One reality threatening the country’s aviation industry right now is the security paucity around the nation which, many feel; if not checked may gradually spread to the busiest communities in the country…the airport communities.
And stakeholders have started expressing palpitations of the heart that the devices of the airport’s security apparatus may not be enough to check the trend as they seem ill-equipped and unmotivated enough to do their duties in this time of crisis.
Industry think tank, the Aviation Round Table (ART) and the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) have in different fora, expressed fear for the country’s security especially around the airport and because it houses thousands of people daily.
The president of ART, Capt. Dele Ore who expressed concern over the state of security at the airports following the recent bombing of the police headquarters in Abuja recently urged the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to secure all access gates to all the airports in the country.
AON also charged the Federal Government on Security around the airports asking government to squarely face the problem and put an end to it before terrorist activities extends to the nation’s airports.
Assistant Secretary General of AON, Alhaji Muhammed Tukur said this recently while stating that all over the world, terrorists of this kind usually target population centres like the airports to commit mass murder.
However, how will the government stave further terrorist attacks in the country and curb it from rippling into the airport environments is one question on the lips of frequent air travellers and stakeholders.
Captain Ore, of this, advised the airport authority to step up its measures at securing lives and property as well as for them to profile those who they allow into the airports.
Profiling, he said is a way of knowing an individual and whether he will or will not be a threat to the airport or an aircraft if he or she is flying in any.
Ore also said FAAN should go beyond the security requirements prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
While calling for an upgrade of airport security, Capt. Ore advised for the procurement of additional gadgets for screening while also asking FAAN to embark on crowd control at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, especially during the peak period.
“The crowd outside the MMIA is a source of concern. Some people have no business to be at the airport. More so, a hotel close to the terminal building is a security risk,” he stated.
Alhaji Tukur on his submission urged security personnel to beef up security and increase surveillance to prevent people with sinister motives from causing problem in the airport.
The AON scribe disclosed that the airlines had already stepped up security of their own to ensure safety of life and property, just as he charged aviation workers to report any suspicious movement of persons in to security operatives.
Tukur called on all Nigerians to close ranks and support the Federal Government to provide security at all time, noting that terrorism or act of terrorism has no colour, stressing that nobody knows where else the perpetrators are targeting.
Group Captain John Ojikutu (Rtd) who spoke on the security at the airport said a thorough appraisal needs to be done to improve security at the nation’s gateway.
Ojikutu, a former Airport Commandant, and CEO of Centurion Securities, said that the environment was volatile and that the country should be talking of internal security
He called for an integration program among all the security agencies at the airport to forestall any sort of threat stating that it was counterproductive for the security agencies to hoard information from themselves when all their primary goals are same.
Ojikutu said, “Right from the time I have been at the airport I have always been talking about one single line of security, whether you are custom, whether you are immigration or whether you are State Security Service (SSS), just one single line of control, that is exactly what the United States Federal Airport Administration (FAA) did, or what we now called the Transport Security Administration (TSA) immediately after the 9/11 attacks. “
“The 9/11 taught them a lesson. Before then, everybody was working at cross purposes, they have them just as we have them at the airport but right now where they have the TSA, if you enter any US airport today, you see everybody is one, whether you are in custom, immigration, SSS, you see them all one. “
“TSA which is more or less part of what they call border security, they have border security, have their immigration, they have the customs too like we do here even the drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), but they all wear the same uniform, the only difference you are going to see in them are the badges, if you look at the badge, you will see TSA: Customs, TSA: Immigration, TSA: Port Police, TSA: DEA and so on that is what you see there and that is the only way to coordinate information sharing by bringing them together so that they do not work at cross purposes, and for the past several years we have been working hard on how to bring them together, and we write reports what is done or what they do with that report I will not know. “ He said.
He further said one important factor that is needed at the crucial point is to profile people, especially passengers to avert dangers.
Like we are saying intelligence is one of the things that matter most in aviation security, I told somebody minimum, it takes about 50-60 per cent aviation security, because if you do not have intelligence on your passenger, if you do not have information then you put everybody and everything at risk. First you must have the bio –data, where is he coming from? What sort of character is he? Passport will tell you and when he comes to the airport, if he is a risk you make a profile, you make further profiling put him on secondary screening, if he is a threat the nation is supposed to have identified him and put him on no fly list, those on the watch lists are those that are risks and I am worried especially with the crisis that is going on now.”
Other stakeholders feel that if there is less jawing about what should be done and things are actually done security would be better at the airports, like at the cargo sheds where NAHCO and SAHCOL already put in place, Circuit Television (CCTV) at strategic areas.
For security purposes, most ask, will it be too much for the airport landlord, FAAN, to do the same (place CCTVs) at strategic points of the airport? It was the capture of Abdul Mutallab on CCTV that saved the country of embarrassment from the international community.
Recall that on the 25th December 2009, Nigerian, Abdul Farouq Mutallab, tried to blow up a North West Aircraft before he was apprehended and brought to book, it is acts such as these that has put the country in a bad light among the international community.
This caused Nigeria to be put on the list of nations of interest until the country was able to prove beyond doubt that it followed all security procedures required.
Recently, the United States of America, in a bid to safeguard its citizens on the air have signed an agreement with Nigeria to enable them place air marshals on aircraft flying into their airspace from Nigeria.
Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Dr. Harold Demuren, signed the agreement on behalf of Nigeria, while Assistant Administrator, Office of Global Strategies, Transport Security Administration of America, John Halinski, signed on behalf of the US.
The agreement was signed recently at the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) headquarters, Arlington, Virginia, USA, in the presence of the Nigerian Ambassador to the US, Professor Adefuye.
Although details as to when the in-flight agreement will take effect is not known , Our reporter gathered that such security plans have been in the works since early last year.
Briefing newsmen in Lagos, Demuren said security at the nation’s airports had been tightened with comprehensive screening of passengers and luggage. He urged passengers to come to the airport three hours before flight time, noting that such detailed security checks take time.
However, people are asking, with these threats all over will placing air marshals on flights to the US be enough?
The events of December 7, 2010, showed another breach of security in the country where right under the noses of security agents at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos there was a theft of 20 Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
And despite all the talk about heightened security at the nation’s gateway, the theft proved beyond reasonable doubt the fact that security at the airport is virtually non-existent.
Industry stakeholders are still perplexed by the reactionary measures that take place after incidents of such magnitude which undermine the security occurs.
In fact, all the time one can trust the police to come out with their checks, stopping vehicles at random once an incident occurs and barely hours later they are nowhere to be found.
In the wake of the Independence Day bomb blast, the checks on vehicles plying the airport lasted not more than four days and after the explosion at police headquarters there was a security hype which ended 48 hours later.
Simply put, it is this medicine after death approach that threatens further, the security at the nation’s airport and stakeholders are calling for proactive measures and not reactive measures if the airports are to be airtight.