by Sesan Olufowobi and Ihuoma Chiedozie, Abuja
Families of victims of last Sunday’s Dana flight 992 crash have rejected a Lagos State proposal to give the victims a joint burial.
The state had reportedly said that if the families agreed to a joint burial in a dedicated cemetery, the families would be allowed to exhume the corpses if they wished to identify them further.
One of the victims’ relative, John Akande, told our correspondent that the families rejected the option of a joint burial because of the stress it would bring.
“The process of exhuming the bodies could be tedious, which is why we rejected it. The government committee and our own committee will meet to sort things out so that we can all have the remains of our members on time,” Akande said.
Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, who addressed journalists after a four-hour meeting with the families on Sunday, said they (famlies) agreed to be patient, while government identified the victims before their release for burial.
He said, “The families agreed with the process we adopted. They agreed to wait while we identify the bodies.
“We subsequently set up a relationship team (committee) to be made up of people from government and some members of the families. The committee will coordinate information between government and families and manage the release of the bodies.”
The families would meet at the mortuary of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital on Monday (today).
Meanwhile, there are indications at the weekend that relatives of the crash in which all 153 on board perished were already talking to lawyers with a view to file charges against Dana airlines, operators of the Boeing MD-83, and national aviation agencies, including the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.
Investigation by The PUNCH at the weekend showed that relatives of the crash in which all 153 on board perished were already talking to lawyers with a view to filing charges against Dana Air, operators of the Boeing MD-83, and national aviation agencies, including the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.
“We have resolved to go to court to seek justice. Why will they operate a faulty aircraft? Why did the regulators allow that to happen?”a close relative of one of the victims who spoke to our correspondent in Abuja on Sunday said.
The source said the decision to go to court was taken at a meeting of the deceased’s family but that he was not authorised to speak to the media on the plan.
He said, “Now all we are hearing is that those who are responsible will not go unpunished, that is medicine after death. Will that bring our brother back to us?
“If the right thing was done, he and the other passengers, will still be alive today. The government can do whatever they wish to do but we are taking our grievances to court.
“We are not seeking compensation, we are not looking for money; how much will they pay for our brother’s life? We are seeking justice.
“We are yet to agree on that but even though it might be better to wait until the report comes out, some of us are concerned that it might take a long while before it is released,” he said.
Lawyers who spoke to our correspondent on the development noted that various reports on the plane crash indicated a high degree of negligence on the part of the airline and the aviation authorities.
The legal practitioners admitted that there were strong grounds on which the victims’ family members could sue the airline, as well as the aviation agencies.
An Abuja-based legal practitioner, Mr. Pius Ofulue, who spoke to our correspondent on the telephone, noted that Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio, reportedly complained to Dana Air officials about the condition of the aircraft.
Ofulue said, “The victims’ beneficiaries and relatives can sue Dana Air for negligence because, according to Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio, he drew their attention to the condition of the aircraft.
“If that is true then they (the management of Dana Air) contributed to that by failing to maintain the aircraft.
“If they are guilty, then they risk paying much more than the normal insurance benefits. The civil aviation authority can also be sued because they failed to perform their statutory duties.”
Another lawyer, Mr. Oghenovo O. Otemu, Assistant Head of Festus Keyamo Chambers, told our correspondent on the telephone that the victims’ relatives can approach lawyers to file cases on their behalf.
Otemu added that the affected families could either as a group or individually approach the court.
But Otemu added that it would be unethical for a lawyer to approach the families to advise them to go to court.
“It will be highly unethical for a lawyer to approach the families and tell them to file charges – that is touting, it is unethical.
He said the families can sue Dana Air and the concerned government aviation agencies for negligence.
Otemu said, “They can file (charges) for negligence. Although we have not seen the report (of the investigations into the plane crash) yet, from various accounts, there is a degree of negligence involved in the accident.
“So, Dana Air could be sued for negligence. It is not only Dana Air, even the government agencies, including the civil aviation authority can also be sued for that. There are also reports of negligence on their part.”
Meanwhile, the white paper committee on the Oronsaye report on the restructuring of government parastatals and agencies is beaming its searchlight on staffing and financing of the aviation industry.
Investigations by one of our correspondents in Abuja on Sunday showed that the committee decided to place emphasis on agencies in the aviation industry after the June 3 Dana crash.
The recommendations of the white paper committee are said to have the potential to promote efficiency among staff and eliminate accidents.
The Oronsaye committee, in its report, noted that the Accident Investigation Bureau, an autonomous unit in the Ministry of Aviation, has only 45 personnel.
The staffing of the accident bureau, our correspondent learnt, had raised concerns that the investigation into the Dana Air plane crash would not be different from past ones, whose results were not released.
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