The Federal Government’s recent intervention meant to fast-track the payment of claims to the families left behind by victims of Dana Airline’s June 3, 2012 plane crash in Iju, Lagos, is yet another reminder of the tragic air mishap that claimed the lives of 153 passengers and crew members and many others on ground. More than a year after the fatal incident, however, many of the families of the victims are yet to be compensated.
The Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, indicated last week that the airline had paid up to 60 percent of the claims, but that the delay being experienced by Dana Airline’s management in concluding the settlement was due to double claims that needed to be clarified. She said the airline had up to six months (between now and December this year) to complete the payment of compensation to all affected families or face sanctions. The aviation ministry had at the first anniversary of the tragic air mishap and unveiling of the memorial cenotaph built to immortalise the dead in Lagos early last month, announced that the FG was working with the airline’s management to ensure that all compensation disagreements were amicably resolved.
It is rather surprising that over a year after the said plane crash, families that lost their bread winners and loved ones are still on the queue waiting for their compensation to be paid, despite what seemed the airline’s sincere commitment to settling the bereaved families as quickly as possible. Dana Airline’s snailspeed in settling the claims had compelled some of the affected to petition the government in search of respite. Indeed, not long ago, the company’s management was accused of trying to justify its delay of the compensation payment with ridiculous excuses and smart attempts to expunge the names of certain families on grounds of passive or weak family affiliations. Worst hit were families of the ground victims of the crash, as well as those of victims who joined the ill-fated air plane with tickets repurchased from passengers who eventually could not make the trip.
It is a sad commentary that long after the unfortunate national disaster, the payment of compensation to the families of the victims is still being delayed because of so-called multiple claims, difficulties in ascertaining the next-of-kin and who should or should not collect what. While the cases of on-theground victims may be disputed to some extent if dubiously presented, those of the families of victims listed on the airline’s manifest, including those that joined the aircraft with third party tickets and crew members ought to have been sorted out by now. That just a little over half of the families of victims have so far gotten their compensation seems an indication that the delay may be as a result of other factors known only to the airline other than the problems of documentation and identification being flaunted by both the government and management of Dana. Should the problem be cash crunch, it is unacceptable that an airline of Dana’s repute could be in business without the requisite insurance cover against the unforeseen, as was the case on June 3 last year.
The gruelling experience and delay the families of the crash victims are now being made to pass through before being paid handouts that can never bring their dead back to life appear a vindication of the public outrage that greeted the FG’s approval of Dana Airline’s return to business shortly after the crash. Had the revocation of the license and grounding of the airline been sustained a bit longer, it probably would have been more committed to settling the affected families. However, December 2013 is not eternity.
The FG and other stakeholders should join hands in compelling Dana Airline to settle the compensation due the families of the victims of the last year air crash between now and the expiration of the six-month ultimatum the government gave the airline. And should the airline fail to meet the target, the FG should not dwell on rhetoric. It should move fast and decisively to compel compliance, even if it entails disrupting the operations of the airline.