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FG plans monument to plane crash victims • Excavation begins at 10am today

Posted by The Punch on 2005/10/31 | Views: 7634 |

FG plans monument to plane crash victims • Excavation begins at 10am today

President Olusegun Obasanjo on Sunday said arrangements had been concluded for the construction of a memorial garden in Lisa, the site of the crash of the Bellview Boeing 737 plane in which 117 persons died on October 22.

President Olusegun Obasanjo on Sunday said arrangements had been concluded for the construction of a memorial garden in Lisa, the site of the crash of the Bellview Boeing 737 plane in which 117 persons died on October 22.

The garden will have a plaque on which the names of the victims will be inscribed.

The President disclosed this in Abuja during a thanksgiving service in honour of his late wife, Stella, at the Ecumenical Centre.

Eulogising Stella while giving his vote of thanks, Obasanjo said the construction of the memorial garden was the only way to immortalise the crash victims whose bodies were dismembered beyond recognition.

He spoke as the National Emergency Management Agency confirmed that the excavation of the crashed jet would begin on Monday (today) at about 10am.

Obasanjo said the circumstances surrounding the crash and the stories of how some of the passengers got on board further confirmed his belief that God decide what happens to every human being.

He recalled that he had planned to organise a grand 60th birthday party for his wife, and the plans were elaborate.

The decision to honour Stella with what he called a "green" birthday ceremony, according to him, was in appreciation of how she stood by him when the late dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, jailed him in 1995 over an alleged coup plot.

"Stella stood by me when I was in prison. She sought the assistance of Nigerians all over the world to secure my release," the President said.

He added that only God understood why Stella had to die before the fulfillment of his wish.

He also said a similar wish to honour his wife when she turned 50 in 1995 was aborted as a result of his incarceration by the Abacha regime.

Expressing appreciation for the "solidarity, love and support" shown by Nigerians since the death and burial of Stella in Abeokuta, Ogun State, on Friday, Obasanjo said the deceased had requested that a devotional or worship service be held to commemorate her birthday at the National Ecumenical Centre.

“It was partly due to this,” he said, “that I inspired the fund-raiser for the completion of the centre a few months ago.”

The President added, "At our morning devotion service, we talked about this birthday and everything she asked for was given with the hope that I will have (given her) a grand birthday. So again, I failed. She did not see November 14. I regret my inability to fulfil my promise. But God's plan or promise never fails. God's plan or promise in this respect is that we will have a green service in this centre. Not a 60th birthday for my wife, but a celebration of her life and exit from the world in a grand style. We thank God for her life. We thank God for your support."

In his sermon, Dr. William Okoye said no man was immuned from pains and sufferings. He added that life involved overcoming series of problems.

Brigadier-General Samuel Ogbemudia (rtd), who was one the dignitaries at the service, said Edo State, from where Mrs. Obasanjo hailed, would miss her.

Former National Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said she was motherly, affectionate and humble.

According to Ogbeh, with Stella's death, the President and indeed the nation had lost a worthy companion and friend.

Ogbeh also condoled with the families of the 117 victims of the plane crash.

Other dignitaries at the service were the wife of the Vice-President, Mrs. Titi Abubakar; governors of Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta, Ogun, Plateau and Edo states; as well as ministers, presidential aides, members of the diplomatic corps and traditional rulers.

At about noon when our correspondents got to the site of the Bellview plane crash in Lisa, no fewer than 50 naval officers deployed there since Tuesday barred people from getting to the site.

They restricted visitors to about 50 metres away from the site.

One of the naval officers who pleaded anonmity said, “We have been told not to allow anybody get to this area. Even tomorrow (Monday), we will be more strict. We will position ourselves in the village and nobody will be allowed to get to the site.”

The Nigerian Red Cross Society, Ogun State branch, also on Sunday, continued the fumigation of the site. A member of the society said the fumigation was preparatory to the excavation of the plane.

In confirming that the excavation would begin at about 10am on Monday (today), NEMA’s Information Officer, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, told our correspondents on phone that foreign aviation experts, who arrived last week to assist in investigating the accident, would be part of the exercise.

"The Nigerian and American experts probing the crash have disclosed that they are now set. The excavation will start tomorrow," he added.

Farinloye said the equipment for doing the job had been moved to site, while security agents had cordoned off the area.

"Movement inside and outside of the site is now restricted. Only those who have business with the search operation are allowed," he added.

According to him, the investigators had also requested for the presence of medical officials and those of the Ogun State Ministry of Environment and the state Emergency Management Agency by 8am at the crash scene.

He said the officials were needed to assist relatives in identifying the bodies of the victims.

The four-man delegation from the US National Transportation Bureau, led by Dennis Jones, visited the scene for the second time on Sunday in company with senior officials of NEMA to search the site.

The team, which arrived around 1pm, drove straight to the site which had already been cordoned off by security men manning the place.

The NEMA officials declined to entertain questions from newsmen as they drove past the crowd after their assignment which lasted about one and half hours.

A NEMA source told our correspondent that security operatives guarding the crash site had been instructed to seal-off all routes leading from the village, which is about five kilometres away.

Scores of relatives and sympathisers who besieged the place were prevented from gaining access to the site on Sunday by the naval and police personnel deployed in the area.

Notable lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, on Sunday criticised the response of aviation agencies to the October 22 plane crash.

He asked that the Minister of Aviation, Dr Babalola Borishade, be sacked.

Besides, the lawyer blamed the death of Stella on the neglect of Nigeria’s health sector by the Federal Government.

Fawehinmi, in an open letter to the President, a copy of which was made available to our correspondent, argued that the rescue operation at Lisa was “disastrously shabby and impudently shoddy.”

This, according to him, would not have been if the President had appointed an aviation expert to man the ministry.

"The nonchalance with which the Federal Government treat the industry (aviation) is partly responsible for this crash. This is a specialised industry demanding a specialized treatment. The minister in charge of this industry must be a professional aviation expert. Professor Babalola Borishade does not qualify to be a minister of such a specialised industry," he argued.

On Stella's death, he reasoned that if the Obasanjo government had funded the health sector well and engaged the services of well trained medical professionals, there would not have been no need for Stella’s “fatal trip.”

Meanwhile,the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has ruled out tokunbo (refurbished)engine as the cause of Flight 210 crash.

NCAA, in a statement by the Media Assistant to its Director-General, Mr. Sam Adurogboye, said the ill-fated plane was certified airworthy, and that all facts about the aircraft were verifiable.

"The maintenance of the aircraft is up-to-date as it had undergone a comprehensive maintenance otherwise known as a 'C Check' in February 2005, and will be due for another one in nine months time. The insurance cover for the accident aircraft is valid and in accordance with the Montreal Convention as contained in the Civil Aviation Policy," he added.

Adurogboye, who quoted his boss, Mr. Fidelis Onyeyiri, said records available to the authority did not show that the B737-200 (Advanced) of the same family with the Bellview's crashed plane was prone to accident.

He added, "There are 1,095 of this B737-200 (Advanced) produced; 721 of this number are still actively flying worldwide, while 170 of it are in storage, that is, waiting for buyers.

"It is also on record that three top airlines in the world have in their fleet B737-200 (Advanced) series currently in active service. These include the United Airlines with 71 of the aircraft; Delta Airlines 57; and South West Airlines 40.”

Adurogboye reiterated that Bellview Airline has five B737-200 (Advanced) in its fleet, in addition to two other B767 series.

The Airline Operators of Nigeria, in a separate statement by its Secretary-General, Alhaji Mohammed Tukur, appealed to the public to exercise restraint in making comments on the crash.

THE PUNCH, Monday October 31, 2005

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