Nigeria: Breach of Aviation Security Again!
On Saturday, a youngster named Daniel Ihekina successfully stowed away in the wheel well of an Arik Air plane 5N-MJG at the Benin City Airport. How he successfully breached the airport’s several security layers and survived the 35-minute Benin City-Lagos flight remains a puzzle. Ironically, it was the same day that a carnival of sorts was playing out at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, where the minister of aviation and the leading lights of the south-east were celebrating the opening of the airport to direct flights by Ethiopian Airways from Addis Ababa.
Buck-passing between Arik Air management whose plane was involved with the Benin City incident and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is unnecessary. Clearly, FAAN should take the blame because its job includes maintenance of security in all of the nation’s airports. We agree with Arik Air spokesman Mr Banji Ola, who attributed the development to security lapses at the Benin Airport: “The pilot of Arik Air flight W3 544, departing Benin Airport for Lagos at 9:00am on 24th August, 2013, reported to the control tower the presence of a strange boy in the bush about 200-300 metres at the end of Runway 23. The control tower told the captain that they were sending security men to the place to arrest the boy. As the captain was making his final turn, preparatory for take-off, a cabin crew called his attention to the information by some of the passengers that they saw a boy running towards the airplane. The captain again reported to the control tower and was informed that the situation was under control and that he had been cleared for take-off.”
FAAN spokesman Yakubu Dati said that Arik Air was responsible for the breach by not conducting a check on the plane after the attention of the crew and ground personnel was drawn to an abnormality on the tarmac. The procedure for such infraction, he said, is for the crew to abort the flight and return to the apron for check-up. Yet, Arik Air is known to enjoy a high reputation in security matters. In addition to the screening of passengers by FAAN security personnel, the airline always carries out secondary screening of all passengers and its aircraft prior to boarding of any of its flights. Its security profilers have been trained in the latest technique of screening passengers. The airline has won awards for security consciousness.
The sobering reality is that, had the teenager that stowed away been carrying bombs with a terrorist intent, the current buck-passing wouldn’t have assuaged the ensuing tragedy. Lack of airport perimeter fences aids this kind of breach. Clearly there is something fundamentally wrong with a country that permits such serial security breaches in the high-value turf of air transportation. In May 2010, a taxi driver broke through the security cordon at the Margaret Ekpo Airport, Calabar, and ran his cab into a fully boarded Arik Air Boeing 737-700 NG aircraft. Earlier, an international flight touching down at the Port Harcourt International Airport had run into a herd of cattle on the airport’s tarmac; a disaster was averted by the quick thinking of the pilot and providence.
It is beyond dispute that merely hoping that our airport security will improve and come at par with international best practice is not enough. Hope is not a plan. The Benin Airport incident should be thoroughly investigated and appropriate sanctions meted out to defaulters.