Plane Crashes, Corruption and the National Security of Nigeria

by Priye Torulagha

Indeed, life is unpredictable. No one is certainly sure of what will happen in the next minute or hour. The uncertainty is multiplied when a plane is involved since it is a machinery that defies gravity by flying like a bird, despite its heavy weight. Since it defies gravity, its chance of crashing down is very high compared to other modes of transportation. Therefore, it is always a great gamble when people fly from one destination to another through the air by planes. In this regard, once in a while, a plane will crash somewhere in the world.This was exactly what happened in Nigeria on Sunday, September 17, 2006 when a military plane crashed, killing about twelve of the country’s senior Army officers (Ajani, Ajayi, & Ighodaro, September 19, 2005).

As stated above, it is expected that a craft that operates by defying gravity is most likely to experience a high degree of crashes. When that happens, those aboard pay either with their lives or sustain severe physical injuries. Even if someone escapes the crash without any physical injury, the psychological impact can be devastating. This being the case, it is very easy to rationalize that the Dornier 228 military plane that crashed in Vandekiya local government area of Benue State was unfortunate to have crashed that day. Similarly, it is very easy to say that the victims were unfortunate that the plane crashed that day and leave the issue alone.

However, as much as one endeavors to rationalize that the plane crash was an unfortunate incident, there is a tempting desire to probe more, considering the caliber of the passengers and the frequent incidents of plane crashes in Nigeria.Consequently, this writer succumbs, if that is the right word to describe the feeling, to the temptation to probe more into the implications pertaining to the crash, even though, as stated above, it is expected that once in a while, a plane will crash somewhere.

In order to probe more, the following points are raised: (1) there seems to be more to the plane crash than meets the eye, (2) the deaths of senior army officers in the plane crash is indicative of the fact that Nigeria does not have a well-articulated national security plan, (3) frequent plane crashes in Nigeria is directly related to the high rate of corruption in the country, and (4) due to conflicting political interests emanating from the effects of corruption, it appears that President Olusegun Obasanjo is increasingly unsure about the war on corruption.

1. There is more to the plane crash than meets the eye

Although, there is a great possibility that the plane crashed due to poor weather conditions, however, one could detect a systemic pattern of plane crashes, particularly involving military officers. To a great extent, this crash reminds one of the Ejigbo plane crash which took place in or around Lagos when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was in power in September 1992.It should be recalled that a group of military officers (mostly majors and Lt. Colonels) were aboard a plane taking off from the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos when the plane crashed and killed about 190 people, mostly military officers (China Economic Net, September 19, 2006). They were supposed to either attend a training program or a conference.After the plane crashed, rumors spread that some of the officers were alive for sometime before they passed away due to lack of immediate search and rescue effort. The plane crashed at night and there was no major effort by the federal government to carry out rescue operations until the following day.Even the armed forces were not fully mobilized to conduct rescue operations that night.By the time the rescue operation began in full force the following day, almost all the military officers had died. Similarly, this crash too involved military officers that were going on a conference and were aboard a single plane, despite their high ranks.

Based on previous military plane crashes, as indicated above, this crash raises many questions. Why was it necessary for these top army officers to meet in Obudu when Abuja where most of them are stationed, would have been logistically much easier for all of them to meet without having to fly in the same plane? Was the crash purely an unfortunate incident or a premeditated one intended to eliminate them, perhaps, to reduce the chances of them carrying out a military coup? Had anyone had an axe to grind against the officers? Was the crash intended to reduce the number of senior army officers? Was the plane a used one and was it well maintained? Is Nigeria’s military aviation has porous as the nation’s civilian aviation, with lack of modern meteorological equipment to direct planes? Is corruption a factor in the purchasing of military aircrafts and equipments?

In all probability, Nigeria’s armed and police forces are not equipped at all to function effectively due to lack of concern emanating from corruption. Similarly, due to corruption, it seems that the aviation industry is severely under-equipped to detect weather conditions and redirect planes away from bad weather situations.

Indeed, it is very difficult to make sense about any event in Nigeria due to the poisonous effect of corruption. There are many Nigerians who believe that soldiers and police officers have become the cannon-fodder for those who want to be in power and embezzle as much as possible from the national treasury. For instance, one Mrs. Eze has alleged that her late husband, a sergeant, was sent on a secret mission to escort an oil barge in the Niger Delta and he opposed the idea. It should be recalled that during the Warri wars, the Ijaws repeatedly alleged that soldiers and naval personnel were engaged in escorting barges intended for oil bunkering. Due to the high level of uncertainty, it is not improper for some Nigerians to theorize or assume that there was more to the plane crash than meets the eye.

Moreover, since corruption reared its ugly head in a big way in the country, Nigeria has basically been ruled through manipulation. A manipulative leadership style generates great uncertainties as the leaders try to hide their secret financial deals. Therefore, the crash of a military plane carrying senior army officers raises all kinds ofalarms.

2. The deaths of senior army officers in the plane crash is indicative of the fact that Nigeria does not have a well-articulated national security plan.

It is difficult to accept the fact that about twelve senior military officers were allowed to fly in the same plane. Any well-governed country with clearly identifiable national security policy goals would have made sure that a group of its most senior military officers are not allowed by policy to fly in the same plane even though they were going to the same destination. The fact that these high-level officers were allowed to fly in the same plane without anyone expressing concern about the national security risk showed a lack of national security consciousness among high level decision makers in the nation.

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Anonymous October 12, 2006 - 3:09 am



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