The Senate on Tuesday summoned the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, to brief it at plenary on the state of the aviation sector and to explain the high number of air crashes.
The invitation is sequel to a motion brought on Tuesday by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Sen. Hope Uzodinma, on the Oct.3 crash involving the Associated Airlines in Lagos.
The minister is expected appear before the Plenary in response to the invitation extended to her on Oct. 22.
Also to appear before the upper chamber of the national assembly are the Chief Executive Officers of aviation agencies such as the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), and Nigeria Airspace Management Authority (NAMA).
The Senate condemned the increasing number of plane crashes in the country and the inability of relevant agencies to unearth the causes of the incidents.
Sen. Uzodinma, who said that Nigeria had experienced seven air mishaps and two averted crashes within the last two and a half years, attributed the development to the failure of the aviation system.
The aviation minister has faced called for her to resign following the most recent crash in Lagos where 13 people died but she defended her records in the ministry on Monday by insisting Nigeria’s airspace remained one of the safest in the world.
The minister, who has been accused of focusing on beautification of airports across the country at the expense of enforcement of safety regulations, however, said air crashed were inevitable.
“The resurgence of plane crashes in the country since 2011 is suggestive of a deep seated system problem that must be unravelled and resolved in order to avert further loss of lives,” Sen. Uzodinma said during Tuesday’s sitting.
Also speaking during the debate, Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP-Abia), observed that the lack of effective enforcement of regulation was also the bane of the aviation industry.
He suggested that the Senate should embark on an in depth investigation of the problem of systemic failure inherent in the aviation sector.
“There is a systemic problem bordering on the manner the regulators are doing their job. We need to ensure that our investigation goes beyond the surface dressing,” he said.
On his part, Sen. George Sekibo (PDP- Rivers) suggested that technical experts should be contracted to assist the Senate to certify the airworthiness of aircraft operating in Nigeria.
“The aviation committee has more work to do than the entire Senate. We need to support it (committee) by engaging technical experts to certify the status of all aircraft operating within our aviation industry,” he said.
In his contribution, Sen. Barnabas Gemade (PDP- Benue), decried the faulty system, which he observed, allowed professionals in the regulatory agencies to go unpunished for negligence.
“Today, nobody pays attention to negligence. We need to do something about professionals in the regulatory agencies who earn promotions sitting in the office while their inexperienced subordinates are out in the field,” he said.
Sen. Bukola Saraki (PDP-Kwara) urged the Senate to persuade government to implement reports of all previous air crashes and ensure that those found wanting were sanctioned appropriately.
“All the reports of previous investigations must be implemented. Until people are held responsible and accountable for their negligence, nothing is going to change,” the former Kwara State governor said.
Sen. Oluremi Tinubu (APC-Lagos) advised the aviation authorities to desist from politicising the loss of lives as a result of recurrent incidents of plane crashes in the country.
“Senate committee on aviation should look at the entire sector. We should stop playing politics with the lives of others,“ she advised.
Also speaking, Sen. Smart Adeyemi (PDP-Kogi), told the Senators that his personal findings showed that the Associated Airlines crash was caused by corruption.
Adeyemi said the aircraft was supposed to be on test flight from Lagos to Akure but that some persons allowed passengers to board in the bid to make quick money.
He questioned the competence of persons saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the operations of the aviation industry in Nigeria and urged the Senate to unravel the ownership of Associated Airlines.
“I gathered that the plane was meant to fly to Akure on test flight and only engineers were supposed to be aboard but someone wanted to make fast money and carried passengers,” he alleged.
Adeyemi also said: “It appears those at the helm of affairs at the aviation ministry are not professionally grounded in the technical aspects of the aviation industry.
“The Senate would do the nation a great deal by looking at the owners of the ill-fated aircraft because the aviation regulators know airlines that cut corners,” he added.
The Deputy Senate President, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, said the problem facing the aviation sector was the non-observation of safety standards and failure of regulators to enforce same.
Ekweremadu challenged the aviation committee to take all necessary actions to ensure that aviation regulations were effectively enforced irrespective of persons involved.
The Deputy Senate President said: “The regulations and standards are the same all over the world, but the problem here has to do with those who enforce the regulations.
“We must stand up as Senate and National Assembly to ensure that those who are supposed to enforce these standards do them without fear or favour.
“That is why it is important to call on our committee to intensify action to ensure that every regulation is enforced no matter who is involved.”
The Senate subsequently observed one-minute silence in honour of the victims of the air crash.
Meanwhile, the Senate on Tuesday suspended plenary to enable its committees complete work on all pending reports.