• Victim’s name missing on the cenotaph
• Hurriya Lawal, the living, listed among the dead
By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor, and Gbenga Akinfenwa
YESTERDAY clocked exactly a year since the quiet Iju-Ishaga community of Lagos lost its serenity after it was robbed of peace by the cruel angel of death. The dawn of the day was ordinary and thankfully, was devoid of the rain showers that had soaked Lagos in the last three days.
The brightness of the sun in the early hours of the first working day of the new month was a relief to most Lagosians who had set out early for the day’s task, but in the homes of relatives of nearly 160 people who perished in the ill-fated Dana crash, June 3 was a gloomy reminder of their personal tragedies.
The scene of last year’s mishap was recreated yesterday when family members of victims and residents of Iju-Ishaga gathered at the crash site where the Lagos State government erected a cenotaph in honour of the victims. The only difference was the temperate wailings of victims’ family members. At the one-year memorial, the loud outburst of victims’ families last year gave way to tear-soaked eyes and a long solemn gaze at the cenotaph amidst pockets of protests by residents.
Three hundred and sixty-five days was, however, a short time to douse the pains the most tragic air incident in recent times brought to the families of the deceased. This was visibly felt in the mood of those who were present while the short ceremony of sober speeches lasted. Among those present were Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola and his wife, Dame Abimbola, representative of the Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi, management of Dana Airline, Senator Olugbenga Ashafa and members of the state House of Assembly.
Fashola, who wore a mournful look throughout the event, recalled that on that fateful Sunday afternoon, the men, women and children in the ill-fated Dana Air Flight 992 had journeyed more than 700km from Abuja to Lagos and were minutes away from arrival when the incident occurred. “I know it will take a while for the tragic memories of your great losses to heal, but you must carry on, not just because you have to carry on but because your loved ones would want and expect you to,” he said.
Ashafa, who spoke after the laying of wreath at the crash site, said: “The incident that occurred a year ago on this site is really unfortunate and disheartening, there is no amount of compensation that can bring the dead back to life. I want to appeal to all the families affected that God Almighty will give them the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.”
The lawmaker also called on the aviation sector to carry out a rigorous investigation into the cause of the crash, as a way to prevent future occurrence of the unfortunate incident.
Towards the end of the ceremony, a mild drama that could have led to rancour ensued, but for the timely intervention of officials of the Lagos State government, when a man protested that a relative of his, Hurriya Lawal, who is alive, was listed among the dead, instead of Maria Abuyere.
He was gagged from speaking to the press on the issue but when later cornered, he said Hurriya Lawal, whose name was among other victims of the Dana crash, had actually bought ticket but didn’t join the flight. According to him, one Maria Abuyere, used her ticket.
It was also discovered that instead of 157 names officially classified as victims of the crash, only 156 names were inscribed on the cenotaph, with one victim’s name missing. As at the time of going to press, the missing name on the roll call was yet to be ascertained.
Outside the fortified premises of the crash site, aggrieved residents of the area, under the umbrella of ‘Ground Victims of Dana Plane Crash’, displaying placards of various inscriptions like ‘One Year Later No Compensation’, ‘Why We Are Suffering, Dana Is Flying’ and “We’ll Like To Have Dana For Dinner”, among others, protested the nonchalant attitude of the airline to their plight. They claimed that the Community Development Association (CDA), headed by Chief Adewale Oriowo, has sold them off in negotiations with the airline.
Some of the deceased families who spoke with The Guardian under the condition of anonymity, said the delay in the release of the final accident report on Dana, a year after, showed the negligence on the part of government, which means that their loved ones had died in vain. Though the spokesman of Dana Air, Tony Usidamen, disclosed that some families have been fully compensated as at May 25, 2013, many of them still claimed they are yet to be given anything.
One of the aggrieved residents, Pastor Daniel Omowunmi, whose house the ill-fated plane crashed into, has been crying of neglect. Aside the duplex building, his two warehouses, and another property, were razed to the ground in the aftermath of the incident. His absence at the memorial spoke volumes of how badly he had been treated by the airline and the state government.
When contacted on phone, he confirmed to The Guardian he has not been compensated by the airline one year after the incident. “My demands remain that I should be reinstated to my former position or given its equivalent of properties lost in cash.”
He added that the state government took over the land where the cenotaph is built from him without compensation despite being in possession of his Certificate of Occupancy (CoO), which, according to him, was not to knowledge of the governor.
About 10 people on the ground lost their lives as the Lagos bound aircraft from Abuja carrying 153 passengers, crashed into the two-storey building.