With the rising spate of terrorist attacks in the country, one wonders if the government of the day truly understands the implication of securing the nation’s airports which are not only the gateways to the country, but points where a cornucopia of people from divergent ethnicity, tribes and even countries exchange culture. ANTHONY OMOH looks at security at the nation’s airport asking what can be done to secure the lives of air travellers in the country.
In the wake of the United Nation’s building bomb attack in Abuja, one reality facing the country is the security paucity all around which, many feel; if not checked may gradually creep to the busiest communities in the country…the airport communities.
With the concentration of human lives and billions of naira in infrastructure, stakeholders have started expressing palpitations of the heart that the devices of the airport’s security apparatus may be inadequate to check the trend as they seem ill-equipped and unmotivated enough to do their duties in this time of crisis
And these stakeholders have started asking the question how prepared is the government to secure the nation’s gateway and forestall further threats?
The Abuja bomb attack which claimed no fewer than 23 people, has spurred the Federal Government into action again and it has said that the war on terrorism is total.
As of now, government has started putting Close Circuit Television (CCTV) at certain strategic areas of the airport to ensure that the airport environs are closely monitored.
However, it is not enough to put these apparatus in place as there is need for the right manpower to make sure these equipment are judiciously used.
Security is a 24 hour process which comes with surviellance and total commitment as well as a lot of intelligence gathering, so the use of the CCTV would be effective if closely monitored not as a racytionary tool but an interceptive one.
Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr Harold Demuren at the just concluded17th Aviation and Allied Leadership Conference in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzaania said the Nigerian government will square up against terrorists and be on top of security situations at all times.
Demuren, who represented the Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah at the Pan-African conference said security in the aviation sector should be continually improved upon as it is usually the targets of deadly terrorists’ attacks.
“The Federal Government has resolved to fight terrorism. The war on terror is total. No country is immune and no industry is spared. We enjoin African leaders, aviation agencies and other experts to be aviation security conference coming up in December in Abuja. We know about the UN building bombing. We also remember the underwear bombing incident. We have installed powerful screening equipment in our airports. We’re continually working to improve safety and security in the sector”, he said.
Following the same hard stand the management of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has warned that all persons without genuine mission to the nation’s 22 airports will henceforth be arrested and prosecuted.
The Managing Director of FAAN, Mr. Richard Aisuebeogun, gave the warning in Lagos, stating that the latest renewal of security measures aimed at checking the menace of touting and the spate of terrorist attacks in some parts of the country in the interest of security and safety of the airports and their users.
Mr. Aisuebeogun who refused to reveal all the strategies being adopted to check the wave of crime for security reasons, however, said that FAAN has put in place all the necessary security measures to ensure the safety of the travelling public, operators and other genuine users of the airport.
He added, “All necessary gadgets have been put in place, and we are putting more to ensure safety of all airport users. All movements are being closely monitored and recorded. We have at different occasions barred some individuals or bodies from the airports for security reasons in the best interest of the nation. There is also the restriction on the issuance and use of on-duty cards. We believe there shall not be unhindered access to restricted areas at the airports.”
The FAAN boss noted that FAAN is working in collaboration with other security agencies to ensure maximum safety and security at the airports, adding that special security checks on individuals and vehicles accessing the airports would be intensified by security personnel.
Mr. Aisuebeogun disclosed that all airlines have been advised to ensure the compliance of all their passengers and staff with safety and security standards and procedures or face the wrath of the airport authorities, including that of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority..
However, industry think tank, the Aviation Round Table (ART) and the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) have in different fora, also 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.
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.