RIGHTSView: Beyond Arik Staff’s Heist of Aviation Fuel

Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 21 February 2015 | 3,179 times

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Back then in the Catholic Senior Seminary nearly two decades now, a certain lecturer told us that, in Africa, wonders shall never end. With time, and following series of emerging experiences that seemed bizarre and out-of-this world that have occurred in Nigeria over multiple times, it is safe to assume that the saying will be reframed and rephrased this way: “In Nigeria, wonders shall never end.”

Let me prove to you that I am not blabbing. Was it not in this current dispensation of Nigerian politics that a sitting senator from Zamfara State and, indeed, former governor of that state jetted off to Egypt and brought with him a ‘human trophy’ back to Abuja, in the name of marriage. And, as events unfolded, it emerged that the ‘virgin’ imported into Nigeria from Egypt is the 13-year-old child-bride that this senator married; in no other place but Abuja, the Nigerian capital. Mind you, there is an extant legislation known as the Child Rights Act of 2003, passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by the President. This piece of law bans child marriage and imposed several grave judicial penalties, including time in prison, for any convicted paedophile in Nigeria. But the Nigerian state looked the other way while this senator went home with his child-bride, and heavens haven't fallen. The National Anti-Human Trafficking Agency (NAPTIP) connived with this powerful politician to subvert the law against child marriage.

A sample (of commitment to the law) is not far-fetched. In Britain, from where I am penning this piece, the killing of even a toddler by any way suspicious, including through avoidable vehicular accident, is viewed as a serious matter which would immediately task the state to commence rapid and comprehensive investigation, including coroner’s inquiry, to determine the remote and immediate causes of the death of that toddler. If any person is indicted of any criminal breach, such a person is appropriately charged with the speed of light. But what do you see in Nigeria, my homeland? One hundred worshippers perished in a certain church owned by an influential self-acclaimed prophet in Lagos. Several weeks and months after this unfortunate mass deaths caused by collapse of the church-owned hotel facilities suspected to have been built illegally; the judicial probe set up, belatedly, by Lagos State government is moving at an astonishing snail speed. The main character had the privilege of being visited by the President. But, sadly, majority of the casualties were foreign visitors who came in search of miracles.

Related: Well over 15,000 Nigerians have been massacred in the last three years by the dreaded Boko Haram armed Islamists fighting in the North-East of Nigeria. But not up to ten persons have been jailed for these dastardly and atrocious acts of terrorism and barbarity. It is not for want of political will on the side of the Federal Government alone; but even the civil society, community and religious-based organisations have conveniently gone to bed and are not making any deliberate effort to put the central and state governments under intense pressure, to institute strong and effective prosecution of those armed fighters arrested and accused of some of these range of mass killings. In no time, these arrested terrorists may be granted soft landing, if some of their sponsors manage to win the next elections.

With the above strange developments in mind, the recent disclosure by Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka, that the ministry has arrested three Arik Air staff for stealing fuel from an aircraft may just pass as one of those unusual happenings that have become the usual in Nigeria of the 21st Century. These culprits may, as well, be let off the hook, as the nation will not take time to reflect extensively on the larger implication of this type of heist, which on the long run has the diabolical capacity of causing air disasters, if it was not noticed. Mind you, Arik is the largest private airline in Nigeria and, indeed, one of the very few with a good safety record. So I ask: Has some rival airlines sent these moles on an assignment to derail this lofty safety record of this company?

Media reports stated that Mr Chidoka said, on his official Facebook page that the trio of Blessing Dugbe, Samuel Asuquo and Isaac Ajakaiye were arrested at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, during a security patrol operation on Sunday, at about around 3 am.

Mr. Chidoka said the trio were (caught) stealing Jet A1 fuel from Arik Air plane, with registration number: 5N-MID into six jerry cans, for sale at cheaper price to other unsuspecting airline operators: “A development that has capacity to threaten safety and security of airplanes.”

“Meanwhile, the three suspects were handed over to the Crime Investigation Bureau (CIB), AVSEC MMIA, for further action,” Chidoka said.

He said in the aviation industry’s fight against corruption and security breaches, other chief security officers and heads of aviation security have been alerted and directed to intensify patrol and surveillance operations at various airports. He added that considering the magnitude of the crime to security and safety of airplanes, the chief security officer of the Lagos Airport has been asked to ensure that the suspects are (eventually) handed over to the Airport Police for prosecution.

The preceding paragraph completely defeats the essence of crime fighting. Hand them over to the egunje-seeking Nigeria Police? I am told also that even some officers of the then dreaded Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have started collecting bribes and allowing suspects to have soft landing. I am told also that the prosecution team of this anti-graft agency engages in the pastime of demanding and obtaining huge brown envelopes from suspects, to enable them wriggle out of their legal quagmire. But for these concupiscence of the men and officers of the anti-corruption agencies, which includes the Independent Anti-Corruption Panel (ICPC), I would have suggested that the three economic saboteurs arrested for stealing aviation fuel should have been dragged to court by EFCC, to face charges of not only theft but also charges of economic sabotage. Nigeria, in the last three years, became a laughing stock in the aviation world, when our local planes started falling off the skylines due to poor standards and regulations by the regulatory bodies in the Nigerian aviation industry. Can you now see why these three thieving staffers of Arik should be dealt with decisively, if found guilty by competent courts of law? Many cases handled by the Nigeria Police have ended up in muddy waters. What of the murdered Miss Osokogu’s case and the case of the murdered four University of Port Harcourt students killed by villagers in Aluu, Ikwere, Rivers State? Nigeria Police have substantially become so compromised that a lot of Nigerians believe that the best way to muddle up a criminal case is to allow the police handle it.

The Minister of Finance, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, told an audience in a recent public social forum by a Roman Catholic think tank in Nigeria, that corruption will continue to thrive in Nigeria so long as the institutions to fight this menace are weak. Now I ask: Why is (the) Nigerian state unwilling to make these anti-graft institutions strong and effective? Who is afraid of an effective anti-corruption regime in Nigeria? Why is the Nigerian state and people of Nigeria not bothered about building strong policing institution? Why is everybody comfortable with this dysfunctional dysfunctionality called the Nigeria Police Force? Who is afraid of state and local police? I bet you that these three alleged thieves of the aviation fuel will be set free once they can bribe their way out. The minister who has made publicity with their case will be busy fighting to return to his juicy post, after election in the next few weeks, than to monitor the case closely.

Now, this is why I said this case will die a premature natural death. We were told that this is not the first time that Arik staff is accused of theft. Passengers have often lamented the loss of one item or the other aboard the airline’s flights, so wrote an influential Nigerian online newspaper.

In an exclusive report by the online paper, which also broke the story of the aviation fuel theft in June 2014, some passengers lamented how they lost items ranging from iPad, jewellery, clothes to perfumes.

A passenger interviewed for that report complained that the lock on her luggage was broken aboard a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Also, a popular Nigerian blogger, Japhet Omojuwa, once accused the airline’s flight attendants of stealing his iPad aboard one of its aircraft. That the staff of private airlines in Nigeria have graduated into stealing aviation fuel, which is capable of endangering aviation safety, is a threat to national security. Concerted action must be put in place to check this menace, and nip it in the bud. Those caught in such dastardly and sinister crime should be treated as economic saboteurs, and not just as petty thieves.

Nigerian people must stand up and shout to high heavens for these aviation fuel thieves to be taught a harsh lesson, because if they go scot-free and continue in this atrocity, lives of passengers would be jeopardised. A stitch in time saves nine.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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