncertainty did not immediately clear. Residents still wanted to get the particulars of those affected.

As is usually the case in most air crashes, prominent personalities were involved, air travel being a mode of transportation that is biased towards the elite. Based on that consideration, the ensuing speculation over the identities of the victims centered largely on possible big names aboard the aircraft.

The first high profile name to be openly linked to the crash, albeit in a speculative manner at first, was that of the former Group General Manager, Public Affairs of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr. Levi Ajuonuma. And when the identities of the 153 people — 146 passengers and seven crew members — were confirmed and made public, lo and behold, Ajuonuma was on the list.

Many residents of the FCT were glued to their television sets, watching a 2014 World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Namibia when news of the air crash broke. Most of such people, however, abandoned the game afterwards, as all attention shifted to the tragedy.

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Even the footballers themselves had to dedicate the 1-0 victory recorded in the match to the victims of the air crash.

As reports of the incident spread, many people took to the social networks — Facebook, Blackberry Messenger, Twitter and others, to express their frustration at the inability of major television channels — such as NTA, AIT, Channels and STV to immediately show footage of the incident.

Indeed, at that point, the television stations were not even discussing the development, although most of them had already confirmed it as a “breaking news” item. So, in the absence of any reliable information, people became increasingly agitated.

However, the release of the manifest of the ill-fated aircraft did not make the situation any easier. Rather, it elicited even more grief, as some people, who hitherto did not harbour any fear that any of their loved ones could be aboard the aircraft, were now confronted with the shocking reality.

Gradually, it became clear that even though the plane crashed in Lagos, Abuja bears a great share of the pain. Being the seat of government, it was not surprising that the shock would also affect the activities of government. This was more so as some government officials and staff of major establishments were among the victims.

With a sense of tragedy and shock pervading the nation in general and Abuja in particular, President Goodluck Jonathan cancelled all his public engagements scheduled for the next day, Monday, June 4, 2012. The President equally declared a three-day national mourning in memory of the victims of the crash.

Parts of a statement from his spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, read, “The President joins all Nigerians in mourning all those who lost their lives in the plane crash which has sadly plunged the nation into further sorrow on a day when Nigerians were already in grief over the loss of many other innocent lives in a church bombing in Bauchi State.

“He prays that God Almighty will grant the families of the victims of the plane crash the courage and fortitude to bear their irreparable loss.”

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While the heads of some of the government agencies in Abuja did not officially announce the cancellation of scheduled engagements, the mournful disposition in the city ensured that government activities were paralysed in most establishments, particularly those whose staff were among the victims.

One of such is the National Universities Commission, which lost five officials — Mallam Mahmud A. Dukawa, Arch. Chinwe U.E Obi, Prof. Celestine Onwuliri, Sonny A. Ehioghae and M.A Shu’aibu. The deceased were members of the NUC’s Standing Committee on Private Universities who were going to Lagos on an official engagement.

As a result, it was not surprising that the management of the Commission on Monday, June 4, 2012, announced a three-day suspension of all official engagements in honour of the victims.

The NUC, in a memo that announced the development, said, “Following the unfortunate passing away of five of the commission’s staff who were involved in the ill-fated Dana Air plane that crashed at Iju, Lagos, the NUC management, after an emergency meeting, has declared three days of mourning. As a result all official engagements are hereby suspended for the next three days starting from today. May the gentle souls of the deceased rest in perfect peace.”

Mourners have continued to troop to the NUC Headquarters in Maitama, Abuja to commiserate with the management and staff.

Though there was no announcement concerning suspension of scheduled engagements at NNPC, the shock of Ajuonuma’s demise in the tragedy slowed down the pace in activities at the NNPC Towers in the Central Business District of Abuja. But because of the heavy security at the NNPC Towers, no thanks to the fear of the activities of the Boko Haram sect, visitors were not able to easily gain access to the building to commiserate with the management and staff over Ajuonuma’s death.

What makes the matter worse is the fact that Ajuomona is not the only person the corporation lost in the crash. The NNPC Group Managing Director, Mr Austen Oniwon, first gave the indication that other staff of the corporation might also be victims of the incident.

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A statement by Dr. Omar Ibrahim, the General Manager, Media Relations Department, quoted Oniwon as saying, “NNPC as a family is united in faith with God who is all-knowing. It is only God that can comfort and console us at this dark hour. I pray for the repose of the gentle souls of our departed colleagues, members of their families and other Nigerians and international passengers and crew in the ill-fated aircraft.”

The Central Bank of Nigeria, which lost eight of its staff in the crash, also had to put off some scheduled official engagements.

The spokesman of the apex bank, Mr. Ugochukwu Okoroafor, described the Sunday, as a “painful day for the CBN.”

The air crash forced the CBN Governor, Dr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, to take up some unscheduled engagements, as he reportedly contacted family members of the deceased, and also addressed the entire staff of the bank to commiserate with them.

He also paid individual visits to the various departments that lost their staff. Okoroafor disclosed that the CBN governor would be visiting the families of members of the staff that died in the crash before the bank would issue a statement on the incident.

“The CBN governor also suffered a personal loss as a cousin of his was involved in the crash,” he reportedly said.

The crash also affected work at the National Assembly. The Senate Joint Committees on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Appropriation and Finance, which is investigating the administration of fuel subsidy in the country, postponed its public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, June 5, as a result of the air crash.

Source – Punchng

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