ANTHONY OMOH writes on the stowaways in the nation’s airports, their security implication as well as possible solutions to keep the airport secure and close knit so as to avoid such embarrassing occurrences and keep us ahead security wise.
Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos
Sunday afternoon, a teenager Samuel Ogundeyi, suspected to be a stowaway was arrested after discovered in the wheel well compartment of an aircraft operated by Tag Aviation.
It was gathered that the aircraft Ogundeyi was found in was parked in the Execujet hangar at the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) Lagos.
He was discovered at about 12 noon by the pilots of the aircraft with registration number M-MYNA while carrying out a routine inspection on the aircraft before starting the engine.
The young man in his confessional statement said that he gained access into the hangar through the facility of the , Headquarters, Air Defence Corp of Nigerian Air Force located very close to the Presidential Lounge in the airport on Saturday night with the assistance of a collaborator he described as a brother.
The boy who spoke Yoruba and Pidgin English Languages, said he was able to cross the runway 18 left runway over to ExecuJet facility located in the international wing of the airport, when he noticed there was no flight landing or taking off on the runway.
This infiltration and many more brings to bear the paucity of security around the nation’s airport and the clear and present danger posed by insider threat in the system, which has spread through the entire airport system meaning people who work in these sensitive areas are obviously oblivious to the security challenges this poses.
However, this is not the first or second time youngsters would breach the security of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigeria Air force, the State Security Service (SSS), heck even the Immigrations, Customs and other security agencies at the airport.
In August 2013, Thirteen year old Daniel Ohikhena, hid himself in the wheel well of Arik Air aircraft, flight WS 544, and flew from the historical city of Benin to Lagos.
Experts in the industry said that Daniel survived the flight to Lagos because he was small and could fit into the little space that remained after the tyres had gone in and that because the flight was a short one, the aircraft did not fly in high altitude so it did not go above the area that had oxygen and the temperature was not too severe as to kill the boy who thought he was flying to America, in that short distance.
Ohikhena was the fourth person in the last few years to risk his life that way; the only difference was that like the young American, he survived while the others died.
In March 2010, a Nigerian, Okechukwu Okeke was found dead in the nose wheel compartment of the United States carrier, Delta Air Lines, Boeing B777 aircraft parked on the tarmac of the Lagos airport.
On September the 19, 2010 another Nigerian man was discovered crushed to death in the wheel well of Arik Air flight which arrived from Johannesburg, South Africa, and before Daniel’s incident, another Nigerian was discovered in the undercarriage compartment of Arik Air aircraft, after it returned from a flight to New York.
Now although, incidents of stowaways are not limited to Nigeria it is worthy to note that it behoves on security agencies at the airports to continue to improve and device methods of countering these challenges as it tells a bad story on the security of the airport from bigger threats.
In 2010, a driver who accessed the airside through the Air Force Base at the Calabar airport rammed his vehicle on the underbelly of Arik Air aircraft which was laden with passengers and damaged it severely costing it millions.
The implication of these defects in security include that the airports are exposed to not just stowaways but terror attacks, and because an authorized person can easily gain access to the airport, it would be easier for insider threat, which terrorists take advantage of.
In 2013 while, reacting to the stowaway issue, the CEO of Centurion Securities and former Commandant of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Group Captain John Ojikutu (Rtd), said that what makes stowaways possible is the airport where the access control to the security controlled area is defective and or there is no security fence or the perimeter fence is porous and not security enhanced.
It also means, according to the Group Captain, that security operatives are not alert to their duties.
Reacting to this latest stowaway, an industry player said, “The airport authority is not up and doing in the area of security, despite trying to improve which I give them kudos for, they need to get technology working for them to clip some of these situations.”
“ I think there is need to place new sets of Close Circuit Television (CCTV) around hidden areas and very near aircraft looking at a three dimensional angle with a command centre to view all these cameras to be able to pick strays all around the airport, it will cost money but it’s worth it . “
“Remember the case of Abdulmutallab, what save us from becoming blacklisted into a terror state was for the fact that our CCTVs picked him and that showed we were not complicit.”
Security and Perimeter Fencing
The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has continuously declined certifying any airport in Nigeria for the simple reason of security of which one of the main issues is the inability of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to provide perimeter fencing; then the construction of perimeter road.
Despite that the World Bank started an initiative in 2009 to help provide safety critical equipment at the airports and earmarked $49 million of which one of the projects was to provide perimeter fencing at the four major airports in Kano, Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt, the contract was awarded was not completed for many reason.
Also porous Airports and lack of an organised security programme and coordination among security operatives, extortion are other reason that high security infractions that could endanger the lives of passengers and airport users are imminent.
Group Captain Ojikutu (rtd.), had said in 2014 that stowaways were a security matter and the authority were short of security then.”
As at today, and I say with authority, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is deficient with about 1,400 security staff and new terminals are being opened at the airports. FAAN should not even coordinate the security at the airports, so what is happening now is abnormal to the national security programme. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) does not approve that the body which is in charge of revenue collection like FAAN should also be in charge of security,” Ojikutu said.
General Manager Public Affairs of FAAN, Mr. Yakubu Dati however said that the authority is upping his game and that there has been a large difference since then.
He also said,” As you know we are also recruiting more security personnel. Our recent adverts for recruitments are all over as we are following due process and we will be improving our manpower in this area as well as train them for effective execution of their duties.”
With regard to the stowaway directly, he said management was coming up with a plan of action and this would be a holistic solution to the stowaway issue, he confided in our reporter.