SPEECH BY HIS EXCELLENCY, MR. BABATUNDE RAJI FASHOLA (SAN) GOVERNOR OF LAGOS STATE AT THE FIRST YEAR ANNIVERSARY AND UNVEILING OF THE MEMORIAL CENOTAPH FOR VICTIMS OF THE DANA AIR CRASH HELD AT POPOOLA/OLANIYI STREET, IJU-ISHAGA, LAGOS ON MONDAY JUNE 3, 2013.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, exactly one year ago, we were all crest fallen in this State.
We had experienced a tragic accident whose cause remains yet unknown.
But while the cause was at the time unknown, our collective tragedy was immediately unfolding.
Many nations and their nationalities from India, China, Germany, the United States and Nigeria were united by a common grief. The loss of their loved ones.
It was an accident that took place in Lagos. But its impact and reach were beyond our borders.
Men and women, Muslims and Christians, Hindus and atheists became joined by a common pain. It was a horrific day.
I remember that I had promised myself to rest a little that afternoon and prepare for a new week. Just like many of you, I remember where I was.
I had just settled on my sofa to watch the television when the news filtered in.
Initially, I was told it was a cargo plane in Ghana. As I sought to make further enquiries, my thoughts were racing.
The cargo was replaceable, how many crew were on board. I was in this reverie of a damage limitation calculation when my enquiry revealed that it was a passenger plane.
The unverified report changed. It was said to be an accident in Lagos.
By the time I reached to call our emergency management service, Mr. Oke Osanyantolu confirmed the worst.
He was already at the site. A passenger loaded plane had crashed and they were battling a massive crowd and a burning plane.
When day broke on that fateful Sunday the 3rd of June 2012, no one could have predicted what sad and painful thoughts would accompany us to bed that night. By nightfall, 157 (One Hundred and Fifty Seven) lives had been cut short.
A year may seem like a long time, but for the families and friends of the men women and children we lost, that day does not feel like history.
The memories of that day are probably as fresh as they are painful; particularly today when you are forced to confront the thoughts you may have pushed to the innermost recesses of your minds, just to enable you get from one day to the next.
What does one say at a time like this? What does one say when words will never be enough?
Many of us cannot even begin to imagine how great your suffering must have been this last one year.
We can only empathize with you, in the vain hope that our empathy will bring some relief. We can only utter words we know will never fill the voids but which we nonetheless pray will bring some comfort.
What I do know is that today, although our grief is deep and our sense of loss unquantifiable, our heads are not bowed.
We are not crest fallen. Your undying spirit to continue and your presence here today is a sign of monumental courage.
It is not courage without pain. No. It is courage defined by dignity and resolve to get on with life inspite of the pain.
I stand before you today, the representative of a Government and a State that shared your pain. A State whose lot it was to play host in the most unwelcome of situations a year ago today.
I stand before you today, united with you in remembrance of your loved ones and united in our collective desire to pay our respects to their memories.
I say I am united with you in remembrance because I will also never forget that day. This memorial holds true for me forever in a different way.
On that tragic day, the Okuchukwu family who did not fly also shared the pain. The owner of the site of this memorial had his own share.
But the story of that family I will share with you.
Electricity had a part to play. A mother and a father in a building close to this site were spending time with their 4 (four) children.
The mother was plaiting the hair of the youngest child, a girl. They did not have power. Suddenly, electricity came and the whole community knew.
Strangely their flat did not have power.
The father instructed the eldest child to get the local electrician to come and solve the problem so that they could iron their uniform in readiness for school on the next day, a Monday.
The boy took some time returning, so the father sent his younger brother to go and locate him.
In pure innocence, the third child, a girl, followed her brother.
As soon as they stepped out of the building, Dana Air flight 992 descended on their home.
They became lost in the massive crowd. The eldest was eleven, followed by the nine year old and the seven year old.
Their parents and youngest sibling were consumed by a flight they did not board.
God works in wondrous ways. I met them at the site on the 4th of June. Our paths have remained intertwined since then.
They are doing well. They have become a lifetime commitment for my wife and I to ensure that their promise is fulfilled.
Their origins are in Enugu State. But their home is Lagos. The home of all Nigerians, and this memorial will always remind us about how we met.
On that fateful Sunday morning, the men, women and children of the ill-fated Dana Air Flight 992 had journeyed more than 700km from Abuja to Lagos and were minutes away from arrival and reunion.
There are no words that can reliably convey the depth of our heartache.
Anything we say today will be an inadequate expression of what we truly carry in our hearts. The greatest and truest testimony will not be in our words but in our actions.
The loss of these 157 lives was sudden and terrible, and for their families, the grief is heavy. Lagos shares in your sorrow and pride.
And therefore today, we remember not only one moment of tragedy, but 157 lives of great promise and achievement.
157 (One Hundred and Fifty Three) were on the plane and 4 (four) were on the ground.
Apart from the Okuchukwu family, there were so many other stories.
Stories of great people, Nigerians and non-Nigerians that time will not permit me to fully narrate.
But I must share some of them with you in remembrance because they symbolize the spirit of men, women and children who were bound together in the common destiny of an ill-fated flight.
We remember Tosin Anibaba who loved her job and the life she was building with her husband and 2-year old daughter. She worked at the FATE foundation, an NGO that is dedicated to reducing unemployment. Those that knew Tosin said that she always wore a huge smile on her face.
We remember Dunni Doherty who was a bright and determined young woman. She had returned to Lagos after her studies in the UK and had taken up a job as a teacher at the Lagos Preparatory school. She was an inspiration not just to her students but to all her friends. This bright young lady will be missed by all those who knew her.
We remember Eke Chijokie, one of the crew members, who was not even supposed to be on the flight.
He was only on board because he was called in to relieve a sick colleague at the last minute. Being the dutiful employee he was, he responded immediately. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth and their two year old son.
Vivian Effiong was also a dedicated crew member. Her colleagues described her as a caring, selfless and lovable person. Vivian was just a month away from marrying her fiancé who lived in the United Kingdom. She is survived by her 16-year old daughter.
The story of the Anyene family is one that will live long in the memory. All of six of them perished in the crash. Maimuna the wife and mother of 4 beautiful children – Kamsiyonna (3), Kainetochi (2), Kaimarachi (2) and Kobichimee (five months), was a graduate of the University of Ibadan before she moved to the United States.
Her husband, Onyeka Anyene, was a successful lawyer with offices in both Abuja and Lagos. His young family had relocated to the United States and were only visiting Nigeria to attend a wedding.
Sisters, Josephine and Jennifer Oniita were also just visiting Nigeria for a friend’s wedding. Both girls grew up in Texas attending the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Jesus House where their parents were the founding members.
Theirs was a life dedicated to God’s work. Their parents and 2 siblings can take solace in the fact that their work here on earth is surely now being rewarded in heaven.
Rajulie and Ugabio Oyosoro were aged 15 and 12 respectively and were two siblings of exceptional promise. Such was their academic prowess that the school they were attending in Lagos fought to retain their talents when their mother relocated to Abuja. They had just come back from a trip to visit her when disaster struck.
Mrs. Oyowosoro we share in your pain and sorrow.
Sergeant Adejilola Abraham joined the Nigerian Air Force immediately after he completed his schooling. He was known as a courageous soldier and a doting father. He was returning to work after attending the christening ceremony of his second child.
Anjola Fatokun was a high flying lawyer who had recently been transferred to Abuja by the communications firm she worked for. She had been married for four years and is survived by her husband and two children.
Alvana Ojukwu, was another lawyer of immense promise. She had been admitted to further her education at Oxford University in September last year. A devout Christian, Alvana was able to send out a text to her brother which read thus:
“Take Strength In The Lord. A Few Minutes From Now I Will Be Going To Meet The Lord”
Each of those we come to eulogise had their own unique story, their unique purpose in life that was cut short far too soon.
As we remember the victims, we must deeply reach out to their survivors and salute their tenacity and courage.
I remember Dr. Ayene. He had the biggest personal loss. But in my meetings with the bereaved relatives, he showed a courage and strength that I have never experienced.
He seemingly forgot about his own personal loss and joined me in consoling and calming others as if his own loss did not matter.
I remembered Chizoba Majekwe, the head of HR in CBN who had come to the meeting because she was herself bereaved and her colleagues in the Bank were also victims.
She told the story of how she herself lost her mother in a horrific road crash in which everybody was burnt beyond recognition.
She helped in giving strength to bereaved relatives as they gave us their authority to undergo a long process of victim identification that was later to prove definitive in the positive identification of 148 bodies, that were subsequently released to their families for burial.
I remember all our first responders from LASEMA, Lagos Fire Service, the Police, FEMA, Ministry of Health, our Chief Pathologist, and Vice Chancellor of LASU, Prof. Obafunwa and his colleagues from other Universities who performed all the autopsies.
To you all I say thank you.
To all our spiritual leaders, who rose to join our efforts in consoling the bereaved, the depth of my gratitude to all of you is immeasurable.
I will also like to thank the Honourable Minister for Aviation, members of the National Assembly, our President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, all of who visited to empathize with us.
To all family members who lost loved ones, we promised a year ago that we would fittingly honour all of them and today we move one small step closer towards immortalising their memories.
In as much as it is a tragedy that brings us together here, the real tragedy to befall us would be to forget what happened. We must never forget. We can never forget.
This cenotaph which we are unveiling here today will ensure that their memories never die.
This monument will stand as a permanent memorial to these family men, women and children; and we will cherish each of their stories – stories of potential and of fulfilment, stories of true heroes.
And yet, even in the midst of tragedy there are always flickers of optimism – of hope.
I still talk with pride about how, in the face of adversity, Lagosians worked together towards a common purpose.
I cannot begin to even name some of the people who joined in local rescue efforts because they went about their tasks diligently and anonymously.
None of them ever asked this government for any reward. None of them asked for any special recognition. A sense of duty and goodwill to their fellow men was their only motivation.
To all those faceless heroes who contributed to the relief effort, we also commend you here today.
We are a government that constantly seeks to improve its performance. And even though we cannot predict disaster, we can certainly prepare for it.
A year ago, we managed a difficult situation as best as we could but necessity always being our mother of invention, the loss of so many lives has further compelled us to examine and re-examine the way we react to disasters.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the obligation to save lives and protect property imposes a greater duty; and it is one which I make a solemn pledge to you today, that the Lagos State Government will discharge.
That duty is to re-dedicate ourselves to the quest to make our State more responsive to accidents.
As a Government we have learnt some painful lessons and we have grown from them.
We have now improved our response capacity, trained and continue to re-train our first responders, develop response protocols and acquired necessary equipment.
We convened a Disaster and Emergency Management Summit for all the States in the South West, at which we shared our experience and information.
The entire incident is properly documented for posterity, with copies in the Attorney General’s office and the Governor’s office, with details of what we did well and what we could have done better to avoid our past mistakes.
God forbid it, if such a disaster should recur, we are much better prepared to respond.
But it will not be enough to hope that this kind of disasters will not happen.
It will be more important for all who have authority and responsibility to act with a preventive purpose to ensure that it does not happen.
The watchword for decision making must be safety and not profit.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the world will hardly remember what we say or do here today but as long as this memorial stands, here on this sit; it will be an enduring legacy to lives cut short in their prime.
I know that it will take a while for the tragic memories of your great losses to heal, but you must carry on, not just because you have to carry on but because your loved ones would want and expect you to.
I could find no better words to close than those of Terence Rattigan, the British playwright –
“I will not insult you by trying to tell you that one day you will forget. I know as well as you that you will not. But, at least, in time you will not remember as fiercely as you do now – and I pray that that time may be soon.”
May God bless the memories of those we lost and continue to comfort those they left behind.
God bless you all.
Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN
Governor of Lagos State
3rd of June, 2013.