“The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” ― Czesław Miłosz, The Issa Valley
Like every other day, she crossed my mind today and as usual I smiled despite the aching pain. The loss of a loved one is not an event but an indescribable journey of survival. I remember my sister, our daughter, grand-daughter, our friend, you name it! She was many things to many people. She would have been 36 years old on 25th December 2016. She was one of my hardest goodbyes as I wrongly assumed that I could easily deal with absolutely anything until the tragic news of the Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 Crash on 10th December 2005. There are no words to describe the trauma we all felt - from the crash site saga, the intensive care experience to the airlifting narrative to South Africa, where she eventually passed on as a result of the complications arising from the third-degree burns she suffered.
Dr. Priscillia Aligba and I had talked over the phone the night before the tragic plane crash, as she called to extend her felicitations upon earning my M.Sc. degree while sojourning in the United Kingdom at the time. It still feels very much painful just to imagine that that would be the last time we talked - a state of disillusionment one could never find words to express. To think that the Sosoliso Plane Crash was merely devastating will be a gross understatement. It rocked our world as most days seemed inexplicably hard but thankfully, God comforted my entire family on every side.
According to one of the only two survivors, it was about 20 minutes to landing that everything went wrong and bizarre on their way to Port Harcourt that fateful day. The passengers on board were thrown around viciously with indescribable confusion and torment. In time, the plane crashed and exploded. Very determined to stay alive but badly burnt by the fire, Dr. Priscillia Aligba struggled to jump out through an opening in one of the windows. Long story short, 104 passengers died as a result and the country immediately went into mourning. It was an overwhelming catastrophe that cast a shadow in the lives of everyone involved and the Nation as a whole.
On 14th December 2005 - just a few days after the tragic plane crash, my sister was pronounced dead at a hospital in South Africa, bringing the death toll to 114 costly lives lost. You bet the pain was deep. My entire family was shocked, broken and bewildered. Everything felt in pieces all around us at that time. We literally couldn't find tears. Against her will, Dr. Priscillia Aligba had departed this world in the most heart-breaking manner. It was agonizing as I tried to find the exact words of comfort needed to soothe the pain and that of my beloved family members - knowing that psychological support was paramount in the wake of the tragic news. It was indeed one of our hardest goodbyes. The news of the terrible plane crash was such a life-changing event that still triggers a mental flashback periodically. I doubt if the victims of the Sosoliso Plane Crash ever knew that that day would be their very last.
I can't even begin to imagine the inexpressible pain some others like Mrs. Grace Ilabor suffered. Her loss is too awful for words to describe knowing that her three children were also on board coming back from school in that tragic Sosoliso plane crash. May God richly comfort her and her entire household. That said, we remain eternally grateful to God, who comforts us with His mighty strength amidst the seemingly most undesirable circumstances of life. He can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest.
Life on earth is indeed short. Time is fast. No replay. No rewind. When all is said and done, what will matter most is the quality of legacy we imprinted while sojourning on earth. That's why I urge always that we judiciously engage for higher purposes the "precious time" we've been blessed with - making the "world around us" better than we found it. Not the "world of things" but the "world of people". That's the legacy we owe those who have departed this world on account of the failings of our faulty and reckless human systems. We must focus on being a part of the solution and not the problem.
Every now and then, I imagine in mind that if we had had a scenario where every person ranging from the aircraft crew to the emergency response team did their job efficiently, perhaps the story may have been different. Were there safety concerns that should have been taken cognizance of before the fatal plane crash? What about the routine maintenance of the aircraft and airport facilities? And even after the Sosoliso plane exploded, it's said that the response of the fire service and emergency response team was regrettably inadequate as there was no water in the airport's hydrants for the fire-fighters, who also did not have enough water in their fire engines. Nevertheless, we remember the pictures of those fire-fighters, the rescue squad, and many other decent citizens who stood by to provide as much help as they could - those who did their best to rescue Dr. Priscillia Aligba out of the grassland patches around the airport that fateful day. Nigerians owe these people a debt of gratitude for their efforts (even though 99.9% of the passengers didn't make it alive).
The tragic Sosoliso Plane Crash will clock 11 years in a few days, precisely on 10th December 2016. What is the outcome of the investigations into the air crash? How much has been done since then to improve passenger safety in the country and in Africa? In my opinion, it's still sketchy and meager. Recognizably, most deaths recorded in Nigeria are grossly gratuitous and a far cry from anything civilized. The frittering away of human lives is not only vile and unbearable but odd and horrendous. How do we understand something like this? Does it have to be this way? As global citizens that we are, if our response to these many whimsical global concerns is disproportionately poor, then the sustainability of our world, country and continent is greatly endangered. Thus, we must accept responsibility and do much more as individuals and as collective entities - to savage our families, our cities, our countries and our world. I would like to deeply emphasize at this point that nations are built by men and women with vision and resolve. Everyone of us will do well to put in their utmost best to rid our land of the many inept contributions that has become inimical to our existence as a people; and we must commit ourselves to doing this noble task conscientiously and efficiently too.
Gone are the days of unawareness when we thought the consequences of our decisions, policies and practices has no spiralling effect on others. They sure do. By implication, it's significant that we understand that we are a vital part of a whole - with designated responsibilities that impact on everyone in the human enterprise - taking cognizance that this world has become a very small place of increasing interconnectedness underpinned by globalization. It's against this backdrop that we cannot afford to repeatedly herald and promote the failures and absurdities of yesterday.
As I attempt to conclude this expressively difficult piece, words simply cannot really describe the shock and the revulsion we still feel over the heart-rending Sosoliso Plane Crash that took place that day. What a day it was! The lesson of that event is not only about the preventable cost of recklessness and the 'brevity of life', but, it’s a lesson about our need for each other - our vital connection to one another that consistently inspires everyone within the value-chain towards making society better than we found it. That feeling of 'community' that inherently and passionately predisposes us in facilitating helpful people-centred policies within a sound strategic framework - across the entire fabric of the human enterprise. Of course, as we advance as a Nation, mistakes are inevitable but they can be minimized. The sanctity of the human life must be indisputably given due priority and put on the 'front-burner' in all facets of our engagement as a people. We must make the mainstay the mainstay.
While I agree that there has been much progress on issues of aviation safety and security since the Sosoliso Plane Crash, with movement towards explosives screening for all checked baggage, the questions we need to ask, “Are we doing enough?” remains largely unanswered. Considering that the annual growth in air travel has grown, the lack of adequate infrastructure capacity – at airports and maybe, airspace too – are critical problems for the future of air transportation in Nigeria and across the African continent. In fact, passenger safety concerns must be looked into holistically and urgently too - whether Nigerians travel by air, on land or on water. Bottom line, we must do better by putting in place sound proactive modalities that will forestall such cataclysmic events like the Sosoliso Plane Crash. Never again should we ever experience such a fatal and needless plane crash! Never again!! Never!!!
May God help us continually live simply, act thoughtfully, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly and truthfully too, respect all citizens genuinely, serve faithfully and love God profusely. May God bless our Countrymen, women and children! May God bless the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and every Citizen who serves with grace for the purpose of making our country better than we found her.
All of our thoughts at this time are for Late Dr. Priscilia Aligba, the Victims of the Sosoliso Plane Crash and their Esteemed Families throughout our Country. I'm Christian Aligba and I look forward to a 'Greater Nigeria'. Thank you enormously for giving me your time. With esteem and appreciation.
Season's Greetings to You & Your Family!
Christian Aligba is the Founder & Co-Chair of C.A.L.F Africa, a non-profit organization that's keenly developing and recognizing the next generation of African leaders - helping to create a new narrative, a new normal, a new beginning. Better Leaders, Better Societies across Africa. Learn more@ www.calfafrica.org
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