On March 10, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed broke the news of the fatal crash of a Nairobi bound Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 passenger aircraft. Using his official Twitter handle, the Prime Minister sent a brief message of condolence to the families of those who had lost loved ones in the accident, which occurred about six minutes after takeoff when the aircraft crashed near Bishoftu, on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.
On sensing what had been reported as flight control difficulties and immediately relaying the same to air traffic controllers, the aircraft’s pilot was given the greenlight to fly back to Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport, from where the flight originated. It was at this point that the aircraft went off the radar, with no one having any information on its whereabouts.
Before the Prime Minister’s nerve-wrecking Tweet, flight details streaming on screens at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport indicated the flight had been cancelled, leaving friends and family waiting to receive their loved ones hopeful but in limbo.
For a moment, that Tweet remained the single source of information, with no further details coming from either Ethiopian Airlines or any other reliable source. Total confusion reigned as those with family and friends on the flight wondered whether there were any survivors, that is before the heart-rending news broke that no one had made it out alive. 149 passengers and 8 crew members had died in the crash, whose exact cause remains a mystery seeing that the aircraft was less than a year old and recent inspections had revealed no technical glitches.
Following the accident, coming after an aircraft of similar make crashed in Indonesia under a year ago, killing all 189 passengers aboard, authorities in a growing number of countries in Africa and overseas have since issued decrees restricting this particular model of aircraft from accessing their airspaces, until further notice. Ethiopian Airlines themselves, who owned three similar aircrafts in their fleet, led the way by grounding them, pending further investigations.
After facts concerning the accident were established, news headlines were dominated by data on who was on the flight, their nationalities and even professions.
It was quickly discovered that seeing that the flight was Nairobi-bound, Kenya was the country with the highest number of fatalities, 32 nationals having lost their lives. It was similarly revealed that a good number of those on the flight were en-route to the United Nations environment assembly in Nairobi.
Soon, brief written profiles and photos of some of the deceased started circulating online, followed closely by glowing tributes from family, friends and well-wishers who sought to stand in solidarity with the bereaved families, countries and organizations.
However, one individual who much has been written about and who a number of memorials have already been held for is Prof Pius Adesanmi, who taught Comparative Literature and African Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Apart from teaching, Prof Adesanmi wrote a column in one of Nigeria’s leading dailies, Premium Times, where he deployed sharp commentary on the plight of Nigerians under a less than committed leadership.
As if saying goodbye to readers of his column, the Professor, who was a Canadian citizen and resident, expressed frustration with the state of affairs in Nigeria, his country of birth and home to his kith and kin, stating that he kept writing not because he hoped to shift anything, but for the sake of posterity, for him to be on record as not having been among the complicit lot.
“I have drawn this profile not because I have hope for change,’’ Prof Adesanmi wrote. ‘‘Sadly, I think our people have been psychologically defeated and have come to accept and love these things about Nigeria. They turn on whoever tries to awaken them. Nigeria’s irresponsible rulers have us where they want us. I write basically these days for the purposes of archaeology. A thousand years from now, archaeologists would be interested in how some people called Nigerians lived in the 20th and 21st centuries. If they dig and excavate, I am hoping that fragments of my writing survive to point them to the fact that not all of them accepted to live as slaves of the most irresponsible rulers of their era.’’
The irony was that leading Nigerian politicians including the country’s Senate President Bukola Saraki and controversial Senator Dino Melaye attended Prof Adesanmi’s memorial in Abuja.
It was as if all of a sudden the man had become meaningful in death when he wasn’t listened to in life. Therefore as we mourn, we should learn not to take anything or anyone for granted, because one day they may just fade away before we fully appreciate their real worth.
To Ethiopia, and to the bereaved, words fail us all at this difficult time.