by Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, where and how do I begin this horrible epistle? Only last week, on this same page, I wrote about two unfortunate deaths which had occurred within days apart. The first was the cold-blooded murder of one of Africa’s greatest poets, Professor Kofi Awoonor, in the hands of some trigger-happy Somali terrorists, at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The second was that of a much younger person, Bunmi Adedayo, who was airlifted out of Nigeria after some health complications but lost the battle for his life. While both deaths were painful and unbearable, Bunmi’s case was sadder for a simple reason. He was the only child of his parents, the owners of the famous Tastee Fried Chicken in Lagos.
I had spent a chunky part of last Saturday and Sunday with the Adedayos in their home and could feel how difficult it was grappling and reconciling with the reality of the monumental tragedy that befell their great family. The mum was inconsolable as she clutched and hugged her son’s picture as a comforter. His young wife, Yemisi, just stared on into oblivion as if in a dream world. Their Daddy, Uncle Kunle tried to put on a brave and bold face while bottling up his combustive emotion. I doubt if their little kids realised what the crowd was doing around, disturbing their peace. Life was indeed cruel and brutish. There are things that are just beyond man’s mere comprehension.
We engaged in marathon prayers as group after group of clergymen, family and friends, trooped in to commiserate with a completely devastated Adedayo family. Their pain was palpable even as the hordes of sympathisers tried to help reduce the heavy burden. The faces were naturally and generally forlorn. No one would ever wish for such a gathering on a regular basis. It was beyond description.
Mrs Yinka Adedayo is one of my heroes. Here was a lady who built a super-brand from zero. I had interacted with her and saw the perfectionist she is. Everything she touched was flawless. Her food remains impeccable and tasteful after so many years in the delicate business. Bunmi was her baby and second husband. He was a great and energetic partner in their family empire. The troika made a perfect match and with their powerful team took Nigeria by storm with products of international standards.
Ironically, both Kofi Awoonor and Bunmi Adedayo’s funeral rites climaxed on Thursday, October 3, 2013 in Accra and Lagos respectively. As if I had a premonition of a bigger tragedy to come, I had requested my friends on social media to seek prayers for Nigeria just the night before. I even attached a picture of me and the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, my spiritual father, to the broadcast. I had been feeling awkward since Monday afternoon but didn’t understand why my spirit was so low.
My initial reaction was that I was getting too worked up over Nigeria. As a regular traveller, I always felt the pain of seeing smaller countries with little resources marching forward slowly but steadily. I had spent the last three weeks in seven countries, six of them in Africa. I am constantly saddened that my own country has become a nation of anything goes where we accept every nonsense thrown at us as if we are victims of mass hypnotism. As far as I am concerned, there is no reason whatsoever for our abject backwardness in many spheres of life. There is nothing needed to make us great as a nation that God did not give us in excess.
If it is human beings, we have the largest black population on earth and control about a quarter of it. If it is brains, our medulla oblongata is second to none. That is why an average Nigeria is hyperactive and action-packed like a Chinese movie. If it is education, we are amongst the most brilliant human beings on the surface of the earth. There is no major institution of learning in the world where you won’t find Nigerians glowing with pride and unlimited swagger like Globacom. If it is mineral resources, we are richly blessed with a very fertile land overflowing with milk and honey. If it is exposure to global outlook and perspectives, Nigerians are world travellers. We know the best and most exotic locations. We love, appreciate and enjoy the good things of life. We know the value and understand the efficacy of good spending and would spare no effort and money to acquire quality products. How come we’ve allowed ourselves to be banished to this squalid existence in our own homeland?
I was becoming depressed in particular because I looked around and realised that all those who used to lead us in battle are either dead or getting tired and frustrated by a people without new heroes. Aminu Kano, a friend of the lumpen proletariat, was long gone. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti had composed endless songs about our catalogue of woes without ever catching a glimpse of his dream Nigeria. Tai Solarin, the socialist, educationist, columnist and critic, had bowed to what was believed to be a blistering attack of asthma. Gani Fawehinmi, the only Senior Advocate of the Masses, long before earning Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and his comrade-at-arms, Beekololari Ransome-Kuti, had both succumbed to the superior and dictatorial power of cancer. Moshood Abiola had died in solitary confinement without even knowing that earlier his wife, Kudirat, had been assassinated on the street of Lagos. Chinua Achebe had written everything that was wrong with Nigeria until he gave up and wrote about us in the past tense, concluding “there was a country”. I doubt if many of our youths remember most of these icons.
More disheartening for me was our dangerous slide into anarchy deliberately engendered by our politicians through the amplification of religious bigotry and ethnic jingoism. Poverty and ignorance are also combining perfectly to rob many of our citizens of their intelligence. Never in my 53 years as a proud Nigerian had I seen us degenerate to this abysmal level. Every argument is now punctuated with: “you hate the President,” “the President did not create the problems,” “Rome was not built in a day,” and other such unnecessary jargon.
Why should I hate the President? Where were these new loyalists when Nigerians from different parts of the country spilled out like locusts onto the streets to drum up support for the same President on whose behalf they are now throwing darts and dirt at anyone and everyone who dares to ask questions about how we are being misgoverned? True, the President did not create the problems, but he promised to solve them. And even if Rome was not built in a day, Rome did not crawl forever. If it did, like we are doing today, there would have been no Roman Empire. So let’s get these points straight and move to the meat of my sermon today.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been tweeting ceaselessly about our scandalous Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. Again, the voltrons, as we call them on Twitter, have suggested that I don’t seem to like Princess Stella Oduah. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me publicly confess a true admiration for women in power. Without being patronising, I believe they are better managers most times and look forward to a Nigerian lady becoming President, Vice President, Governor, and so on. We shall revisit this some other day.
Back to the Lagos airport, the Aviation Minister should kindly take my advice in good faith, as that of someone who wants her to succeed. I have my reasons for supporting her. If she cleans up the mess at that airport, I will be a major beneficiary as someone who lives practically in the sky. That airport as it is right now is the worst public relations showpiece for Nigeria. Light goes off intermittently on a daily basis. Only on Friday, the power outage threw the entire airport into panic and virtual standstill. People were trapped in the lifts. Airline offices could not function. People now drag fans to work. The putrid smell oozing out of the washrooms welcome you as you walk towards the arrival hall. The roofs leak in torrents when it rains. The conveyor belts cough sometimes like victims of tuberculosis. I was told the new ones are waiting to be commissioned before being put to regular use. If true, we have to stop this archaic culture.
Ghana installed three brand new conveyor belts in a matter of weeks without indulging in frivolous ceremonies. It is the duty of government to perform and deliver it is not a favour or privilege. We boarded a flight last week after walking through a totally dark bridge. There were women carrying babies. What if they tripped and fell? The escalators are erratic and epileptic. I eavesdropped a foreign passenger complain to his friend how he fell flat on his back on his last trip to Lagos. Just imagine an airport without proper and easily accessible car parks. The list of shortcomings is long and almost endless.
I can supply all these facts with pictures. The Minister has done well but should not be deceived by the adulation of those pretending to love her. It is in the character of acolytes to con men and women of power for pecuniary gains. One major problem is the bureaucracy that permeates all section of that airport. There are too many fat cats contending for power and perks. They play God with people’s lives and goods. At the cargo section, they lock up the place at will without any concern for deliveries that are perishable. The different agencies quarrel like babies and sometimes resort to fisticuffs. Someone needs to bring sanity to our aviation sector. There is too much politicking at the expense of performance, security and above all, safety.
The Minister has the capacity to turn the ugly situation around for good. An airport under perpetual renovation is a waste of time and resources. Lagos deserves the services of competent and ambitious contractors. I’m even wondering why such an important gateway to Nigeria has not been concessioned. Say what you will, the Murtala Mohammed 2 is the sanest airport around. The grip of government on aviation needs to be liberalised. Nothing has worked well since Dr Kema Chikwe cleaned up that sector. Princess Stella has shown sufficient promise generally and must devote more attention to making a success of Lagos in particular. That is our flagship Airport.
The latest plane crash has brought back attention to the fears I have expressed over time. Apart from cleaning up the airports, emphasis must be given to air safety. The airlines need to be properly streamlined and regulated. Cosmetic regulations which have no impact on aircraft safety are not the solution. Neither are high costs of using our airports which only supposedly enrich the Government but probably end up in the pockets of greedy officials. If it is expensive to operate in Nigeria, (Nigerian airports are reputedly the most expensive to operate from in the world!) then one can expect our airlines to cut corners in order to survive.
This may be why it is alleged that some of these airlines fly aircrafts with various degrees of deformities. If airlines cannot fix faulty seats that are very visible and obvious, I often wonder if they would service the engines that are hidden and more expensive to maintain.
I will like the National Assembly and the media to take more active interest in the aviation industry before it consumes more innocent souls. Some of these gory deaths are preventable. I still refuse to believe that I have again lost good friends in this latest crash. Deji Falae was too close to me. He was one of the young guys that gave me hope in the future of Nigeria. He worked tirelessly and wanted to excel without relying on the success of his great dad, Chief Olu Falae. A silent achiever, he was stylish, charming, witty, intelligent and imbued with an unusual humility. He was a veritable learned Gentleman.
We all knew the man who brought uncommon panache to matters of death and burial, Tunji Okusanya, the Chief Executive Officer of MIC Funeral Home. His passion was awesome. He perfected the art of making death solemn but nevertheless refined and less painful. He had a dream to hand over the business to his look-alike son, Olatunji just as his own father had done for him. Unfortunately, they both died in that horrific inferno. I wept as I fished out the pictures I took with father and son at a society wedding about four years ago.
I will continue to live in denial that the accident did not happen and I have only been sleeping. Hopefully, I will wake up from this nightmare. That is a dream, but my prayer is, ‘never again O Lord’. We must kill the Molue we seem to fly only by faith before it endangers more lives.
May their souls, and that of other victims, rest in perfect peace. Amin.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Dele Momodu