Last year the Vatican authorities approved a new translation to one of their prayer responses said during Catholic Mass, which is led by an ordained priest: “The Lord be with you,” said by the priest used to get a response of the congregation as “And also with you,” which has been in use since the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1963. The modified version that the congregation say now is “And with your spirit.” Almost a year after this approval, I begin to get the sense out of this modification from the ordinary events of my daily life and of my environment.
What I gain from this modified response is that great things happen when our spirits walk, fly or run on a common ground. When my spirit agrees to follow someone, it’s because my spirit is comfortable with that person. But our judgment does not necessarily come out right. Each time we decide our actions based on our spiritual instincts, we can never predict what may happen the next minute. We need to avoid over-dependence on other people or else they mess us up. Besides, there should be more commitment to safety when it comes to service delivery in the aviation industry business. Although some situations are beyond our control, we certainly need to follow laid down procedures, obey industry principles so that we become accountable with what is entrusted to us.
My experience of Nigerian airlines goes back a little over a decade ago. Before this period, I knew next to nothing about flying. I was comfortable with travel by road. What I remember faintly about air travel is a beautiful narration by one of my uncles after his return from Lagos. During the golden era of Nigeria Airways in the early ‘80s, my uncle lamented the one-hour flight increase in return ticket to N97 on Kaduna-Lagos route. My uncle was a fresh sociology graduate from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and he went to visit his close friend at the Nigeria Law School Lagos. He returned with sweet stories about air travel. Little did I know that I would also fly the Nigerian airspace in pursuit of my goals and dreams.
As I began to work at the Media Service Center Kaduna in June 2002, I came into contact with many leaders in the communications, media and new tech world. My horizon began to open through my understandings of my world and the work I did. Air travel became my passion in networking with like minded people. First time I flew to Lagos from Kaduna, it was with the Consultant of my center. He kept entertaining me with stories from the beginning of our flight until we landed in Lagos. We were already in Lagos? I felt in my spirit that I was beginning to love air travel as I disembarked the aircraft in a journey that would have taken us 12-long hours by road.
Anyhow, that was the beginning of my love for flying. I can’t recount the number of times I have flown to different destinations for work, business negotiations and holidays. Towards the end of my tenure as Director at the Media Service Center Kaduna in 2008, my spirit accepted to make a tour of my friends in the West African sub-region for two reasons: to get-to-know West Africa and to say ‘thank you to patrons. I quickly remembered that I wouldn’t need a visa to travel to any of the 16-ECOWAS countries. My spirit did all the planning: begin the first leg of the journey to Accra, touch Banjul then Dakar and on my return leg, touch Freetown, back to Accra and Lagos. It had to be travel by air. Since I was used to travelling with domestic airlines, I had no problem arriving to Lagos to source out airlines for my multicity travels within the sub region. I secured a return ticket on Virgin Nigeria [now Air Nigeria] airline to Accra.
Everything went fine as planned. I spent two weeks in Accra. My next port of call was Banjul in The Gambia. My spirit searched for an airline and after lots of exploration, Slok air was the last option available. From the moment of take-off at the Kotoka International Airport Accra, my spirit began to wonder aimlessly at what level I was in. I have heard stories of the seventh heaven, but never imagined that it could cross my mind at 24,000ft. The aircraft was noisy, shaking at every storm and everybody was quiet like deadwood. Finally, we touched down at Banjul with lots of gratitude to God. My hosts treated me so nicely which compensated for my nasty flight. This visit opened me to the world of Mbalax music as promoted by the Senegalese artiste Youssou N’dour. I enjoy Mbalax music even now.
When my stay was over in the Senegal and The Gambia axis, it was time to return to Accra through Freetown by the same Slok airline. From hours of delay, we finally left for Accra. However, this time, the Slok airplane needed to stop at Monrovia in Liberia to drop off and take off passengers. It was another turbulent journey due to bad weather and noisy aircraft. Instantaneously the beautiful images of my previous air travels began to flash before me. It was raining heavily and I could see it from the window. The Slok air pilot tried to land the aircraft four times at Monrovia.
The second time he did it and failed, the passenger by my right, a middle aged woman, held my right hand and asked me my name. I told her and she held unto my hand like a magnet. Since I needed assurance as well, I refused to let go off her hand. At the third attempt, my creative spirit began to generate some fiction writing ideas deep in my subconscious level, so I freed my hand from the woman. I began to scribble down my quirky ideas. Every time during the last two occasions he attempted to land the plane, I penned down all the visions I had of what I was supposed to do with my life.
As we finally landed, it seemed it was a normal thing not to offer an apology or an explanation to the passengers. However, I began to hear passengers grunt about Nigerians dominating the sub region with their business interests. It was at this point that my spirit began to understand that though Nigerians are expanding their businesses through the sub region, they needed to do things the right way or else this business expansion wouldn’t last. For instance while in Freetown, I withdrew money from an ATM of a Nigerian bank; I ate Nigerian food at a Freetown restaurant owned by Nigerians; and in Banjul, I visited Nigeria businessmen who ran away from Kaduna town after the 2000 Sharia Riots. I felt happy and my spirit was uplifted that Nigerians were making an impact in the sub region.
I arrived Accra airport and joined Virgin Nigeria back to Lagos since Slok air was banned from Nigeria airspace. I arrived Lagos safely and went to stay at the Ikeja Airforce Base with my classmate and friend. I had stories to share with my host and we laughed over frightful stories concerning air travel. I returned to Kaduna after my tour feeling happy that I made some impact at least trying to know the countries in my sub region instead of travelling to Europe and America. During my subsequent visits to Lagos, I remember passengers clapping whenever the plane touched the runway.
As of 2008, we had recorded the crashes of Sosoliso, ADC, Bellview airlines. It shocked my flying spirit. I started to wonder whether to resume long travel by road or not travel at all. My spirit quickly reminded me of the deadly Ibadan-Lagos expressway. As long as I can remember, I never ceased to hear stories of dead bodies on that road with armed robbers, ritualists and mysterious happenings trailing road users. Nigeria’s corrupt spirit has never ministered to some influential government official to repair that road or keep these vampires and bloodsuckers off the road. Rather, the crimes keep widening every year with bad experiences on the road. I loved air travel from day one; not only as the safest means of travel in Nigeria but also as a way of avoiding terrible potholes and those criminals that rob on travelers to survive. Nowadays the list of criminals is getting complicated. There are also kidnappers added to the list. Terrorists are topping the list as new arrivals. Security of lives and property in Nigeria today is hard to find like looking for a postage stamp in the forest.
The Nigerian airlines need constant checks of their aircrafts to avoid occurrences of air mishaps. Nigeria has lost many souls through air crashes and this cannot be tolerated for too long. For Nigerians to enjoy air travel, they must be assured that when their willing spirits decide to travel by air, the aircrafts are properly checked or maintained. My spirit cannot be intimidated on the road by criminals and find no peace in the air. After all anything that has to do with air supposed to be safe and free from contamination. When the airspace is infiltrated by sick aircrafts, it increases the risk of losing loved ones to avoidable air mishaps and crashes.
In March this year, when I had opportunity to visit Kaduna from my base in the United States of America, I flew Dana air from Kaduna to Lagos after visiting my family and friends. My cousin persuaded me to fly it so that I never missed my outbound flight from Lagos.
This is what I wrote while I flew in that aircraft: Reasons why Nigerian airlines do not last. Top on my list was poor maintenance of aircraft. I had to use the Time Magazine in my hands to fan myself at 24,000ft above sea level. The aircraft cooling system was dysfunctional; children kept crying while the adults just kept quiet. Other reasons I hurriedly penned down were; poor public relations, unmotivated staff, government instability, political interference, issues of corruption and bureaucracy, death of owner of airline, air crashes and disasters, changes in bank policies and imprudent charity to family and friends. My reasons may not be the best of reasons but I envisioned them when my spirit was traumatized by an aircraft that shook the hell out me above 24,000ft.
The aviation industry does not do well with a history of unsolved crashes. The families of victims need to know what happened to their sons and daughters in the EAS, ADC, Sosoliso, Bellview, Dana, etc. crashes in Nigeria or the crash of Nigeria’s Allied cargo jet in Accra. Serious investigations can help the aviation industry learn new lessons for improvement. These victims, these flying spirits, deserve a better deal as their lives were abruptly terminated either due to negligence and carelessness or due to human error and faulty aircraft. The endless Ping-Pong blame game is on in Abuja. Unless somebody modifies the system, our flying spirits will face uncertainties when they fly and remember there is no parking in the sky.
*YAKUBU, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Zaria, Nigeria, is former Director Media Service Center Kaduna, now working in the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona USA.