Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Our right to know

I first read the news of Nigeria's double tragedy last Sunday on the CNN website. As the initial reports could not immediately confirm whether there were any survivors from the crashed flight 210 I turned to the BBC website for more information. I had searched through the local online media and could only find This Day Online scrolling it as Breaking News. At this point the BBC was reporting that about 50% of the passengers had survived the crash. It even mentioned a report of a phone call back home by an ECOWAS official, to confirm that he had been on the flight but had survived the crash. As is usual with the BBC website, it also had provided a forum for those who may be affected by the incident to express themselves.

I read through the many hopes expressed by respondents who had prayed that their loved ones on that fated flight would be alright. By the following morning when the truth of the situation emerged and it became clear that there were no survivors, this page was withdrawn from the website. It was replaced with an article titled: Nigeria - where the truth is hard to find, by Anna Borzello. This article tried to clear the confusion surrounding the conflicting reports, blaming the Nigerian situation for the mix up. The disappointment and frustration that must have followed this development is inestimable, especially for those who may be directly affected by this incident, and who may be without alternative sources of information. It's easy to point fingers elsewhere but the BBC should've provided another forum for readers to express their disappointment or vent their angst.

I was further alarmed when I read that the AIT and Ray Power FM stations were shut down by the Nigerian National Broadcasting Commission, for what they termed "unprofessional coverage" of the scene of the ill-fated flight. Part of their reasons was that the said stations had announced on location, that there were no survivors, before competent authorities had fully assessed the situation; or before the families of the victims had been informed. Haba!

This plane had disappeared from the radar for at least fifteen hours before these announcements were made. Nobody could account for the whereabouts of the aircraft all this while. Two helicopters were scrambled and a frantic search and rescue operation was mounted by the Nigerian authorities. The entire world media was focused on Nigeria and the missing jetliner. Everybody wanted news. AIT happened to be the first to find and reach the crash site; and what the NBC did was to shut the station down for making public its findings. This action underscores the military mentality and ignorance that still rules the Nigerian stage. It is disgusting!

What is wrong with this country, Nigeria? Why must only irrational and ignorant people have access to decision making positions here. Or, is this power-play a deliberate attempt to punish the owners of these stations for getting the birthdate of the tragic first Lady wrong? In fact, Chief Gani Fawehinmi's call for immediate payment of compensations to DAAR Communications Limited is much in order. I also think that the NBC is a useless commission and should be scrapped. The people have a right to know.

Monday, October 24, 2005


I was up early this morning expecting a call from Humphrey, a friend and classmate, in transit from Port Harcourt to Dallas, Texas. He'd stopped over last night at London Heathrow for a connecting flight. We hoped to meet before he continued his journey later this aftenoon.

As I waited for Humphrey's call my mind wandered to the events of yesterday. It was an ordinary Sunday until Tina, my wife, called me from Lagos to announce that Stella was dead. Before I could say, "Which Stella?", she had added, "It's on CNN". We know a few Stellas but only one could make CNN by her demise. This one was the most important woman in Nigeria. My reaction was nearly the same as when I got the news of Sani Abacha's death years ago. Deja vu? No! Powerful people didn't just die like that. I was like: "Na lie, you must be joking!", and instinctively I reached for my laptop.

While confirming the news on the CNN website my wife was still going on about people's reactions back home. And that's when I saw the real tragedy. There had also been a plane crash somewhere near Lagos and apparently there were fatalities. With over a hundred people on board the plane there was cause for worry. As I mentioned the plane crash to my wife she had stated matter of factly that everybody was in shock.

The CNN reports had been simple and straight forward. Stella Obasanjo, Nigeria's first Lady, was apparently on a private visit to Spain where she went for cosmetic surgeries and had died of complications there of. She would've been 60 in two weeks time, the report said. I thought: could this be the serenade to a heavy birthday party? Aahhh, vanity; thou art treacherous! Though, CNN did not relate the news about the fated airplane to the death of the first Lady, the double tragedy was enough to trouble the Nigerian leader. I turned to the BBC for more information.

Sure enough the BBC report on Stella's death had the expected twist. Among other things, the BBC had pointed out that Stella was a controversial person. They observed that she once had a journalist arrested for doing an article on her in a local newsprint titled, "Greedy Stella". Interesting. But, the BBC plane crash report appeared to conflict with that from CNN. Quoting a Red Cross source CNN wasn't sure there were any survivors. The BBC, at this stage was reporting a 50% survival figure. This is typical of events in Nigeria. Nobody is ever sure of anything! Anyhow the BBC was definite that the airline in trouble, Bellview, was one patronised mainly by foreigners, top Nigerian officials and the wealthy. Big man, Big trouble. Meanwhile, the local www media were dead asleep on all this, except for This Day Online which had it as Breaking News.

Lying in bed this morning, I'm reflecting on recent events in Nigeria. The vice President, Atiku, is being investigated in America by the FBI. Governor Alam goes to a German hospital for tummy tuck (some big man's disease); he is arrested in Britain on charges of money laundering and put to rest in a London jail. He is fighting for his freedom. Meanwhile, his colleagues in office all develop cold feet about travelling abroad. It was always medical checkup, or some such mundane activity. Suddenly they all become very fit and healthy. No more foreign conferences either. The guilty, afraid? Now, Stella, the country's official first Lady goes for surgery in a Spanish hospital; she does not live to see the result. As my neighbour would say, "E be like say Oyibo don do meeting for us o!" If so, who's turn next?

But then, 'even if Oyibo man do meeting for us', borrowing from my neighbour, will the development make Nigerian leaders wake up to the realities of the day? No way. I suspect that Nigerian politicians would prefer to die in foreign hospitals than receive treatment at home. Isn't their their main job to make sure that nothing works in Nigeria so they can continue their looting? Otherwise, why would they not develop and equip our hospitals? While Nigerian doctors and nurses excelled all over world, they are insulted at home. I think it's time to ban everyone who takes public office from going for medical treatment or consultation abroad, including members of their family. How else would our healthcare delivery system get any attention? Ditto for education, if necessary.

The other day a French airliner was lucky to escape a major disaster at Port Harcourt airport, after running into a herd of cattle. A herd of cattle on an airport runway, for crying out loud! Now, the country is again plunged into mourning. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the grace of God, rest in peace.