The Fallout from the Lagos Plane Crash: The $25m question for the NCAA’s Harold Demuren and his Son

In the aftermath of the Nigerian air disaster, Sardonicus looks at the crises in Nigerian aviation. Poor regulation, corruption, nepotism and a general failure of the system could all have been contributing factors to the tragedy. This article looks in particular at the endemic corruption and nepotism within the aviation authorities.

To provide a pretext for this article here is a brief excerpt from a recent article in the New York Times on flying in Nigeria:

A plane for a major Nigerian carrier was approaching Lagos at the end of a recent all-night international flight. The city came into view – the warren of streets near the airport was below – and the plane seemed to be descending. Suddenly the view changed.

“The plane was flying over fields and swamps. The city receded into the distance. Yet the weather was perfect. The plane was no longer, it seemed, approaching Lagos. After a few minutes, the captain’s voice came over the intercom: “Ah, distinguished ladies and gentlemen” – this is how Nigerian pilots address passengers – “I’m sorry, but I’ve missed my landing. I’m going to have to try again.”

The plane became very quiet. The flight attendants were frozen in their seats, their faces immobile. After 10 minutes, the pilot tried again, and the plane landed without incident.

On a recent domestic flight – again involving a major carrier – the small jet hit heavy turbulence. It went on and on, the plane bouncing up and down, minutes turning into a quarter-hour and a half-hour.

The pilot’s voice came over the intercom – but not to give information about the flight. To sing. In a cracked and wheezy baritone, the (evidently) aged pilot began to intone an improvised ditty in praise of his own carrier: “Oh, I love to fly Air Nigeria! Air Nigeria is the best!”

The plane bounced up and down, and the captain sang.

Eventually the jet landed at its provincial destination. The passengers, almost all Nigerians, disembarked, impassive and silent. They appeared to be used to these ordinary experiences that edge near – uncomfortably close – to the extraordinary.

By Sardonicus, 14th June, 2012.

As the world’s attention is once again drawn to the grisly saga of a major aviation disaster in Nigeria, questions are rightly asked as to the causes behind the Dana Air Crash in Lagos on Sunday 3rd June, 2012. Dana Air reported there were 146 passengers aboard the doomed Abuja to Lagos flight 992, with 1 flight engineer, 2 pilots and 4 cabin crew. With 153 confirmed fatalities the crash is the worst in the world this year and Nigeria’s 3rd worst in history. However, we are not likely to know the true figure as the number of people killed on the ground is hard to establish. The final tally is likely to surpass Nigeria’s worst accident which occurred at Kano in 1973, with 176 fatalities.

What is the cause of the crisis of airworthiness in Nigerian aviation? Is it a failure of regulation? Corruption in the inspection regime? Management pressure on the pilots? Nepotism? One or all of the above? Until the full investigation is completed and the results published we will not know the answers.

What can be ruled out at this stage as the sole cause of the crash is the plane’s age. The Dana Air Boeing MD-83 was built in 1990 and first operated by Alaska Airlines. Even respected airlines like SAS Scandinavian operate 26 MD-80 planes with an average age of 23 years. Provided the Dana plane was receiving its proper maintenance age should not be a factor as widely believed in Nigeria.

Nigerians have witnessed their president weeping at the site of the crash. This will not provide any answers.The arm of the Nigerian government vested with oversight and investigation of the sector is the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) whose head, whom the Nigerian Senate has called for his suspension, is the the Director General Dr Harold Olusegun Demuren.

However, pertinent questions remain about how the NCAA was run under Dr Demuren and whether he used his position to promote his son’s business. Did these outside business interests detract the Director General from supervising airlines? Did it affect the safety culture in the industry?

Sixty-seven year old Dr Harold Demuren has been in this position since December 29, 2005. Answers need to given as to whether he has turned his role as the the NCAA DG into a sinecure to award his son, also named Segun Demuren, a private hanger at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport Lagos. Segun Demuren is 1998 Bachelor of Science graduate in Information Systems from Marist College, Poughkeepsie New York.

Prior to his father’s appointment, Segun had no known track record or experience in the aviation industry. In part through approvals granted by his father, Segun junior’s Evergreen Apple Nigeria (EAN) Ltd has managed to secure an investment of $25 million to open its Fixed Based Operator (FBO) and associated hanger jet business at Murtala Mohammed Airport International, Ikeja Lagos.

EAN was incorporated in January 2009 and commenced operations in July 2011 to service private jets in Nigeria. Since his appointment as the Managing Director of EAN Ltd, Segun Demuren’s only know industry specific qualification is attending the IATA Advanced Management Program, Air Transport in Nanyang Technical University. However this was obtained in 2011-2012 when the business was already running and had secured funding.

EAN’s european partner, Maintenance Centre Malta, also received approval from the Harold Demuren led NCAA to be an Approved Maintenance Organisation (AMO) for Nigerian registered aircraft in Malta.

The question is simple. Should Nigerian regulators be allowed to use their positions to facilitate business dealings of their immediate family members?

Does Dr Demuren have any direct financial stake in Evergreen Apple Nigeria Ltd? Is there not a clear conflict of interest of a regulator giving approval for his son to open a hangar at Nigeria’s main airport, in the industry which he oversees? How did EAN Ltd manage to source funds for its operations with no prior track record? What, if any, collateral was offered to banks to secure borrowings?

Nigerians need answers to these questions. At the core is this question: is it right for a government official to use his position to secure benefits amounting to $25 million for his son’s business? Never can Nigeria allow the lines between government oversight and private gain be blurred again, especially in such a safety critical industry.

This article was originally published on Sardonicus’ website, ‘All Things Nigerian

Addendum: Yesterday Nigeria’s second largest airline was ordered to ground all of their planes immediately for checks.  Their planes have been described by the aviation authorities as ‘flying coffins’.  Despite being banned from flying, Air Nigeria denies that their planes there are safety concerns and have continued to fly.  Some pilots have refused to to board the planes due to the danger.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s