By Abel Orukpe, Correspondent, Lagos
Like those that have suffered loses from air crashes in the country over the years, these indeed are harrowing times for ground victims of aviation mishaps in the country.
When such air accidents occur, the focus is often on how to compensate families and survivors of passengers aboard the airplane.
Those who think like this do not have to go far to fetch ready examples. There was the ill-fated plane operated by EAS Airlines’ BAC 1-11-500 with 105 people on board, which crashed and burst into flames in May 2002 in Kano. While 76 on board were killed, there were 72 ground victims, bringing the total to 148.
The other crash involving ground victims was the June 3, 2012 crash of Abuja-Lagos Dana Airlines Flight 9J 992 carrying 153 on board, all of who perished at a residential area of Iju-Ishaga, Lagos. There were about 10 ground victims, while many others suffered loss of property, including residential buildings and a warehouse.
In between both crashes however, there have been some others that did not record ground victims, such as the October 22, 2005 crash of Bellview Airlines’ Boeing 737 airliner with 117 people on board, which crashed and disintegrates in flames shortly after take-off from Lagos, killing all on board. This was followed nearly three months after by the December 10, 2005 crash of Sosoliso Airlines DC-9 in Port Harcourt, killing all 103 on board, mostly school children returning home for Christmas. In September the following year, an 18-seater Dornier 228 Air Force transport plane, carrying 15 senior army officers and three crew members crashed, leaving only three survivors that sustained serious injuries.
In Bellview’s case, it was clear that each of the families would receive $100,000 in line with the Montreal convention. Families of the Sosoliso were not as lucky, as the airline could not pay the compensation, reportedly, owing to allegations that there were irregularities in the insurance policy it. In other words, the victims lost out, because the aircraft was not properly insured.
Dana and ground victims
Meanwhile, whereas there was no much hoopla about the ground victims of the EAS crash, issues surrounding the Dana crash is one that would not go away in a hurry, judging by reactions since the June 3, 2012 accident, a pointer to the fact that it has opened another chapter in the history of air accident compensation.
At the last count, according to Dana Air’s Corporate Communications Manager, Mr. Toy Usidamen, “over 84 families have received advance payments of $30,000, and payment of final settlement to families who have produced the requisite Letters of Administration (and Letter of Guardianship in the case of minors) has since commenced”
Although, most the families of the passengers on board have been paid the initial $30, 000, while some have even collected the balance of $70,000 as the final payment, it is still seems a long way to go for the ground victims.
Only last week, Dana Airlines, through its spokesman, said it has commenced the payment of compensation to the ground victims, whose properties where destroyed in the crash.
According to him, “We can confirm that payment of compensation to affected Iju-Ishaga residents has commenced. The process is still on-going, and our insurers are committed to ensuring that all claimants are compensated to the extent of their losses.”
Usidamen did not however name the ground victims that have been paid and the amount involved, or how the airline arrived at the amount being paid. He did not also say if the victims were given a flat rate or it was based on certain criteria
However, ***Daily Independent** gathered, for example, that Daniel Omowunmi, a Pastor at Winners’ Chapel, Ota, Ogun State, one of the ground victims who claimed that he lost over $500 million, was one of those who received the $30,000 compensation.
Though, not much is known about the claims of other ground victims, our correspondent learnt that one of the ground victims is demanding N20 million for a one bedroom apartment, an amount one industry source considers outrageous.
But the biggest claim for compensation so far is the N500 million put forward by Omowunmi, who had earlier appealed to President Goodluck Jonathan, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State and the Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah to intervene in the matter. Specifically, the cleric is urging them to compel Dana Airlines to discharge its responsibility to him in accordance with the law.
Omowunmi lamented that eight months after the crash which destroyed his properties, the management of Dana Air have failed to discharge their responsibility. He insist that the figure was not conjured, going ahead to list the damaged properties as: a six-bedroom duplex, four-bedroom bungalow and two standard warehouses located at 8/10 Popoola Street, Iju-Ishaga.
The cleric explained that before the crash, he lived with his family in the six-bedroom duplex, using the warehouses for commercial purposes, and that his staff and office occupied the 4-bedroom bungalow.
Also destroyed according to him were his four fish ponds, which he claimed were fully stocked before the crash.
Speaking further, he lamented that following request by the management of the airline, on June 20, 2012, he forwarded a comprehensive letter of claim through his solicitor, Messrs Dele Adesina &Co. He said he was however shocked that since then no step had been taken to pay.
Omowunmi divided the claims into three categories, with the value of the property and items destroyed therein at N213.1 million, besides the fully stocked imported educational books worth at N250.5 million, and a large quantity of imported kitchen utensils up for sale at N40 million. Specifically, he said the warehouse had two container loads of books printed abroad, four others with cooking utensils belonging to his clients, and his jeep.
The clergyman, lamented that he has been squatting in the church ever since, adding that after receiving his letter of claim, there was a meeting he held with representatives of Dana Airlines. According to him, it was at that meeting, officials of Dana Air offered the sum of N500, 000, which was rejected.
In his words: “After the delivery of my letter of claim dated June 20, 2012, the representatives of Dana Airlines, Mr. A.B Anand got in touch with me on phone and requested for a meeting. The meeting was held at my solicitor’s office on the 28th June, 2012. It was at the meeting that Anand acknowledged the receipt of my solicitor’s letter while a follow up meeting was held on the 3rd July, 2012 in the presence of the General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu.”
In a bid to draw attention to his plight, the cleric in conjunction with some rights groups staged a peaceful protest to Dana’s office in Lagos, where they blocked the entrance to the office, while Dana staff peeped from their window.
However on Sunday, February 3, 2013, Dana through Usidamen said the airline has started paying compensation to ground victims.
Reacting to this, Omowunmi argued that the $30,000 that was given to him was not compensation but money meant for accommodation.
But Usidamen explained that it has taken this long to compensate the ground victims, “in order to ensure that just and fair compensation is paid to the affected families, several processes have be followed by law, and settlement reached by all parties concerned. These processes usually take time but our insurers are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that all the matters are resolved.”
Reacting also, aviation analyst, Mr. Olumide Ohunayo, wants Nigerians to appeal to the authorities to ask Dana Airlines to pay the ground victims compensation like it did to the families of those who were on board the ill-fated airplane.
According to him, “We just need to appeal to the authorities to implore Dana to settle all outstanding liabilities. For them it is limitless, therefore they really need a good lawyer to bargain on their behalf. I quite agree provisions have not been made for this category of People”
The industry, Ohunayo, said, need to begin to address this now, adding that life is life whether as a passenger on board or people on ground, adding that though it is a hard lesson, we must begin to make provisions for it.
“It is not a Nigerian thing, it must come from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). But we can in the interim start something” he added.
Speaking on the issue, the National President Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN), Comrade Benjamin Okewu, said, argued that when there is air accident, those on ground are treated like those on board the flight but that the only difference is that nature of damages on may be very huge compared to that on board.
“What I know in terms of compensation during air accidents, (is that) even the people on ground are treated like the people onboard the aircraft .However, there are situation where perhaps what is on ground might be more in nature, which you have to make your claims. Like where we have somebody claiming N500 million as the worth of his goods in the warehouse. The interpretation of such is that for you to have such amount of goods deposited in that warehouse there are several things that are involved. One, that warehouse of that company is supposed to be insured. Now, if your company is insured, the goods are insured, Dana’s aircraft is also insured against incidences and accidents .So it becomes an issue between two insurance companies and when that happens, the insurance company will have to verify those claims through various processes. So it is not as if you will just put your claims today and they play you.”
He also contended that the payment of insurance to ground victims becomes difficult when people who are affected are trying to use this as an opportunity to milk the airline, adding that situation, where somebody staying in one room is claiming N20 million and when there is no proof that there was cash in that house further makes compensation difficult.