Nigeria is probably the only country in the whole world where you would catch a thief and he would take you to court. I remember, in 2002, when the then President Olusegun Obasanjo took me to court over a piece I wrote in the Daily Trust in which I insinuated that his son Gbenga, like Mohammed, the late General Sani Abachaís son, was engaged in several government businesses and that if Obasanjo was going to keep Mohammed in detention, then it would only be a matter of time before Gbenga got his own prison experience too. The then president told his lawyer to take me to court, even though he claimed it was Gbenga who did. Of course, we knew it was not Gbenga. But by the time Obasanjo ended his eight-year tenure, not only Gbenga but also some other Obasanjoís children had been involved in large-scale government contracts and businesses, especially at the NNPC. In fact, Seun, one of the children, was not only a part owner of an oil block -- of course allocated by his father -- but was one of the most favoured businessmen at the NNPC and (wait for it) chairman of the government sub-committee on the review of contracts of the National Identity Card project. Seun Obasanjo is the chairman of Obasanjo Holdings Limited.
Chanchangi Airlines Limited has not taken me to court yet over my column last Monday entitled "Who Will Knock Chanchangi To Order?" but I wish they did. The response of a certain Ibrahim Adamu, who addressed himself as the "media assistant to Chanchangi Airlines" simply showed the stuff the airline is made of. When General Buba Marwa, the chairman of Albarka Airlines, declared two years ago that Nigerian airline owners "cut corners" to remain in business, I didnít realise that some of them also engage in foolish and cheap lies to remain in business. But I should have known. That is probably why ADC was involved in four air crashes in 10 years, killing most of their loyal customers.
Those who read me know that I usually do not respond to rejoinders to my column. I set my agenda and I focus on them. I do not get distracted, especially when I know the motives of most rejoinders. That is why I have never responded to most of the rubbish about my person, especially on LeadershipNigeria.Com by people who do not know the first thing about me. But after reading Adamuís response to my last Mondayís piece on Chanchangi, I knew I had to quickly break my own rules even if to save the few remaining customers of the airline who might be taken in by the twaddle.
I donít know what nonsense Ibrahim Adamu is talking about when all the passengers who survived their near crashes are still alive in our midst and have been giving accounts of their ordeal. Or does Chanchangi pay him to lie to the public on their behalf? As the late beloved Senator Sule Yari Gandi, who himself was a victim of the slipshod attitude of another irresponsible airline, would have said, Adamuís insensitive and utterly insensate piece in some newspapers last week was like "selling cocaine in the open market". What an outrage!
Is Chanchangi really saying that car headlights were not used to illuminate the old Kaduna Airport runways on October 17 when it was dark as Adamu asserted in his rejoinder? Indeed, it will be important to know whether this Adamu speaks on behalf of Chanchangi, or simply for himself. If he speaks for Chanchangi and he is denying an incident that happened with more than 50 souls on board, then I wonder what Chanchangi cannot lie about. I know that lies have been elevated to an art in Nigeria by our leaders, but there are some lies that are simply too foolish to tell.
Adamu also said the airline he works for "does not board or release its aircraft with passengers on board to a destination late beyond schedule". Is he talking about the Chanchangi we all know or is he referring to another Chanchangi in outer space? Most Kaduna residents know that Chanchangi is never on time. That is why most of them who need to fly frequently travel to Abuja to do so. Chanchangi is never on time and they never apologise for that. The old Kaduna Airport, which is the one Chanchangi currently uses, does not accept aircraft landing at night. The Nigeria Air Force manages the airport and the airport is shut after 6pm. That is because even though some of the runway lights are working, all of the taxi lights are dead and not serviceable. Chanchangi used the headlights of cars to light the runway to enable them taxi on that fateful day. That was even more ingenious than what the pilot did two days earlier when he simply slammed the aircraft on the tarmac in darkness. For any aircraft to land after 6pm, it must get permission from the airport authorities. Chanchangi didnít get this permission on the days in question until the airport authorities warned them.
Adamu said I lied in my article, even though the passengers in their aircraft on about four occasions when mishaps were averted are still alive. And, perhaps, every other newspaper that reported the near disasters also lied against Chanchangi. Apart from LEADERSHIP, ThisDay of October 13 also reported that "Boeing 727 owned by Chanchangi Airlines yesterday was in flames as it landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja". According to the newspaper, the airlineís spokesperson Olu Balogun explained that "the fire was first noticed in the cockpit, and not in the engine as believed". So what the hell is Adamu defending? Is it normal to have fire outbreaks in the cockpit? When did the cockpit of an aircraft become a kitchen where you play with fire? In another folly, in defending the allegation that the airlineís crew forgot to shut the cargo hold door of one of their planes, Adamu said it was not true that they forgot to shut the door but that the "pilot noticed a false alarm, a red light on the dash board". Is Adamu really serious? Should we clap for him and his airline that "it was just a false alarm"? In fact, what kind of argument is this? Today, it is fire in the cockpit; tomorrow it is a false alarm on the dashboard; the day after it is a loud bang on landing. Please someone should force the management of Chanchangi to put all their aircraft in order. They must be forced to stop endangering the lives of innocent people before it is too late. Is it their detractors (of which Adamu accused me of being an agent) that set their cockpit on fire? Or is it their detractors that insisted that they should land at the old Kaduna Airport with the aid of light from car headlights? In fact, in the ThisDay of the same day, it was reported that, on a different day, another Chanchangi aircraft on its way to Kaduna from Lagos returned to base because one of its three engines broke down 20 minutes after take-off. "One of the blades of the engine reportedly fell off," the newspaper said. Maybe ThisDay is also one of Chanchangiís numerous detractors, according to Adamuís illiterate logic.
Still on the ThisDay report: the newspaper went on to say that a similar decision to return another Chanchangiís aircraft to base nearly caused a brawl between Chanchangiís crew and two passengers on a flight to Lagos from Abuja. I thought this was the kind of comedy we see only in "molue buses" in Lagos . This was the aircraft in which the cargo hold door was left open and had to return to base. A passenger in the aircraft said there was a loud bang when the plane eventually landed as the cargo door hit the tarmac. This passenger must be another rabid detractor of Chanchangi.
The aviation authorities should urgently wade into this Chanchangi tragicomedy before it is too late. If an airline which should be apologising to its passengers for causing so much anxiety and trepidation can rub insult upon injury by lying, then only God knows what other lies they are telling about the state of their equipment.
My suspicion is that Alhaji Ahmadu Chanchangi, the aggressive and hugely successful businessman we all know, does not have all the facts. That is why a hireling like Ibrahim Adamu can pay newspapers to advertise very unintelligent lies that can easily be verified. When Chanchangi Airlines started off about 10 years ago, we all were proud of it and it was the only aircraft many of us patronised. Today, that same airline has become the bete-noire of all air travellers in Nigeria . Our admiration has given way to fear of what (God forbid) could be the logical consequence of the airlineís current attitude to a very serious business. If the airline wants its credibility back, the first place to start is by sacking cranks like Ibrahim Adamu. A company is only as good as the people it employs.
E A R S H O T
And may God also help us to pick lessons from their avoidable and untimely deaths