Life is serious business. I believe most of us have come to terms with this fact. However, there are times certain things happen and you feel like saying to Life: “If it’s a joke, please stop it!” Even though you know that life is not a joke, you can’t help trying to caution life to stop its seeming trickery. We engage in this line of thought because of our inclination to deny the occurrence of what we don’t expect or want. As reality begins to dawn on us, we resort to the conclusion that life is indeed a mystery.
I was faced with the above scenario on Sunday, June 03, 2012. At about 5.15pm on that day, I was on Karu Road, Abuja. I had just left my children’s school in the company of my brother and friend – Ogbo Awoke Ogbo – whose son also attends the same school. We were on our way to the airport to catch a 7.26 pm Dana Air flight back to Lagos. We were less than 5 kilometres away from the school when my phone rang, it was my wife. I knew something ominous had happened because of the tone of her voice. After I answered: “Hello…,” and before I could go further, she asked: “Where are you?” I told her I was on my way to the airport. Then she said: “Someone just called to tell me that a Dana Air plane coming from Abuja to Lagos crashed into a residential area in Iju axis of Lagos.” I screamed! Immediately, my mind went to my friends who were scheduled for an Abuja – Lagos flight on Dana Air for 2.15 pm. I told my wife I would call her back. So I started calling Charles Ntuko, Tosin Anibaba, Eyo Bassey’s numbers intermittently. I was told each time that their phones were switched off. One part of mind said my friends were on the crashed plane, another part said: “Impossible!” When I turned to Ogbo Awoke Ogbo, he was numb with shock. Apparently, he had put pieces of what I said on the phone together to conclude that something terrible had happened.
We then told the driver taking us to the airport to stop to enable us decide what to do. We concluded that the best thing was for us to stay in Abuja till the following day. In any case, we had Dana Air tickets in our hands, so we expected that all Dana Air flights out of Abuja would have been cancelled.
On our way, friends and relatives started calling Ogbo and me to confirm that we were not on the fated plane. I thanked each caller for their love but made it clear to them that I had five friends on the crashed plane. Seven of us had come together to Abuja on Friday, June 01, 2012. In as much as I appreciated my friends for calling to thank God for my life they needed to know that precious souls were involved in the fatal crash.
When I eventually got to my friend’s house in Abuja, I saw the newsflash on most of the television stations confirming that the Dana Air plane did crash. While other TV stations said the actual casualty couldn’t be ascertained, one of them reported that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had confirmed that there were no survivors. At this point, I knew the die was cast. I would not see Charles Ntuko, Christopher Okocha, Tosin Anibaba (Mrs.), Eyo Bassey and Femi Shobowale again.
On Monday, June 04, 2012, Ogbo Awoke Ogbo and I left for the Abuja airport where we boarded an Arik Air plane to Lagos. We didn’t have any options. Coming back to Lagos by road wasn’t an option. We read about the multiple accidents that had occurred on the Lagos – Ibadan expressway over the weekend. Besides, the nefarious activities of hoodlums on our expressways coupled with the poor state of the roads made the option of a road trip inconceivable. I remember telling Ogbo as we boarded that we were like sheep being led to the slaughter with none to rescue.
On getting to Lagos, we went straight to see Chris Okocha’s wife. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see her because she was understandably sedated but we saw his lovely 2-year old daughter – Jessica. She has exactly her father’s face!
One of the things I’ve decided to do is to let Nigerians know who my friends were. I was particularly irked to read that compensation to be paid to the families was already being touted in the newspapers. I thought: “Why do we monetize everything in Nigeria? Youth Corpers die, the next thing we hear is the compensation to be paid to the families. We are in a nation where everyone believes there’s a price for everything, including human souls.” Charles Ntuko, Chris Okocha, Tosin Anibaba, Eyo Bassey and Femi Shobowale were precious and there’s no amount of money that can be paid to make families and friends forget them.
I met all of my deceased friends for the first time within the last one month, specifically on May 04, 2012. The venue of our meeting was the office of the Agency contracted by one of the global system of mobile telecommunication companies to handle a business plan competition for budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria. The meeting was to enable the judges get acquainted with one another and to deliberate on the modalities for evaluating the business plans to be submitted by the participants. Those present in the meeting were: Charles Ntuko, Christopher Okocha, Ogbo Awoke Ogbo, Tosin Anibaba, Elizabeth Olofin, Eyo Bassey, Chioma Daley, Kayode Olagesin and I.
The meeting lasted for about two 2 hours and I left with a feeling that I had met some of the best brains in the country. We all saw the project as an opportunity to empower Nigerians. My friends opined that the emancipation of Nigeria is in the hands of small and medium scale entrepreneurs. The passion was written all over them. It was one of those times that I felt good that I was doing what I love to do.
Charles Ntuko (24/08/1965 – 03/06/2012)
Without a doubt, Charles was one of the best brains this nation ever produced. He was the 1992 best graduating student of the Department of Accounting, University of Nigeria, Nsukka in Enugu. After his graduation, he went with one of his uncles on a business trip to Taiwan. When his uncle returned to Nigeria about two weeks after, Charles stayed back for 10 months. As he told me, he caught the entrepreneurial bug by reason of his stay in Taiwan. When he returned to Nigeria, he made up his mind never to look for a job. Instead, he decided to be an employer of labour. Being a focused person, 20 years went by and he never deviated from the entrepreneurial path he charted for himself. While his contemporaries took lucrative jobs in banks and oil companies, Charles went into manufacturing and selling different products. After our second meeting, I went with Charles to his house to see the carrot juice he was about introducing to the market.
He was an invaluable volunteer of FATE Foundation – one of Nigeria’s leading not-for-profit organization with a vision to produce world class entrepreneurs. Charles assisted small and growing business owners start their own businesses for many years. He was in every way a detailed person. While we were reviewing the over 1,200 business plans we received from participants, I adopted his business plan review style. He was a teacher, a trainer and a coach.
During one of the live business plan presentations by selected participants, Charles remarked that he needed to quickly write a book – Business Manual for Young Entrepreneurs – which he had been contemplating for some time. He came to this conclusion when he saw participants flounder each time they were asked some critical questions on the content of their business plans.
Even though Charles never got round to writing his business manual book, he did leave a book “What’s in your hands?” – a practical guide on how to start a business from the scratch – with which he will be remembered. Charles was truthful to a fault. He always called a spade a spade. At various times I told him: “Charles, I hope you know you’re a different Nigerian and that you will have problems working with some people because of your say-it-the-way-it-is lifestyle?” His response each time was: “I know. That’s why I have taken charge of my life by remaining an entrepreneur.”
Charles is survived by his wife and two sons. I have so much to say about Charles. I sure can write a book on the life of my friend. My greatest joy is that he died a Christian and that he’s in a better place. Adieu Charles!!!
Christopher Okocha (13/03/1977 – 03/06/2012)
Chris was an engineering graduate of University of Benin. Chris never applied for a job after he graduated from the university. Like Charles, he was an invaluable volunteer of FATE Foundation. He was an entrepreneur for 14 years up until his demise on Sunday, June 03, 2012. Chris told me about his foray into advertising. However, the stiff competition occasioned by the pecking order prevalent in the industry put him off. When Chris realized that advertising wouldn’t cut it for him, he went into small business consulting. While on the plane from Port Harcourt to Lagos a week before his death, he said: “It was tough at the beginning. Many times, I felt like quitting particularly when I got married and I have a wife to cater for. Somehow, I hung on. It eventually paid off. If you talk about top 5 small business consultants in Nigeria, Thotline Concept will come up.”
He had an incisive mind. Each time he asked participants questions, all the judges remarked that he hit the nail on the head. Not a few of the participants came back to get Chris’ contact details so that they could get in touch with him for business advice later. We all wondered who told the participants Chris was a business consultant. Many budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria owe the success of their businesses to the business plan Chris wrote for them. After his death, one young man said he was expecting to collect his business plan from him in two weeks’ time!
Chris was a diligent person. There was a day I sent an email to the judges at 2.30 a.m hoping to get a reply later in the morning – anytime from 7.00 am. I was shocked when I saw a reply from Chris’ Blackberry at 2.40 am (ten minutes after I sent the mail). My reply to his mail was to ask if he sleeps at all. We joked about it on several occasions and I called him a nocturnal man.
My friend was methodical in his approach to life. I guess his engineering background made him that way. He was an organizer par excellence. He and his UK-based partner put together the first Microfinance bank summit in Nigeria in 2009 that had the global professionals in the field in attendance.
Chris loved his family so much. During the live business plan presentations in Lagos, we finished one of the sessions a bit early. At about 4.30 pm, Chris told me he was going home to see his wife and daughter and that he would be back soon. I thought he was joking. Later, I asked after him and I was told he had gone home!
He used to call me “Onyisi” (“the Leader”). As Onyisi, I owe it to Chris, even though he’s no longer around, to comment about my grievances about the system that orchestrated his death.
Chris was a devout Christian. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour at a tender age of seven! At the age of nine, he received the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues!!!
He will be sorely missed by his wife, 2-year old daughter, family and friends.
Tosin Anibaba (13/11/1978 – 03/06/2012)
Tosin was the Head of Business Alumni Support Services (BASS) unit of Fate Foundation. She obtained a B.Sc in Economics from the University of Essex and an M.Sc in International Consulting & Accounting from the University of Reading, U.K. While at Essex and Reading, Tosin, at various times, interned with Citibank, Accenture as well as Union Bank in London. She worked as an associate consultant in the Information Technology Unit of Deloitte Consulting and proceeded to become a Principal Consultant with Nextzon Business Services before joining FATE Foundation. She worked on various Project Management & Strategy projects spanning organizations from Banking, Insurance to Power Solutions.
Though reticent, Tosin was an amiable lady. She had a remarkable ability to read her audience in a very short time. She was an invaluable member of our team. While we were all still indecisive about our judgment on a participant, she would come up an irresistible perception that could best be described as taking words out of our mouths.
Eyo Bassey (14/07/1976 – 03/06/2012)
Eyo was in charge of logistics. He endeared himself to me during our trip to Port Harcourt. We had booked the 7.00 am flight on Arik Air. By the time we got to the check-in area, the commotion we saw was nauseating, to say the least. To my surprise, Eyo had concluded all the check-in procedures. Apparently, he got there very early to sort things out. All he did was to hand boarding passes to us. I felt like carrying him on my head!
Unfortunately, it was the unimpressive outlook at Arik Air check-in area that made us opt for Dana Air during our Friday, June 01, 2012 trip for the Abuja live presentation. I now wished we had endured the pains and stayed with Arik Air for the Abuja flight.
He made sure we lacked nothing. Eyo’s approach to our needs as judges was: “Yes, it can be done. What do you need?” His care was devoid of pretenses. He was indeed a pleasant soul.
When Ogbo Awoke Ogbo and I left the hotel on Sunday, June 03, 2012, Eyo saw us off until we entered the taxi that took us to our children’s school. He confirmed that their flight to Lagos was for 2.15 pm. We bid one another goodbye with the hope of meeting in Lagos. I didn’t know that I would never see him again.
Femi Shobowale (06/06/1973 – 03/06/2012)
Femi was our technical / IT support person. He took care of lights, sound, video and photography during the live presentations. He was the person collecting flask drives or compact discs containing participants’ presentations and displaying them on the screen while they talk through them.
He was such a brilliant man. My heart goes out to his 7-year old son whose photograph adorned the screen of his laptop. I trust God that his desires for his son will still be done in his absence.
‘Conspiracy Theory’ perspective
A friend of mine called from outside the country to rejoice with me for cheating death. During our discussion, the issue of the age of the fated Dana Air plane came up. When he got to know that the plane was 22 years old – the maximum age allowed for any plane to fly in Nigeria’s airspace – he opined that flying the plane against the instruction of the engineers was most probably a business decision. This was his explanation: Since the plane was already 22 years, it’s inevitable that Dana Air would have to scrap the plane from its fleet, a decision that would cost the airline a lot of money in terms of replacement. Therefore, for a murderous-minded organization, the next best thing was to continue to ‘flog’ the plane. If it crashes, it’s all the better because the company can make an insurance claim, pay compensation to the victims (out of the insurance claim) and still come out clean with reasonable profit!
When I told my friend it was unthinkable, he said I wouldn’t say so if I have been watching Air Crash Investigations on National Geographic. According to him, such scenarios are featured regularly on the cable channel. I began to imagine the sense in my friend’s postulation when I saw the way compensation was already being mouthed just a day after the crash. I believe a good question to ask the management of Dana Air is the actionable steps they put in place to scrap the plane which had reached the maximum age, if it had not crashed.
In 2009, at a meeting of Dana’s management with one of its local financiers, the Group Managing Director (GMD) of Dana was asked why the Group was getting into the Aviation industry when other companies with deep pockets were getting out. Dana’s GMD’s response was that they studied the market and their studies informed why they buy ‘used’ planes. He remarked that it’s one of their competitors (also a new entrant) that opted for new planes that have issues to worry about.
But for the visit Ogbo Awoke Ogbo and I made to our children’s school, we would also have been on the fated plane. Notwithstanding, I see myself as someone who died on Sunday, June 03, 2012 and resurrected on Monday, June 04, 2012. I believe one of the reasons God kept me alive is to fight injustice and lethargy in high places – such that claimed the lives of my dear friends.
I believe the blood of these innocent souls is crying for justice not compensation. Justice will be done when everyone found culpable in this sad incident is prosecuted. This will serve as a deterrent to other unscrupulous and murderous business executives. The fatality inflicted on 153 hapless Nigerians (with a few foreigners) on Sunday, June 03, 2012 is one too many. A situation where few influential people do what they like based on the notion that they can pay their way is no longer acceptable. I am very hopeful that change has begun because the blood of Charles Ntuko, Christopher Okocha, Tosin Anibaba, Eyo Bassey and Femi Shobowale and 148 others is crying for a change in the way things are done in the country.
It’s gladdening that one of the staff of Dana Air has come out to tell the whole world that the fated plane was not supposed to have been flown in the first place. She confirmed that the management of Dana Air directed that the aircraft be used to carry Nigerians against the verdict of their engineers that the aircraft was unfit for air travel. Expectedly, the management of Dana Air responded that the plane was air worthy and that the outcome of the investigation should be waited for. This comment smacked of corrupt inclinations. I am conscious of the fact that we are dealing with some of the best and brightest minds from Asia. They attended some of the best universities in the world and they know all about social psychology, perception management and psychological warfare. It’s obvious they are playing to a well written script as evidenced by their impeccable use of media power. However, all I can say is that they will be shocked.
The second issue these avoidable deaths call for is an overhaul in the way sectors of the Nigerian economy are being managed. With respect to the Aviation industry, the entire operational process should be reviewed. Since the crash, there have been stories of different people’s scary experiences aboard some Dana Air flights. I am inclined to ask, are there direct NCAA phone lines that passengers can call when they have fearful experiences on local flights? I am not aware of any. An important Agency like NCAA should have a whistle blowing policy. Had there been such a policy, a serving Governor wouldn’t have to report his relative’s account of fatal operational lapses aboard Dana Air plane to the management of Dana. Who checks the air worthiness of a plane before the final signal for take-off? The information in the public arena is that Director of Flight Operations of each airline has the final say irrespective of the verdict of the engineer. Where is NCAA in all of these? I have concerns about the quality of supervision the industry is presently getting. A leadership that has overseen several fatal plane crashes in the last 7 years has no business being in business.
What is clear is that the Aviation industry is a priority sector that cannot be left in the hands of rent seekers. The financial requirements for a near-perfect operation of the airline business readily put it beyond the reach of most of the current operators. In addressing some of these issues, a few models come to mind. One is a regulator-induced merger like we had in the banking industry. Another is a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement. The present status calls for the invocation of the doctrine of market failure in which case the government must do everything within its power – financial, regulatory, etc – to ensure proper functioning of the industry. In any case, the taxpayers are already carrying the burden of ineptitude in the Aviation industry via the huge bank debts of some airline operators that have been taken over by Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON). Most importantly, there is the need to punish those that engage in acts that put the future of the industry in jeopardy starting with the Dana Air crash. Profit making is an inalienable right of a private organization. Thus the Managements of organizations make choices that will ensure the achievement of this objective. However, the role of government through its agencies is to ensure that such choices are made in a way that they don’t harm the society. The chaos in the Aviation industry is because the government has failed in its exercise of this fundamental duty. In the absence of the implementation of controls, business executives have the luxury of doing whatever they like. The cost in human lives of all these lapses is unforgivable.