Families of Dana air crash victims light candles during the third year remembrance event at the crash site in Iju, Lagos...on Wednesday
| credits: Kunle Falayi
June 3, 2012, a day that would ring in the memories of Nigerians as a black day, may be a mere date for many, but for families of the victims of the Dana Airline Flight 992, it is a date that symbolises the journey of a dark period of their lives.
On Wednesday, June 3, the third year anniversary of the crash, few of the families of the victims – fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters and siblings – gathered at Iju area of Lagos, the crash site on which now stands a monument engraved with the names of the 163 individuals who perished in the disaster.
Sitting atop a second monument in the memorial compound is a symbol of the agony of the families who gathered around it on Wednesday – a plane sculpture in Dana Airline colours breaking up mid-air.
Garbed in white dresses, which they said symbolised the memory they held of their loved ones, some of the families gave a narration of the journey of the last three years.
There is no doubt that the last three years have been tough for the families.
Our correspondent spoke with the spouses of some of the victims about the journey so far and what has been the toughest part of the last 1095 days.
‘I imagine what my daughter could have become’
Mr. Obaola Kolawole, who lost his 35-year-old wife, Fortune, and seven-month-old daughter, Enibioluwa, toldSaturday PUNCH that loneliness was the hardest part of the last three years.
Married for only two years and few months, Kolawole said he lost a confidant, someone he could play with and have petty fights with.
He said, “Thank God for Christ for the grace that has brought me this far,” he said. When he began to speak about his seven-month-old daughter, the tone of his voice changed.
“Who knows what she would have grown up to be? She probably would have grown up to become an agent of change. There is nothing we can do about the will of God. But it is more painful when a tragedy comes as a result of human error.
“She was the only child we had and just like that, she and her mother were taken from me. Sometimes, when I think about them, I lock myself in the toilet just to regain my senses.”
Kolawole explained that his late wife’s family, friends and family members have been very helpful through the journey of the last three years.
‘My children asking for a mother’
For Mr. Femi Ariyibi, whose 36-year-old wife also perished in the crash, leaving him with two children, the flashpoint of pain comes when his two children tell him, “we need a mummy.”
“Even though they understand that mummy has gone to be with Jesus and would not be coming back, they are beginning to feel the vacuum of a mother figure in their lives and that worries me. It pushes one to want to give them someone like a mother. My children were four and six years oldat the time of the crash.
“The vacuum left by my wife makes her death really hard because we knew each other when we were both in Part One in the university. She was my best friend and we talked till late every day and that is something I miss very much.”
Ariyibi said when the time is right, he would consider remarrying in order to give his children the mother figure they crave.
‘How I heard about my husband’s death’
The old wounds of these families have not healed but through the years, they said they have gradually found help through family and friends in coping with their grief.
The discussion with Mrs. Omobola Olokor, who lost her husband of 19 years, took her back to a period she said she did not want to remember. But reluctantly, she told our correspondent of the moment, three years ago, when she heard the news about the crash in which her 52-year-old husband died.
“I was waiting to pick him up at the airport,” she told Saturday PUNCH. “After a while, I had to go to a café at the airport to have a drink. Because of the boredom, I just decided to listen to the news. As soon as I did that, the breaking news came on that a Dana plane had crashed,” Olokor said.
She told our correspondent she raced to the airport barefoot in panic, only to confirm that it was indeed the plane her husband was on that crashed.
“I think about him all the time. Everything has been really hard in the last three years. It has been tough living without him. But God has been faithful.”
The memorial ceremony on Wednesday was short and unelaborate. But a few family members sobbed as 31-year-old Kike Awodogan, narrated what it means to be a widow at 28. She lost her US-based husband, Sanmi, in the crash. Their only son is now four years old.
According to the families of the victims, the gathering was an opportunity for them to set an agenda for air safety in the country.
There was mild drama after the programme when the relations announced that some government officials like former Governor Babatunde Fashola, Prof. John Obafunwa (Chief Coroner of Lagos and Vice Chancellor of the Lagos State University) and some others should be given plaques in appreciation of their efforts. But a relation of one of the victims stood up in objection.
“I totally reject giving Prof. Obafunwa any plaque because we saw the intact body of our relation on a table at the morgue and begged him to release it to us. He did not until the body decomposed there. The body we were later given was unimaginable,” he said.
Awodogan raised questions, regarding the safety of the country’s airspace since the disaster.
“I have not been able to board a local flight since the incident and I don’t think that would happen anytime soon. How safe is our airspace right now? Things may happen beyond one’s control but the negligence is what we would not accept. The fact that government allows the airline (Dana) to resume flights shortly after even rubbed the tragedy in our face the more,” she said.
After the memorial programme, the families of the victim proceeded to the cenotaph at the centre of the site and lit candles in memory of their loved ones.
Meanwhile, ground victims of the crash – those who lost loved ones and property – were also present to express their disappointment at the way the government had handled their case since the last three years.
Mr. Frederick Akingbe, a pastor, who lost car and part of his building to the crash, said the government had not cared about them enough to compel Dana Airline to ensure the payment of compensation.
“We have not heard anything from our lawyer. The case first went to court last year and we have not heard anything from our lawyer. He has told us nothing since then,” he said.
Mr. Sunday Abuiyere lost his mother, Mariam, to the crash.
He said, “She was a trader and had stores where she sold foodstuffs close to the crash site. She was in the house when the plane crashed on the house.
“Today is a day of sorrow for our family. But it is sad that the government did not really care about us. We hope that with the change in government, our case would be reviewed.”
Crash victim paralysed, bedridden
But while some of the ground victims who lost only properties have something to be thankful for, 61-year-old Mrs. Grace Adekunle, has been bedridden for several months, as her health worsened over her loss.
“This house was the only property my husband left for me when he died,” she said. “When the plane crashed, it destroyed most parts of the building and I had to spend every kobo I had on repairing the house so that I would not become homeless.
“My health worsened for lack of money after that and I have not been able to walk for many months now,” she said. Our correspondent spoke with Adekunle as she sat up on her bed.
Like other ground victims, Mr. Akinjesu Adekunle, a pastor and Alhaja Ramota Sowetan, are thankful that none of the members of their families died during the crash, which destroyed parts of their houses. But they said it is sad that three years down the line, no compensation had come their way.