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Nigerian Airline Resumes Operations Amidst Controversy

  • James Butty

The wreckage of the Dana Air plane crash in Lagos, Nigeria, June 6, 2012.

The wreckage of the Dana Air plane crash in Lagos, Nigeria, June 6, 2012.

A spokesman for the Nigerian Ministry of Aviation has defended the government’s decision to allow Dana Airlines to resume operations, nearly eight months after one of its aircraft crashed in Lagos, killing all 154 people on board and 10 on the ground.

Joe Obi said international best practices do not require that the entire fleet of an airline be grounded because one of its aircraft has been involved in an accident.

He said since the accident, the entire fleet of DANA Airlines has undergone a rigorous airworthiness audit conducted by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

“The airline has gone through a thorough recertification exercise and they have satisfied all criteria by the NCAA indicating the airworthiness of its fleet. And, for that reason, the minister decided to allow them to go back to the skies. So, the primary concern here was the issue of safety of the aircraft and its fleet, and that has been ascertained by the NCAA,” he said.

But, lawyers for the families of the victims said the airline should not have been allowed to resume operations because it has failed to pay full compensation to the victims.

Bunmi Awoyemi, who represents 40 wrongful death victims in a lawsuit filed in the United States, said only 80 victims’ families were paid $30,000 per family instead of $30,000 per victim, as required by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act.

“My concern is that, at the moment, only half of the victims have been paid some form of compensation or the other. And, even the 80 [victims] that were paid, the compensation that they were supposed to be paid was initially $30,000 toward expenses, which doesn’t have anything to do with actual damages and actual loss that the victims and their families have suffered,” Awoyemi said.

Aviation Ministry spokesman Obi said the Nigerian government sympathizes with the families of the victims. But, he said DANA Airlines has told the government that full compensation has been delayed because many victims’ family members have not been able to clearly identify who the beneficiaries are.

“The most unfortunate thing that you can do to the family of the deceased is to make payment and compensation to the wrong person. So, the issue of verification of claim, verification of the true next of kin, and then the issue of fulfilling all the requirements, as stipulated by the insurance laws for compensation to be paid, has to be done according to the rules to avoid making payment and compensation to the wrong person,” Obi said.

He said one of the conditions the Aviation Ministry gave to DANA Airlines, in addition to ensuring airworthiness, is to collaborate very closely with the families of the deceased in order to identify the rightful beneficiaries and ensure that compensation is paid within two months.

But, Awoyemi said Nigerians should avoid flying on DANA because, if there is another crash, the airline would continue to refuse paying basic compensation to victims.

“You have people who are still suffering. You have people who have not been paid for a crash that everybody saw was the fault of DANA Airlines. It’s up to people to decide what they want to do. But, any reasonable thinking person will not go ahead and say he wants to board an aircraft that is being operated by such an airline because, based on the way they behaved, they are definitely going to repeat their behavior in terms of their recklessness and in terms of human life,” Awoyemi said.