A revelation by suspended officials of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja that the security personnel on duty were overpowered when scores of angry passengers of a Turkish Airlines flight invaded the NAIA’s tarmac and stopped the carrier’s aircraft from taking off have underscored the porous nature of airports across the country. The suspended officials who attributed inadequate manpower as one of the reasons they were overpowered by the protesting passengers who in turn took over the airport termac and disrupted activities for many hours.
However, amid rising insecurity across the country, passengers finding their way to the tarmac, where the aircraft was parked is a breach of security that put the entire industry and nation at risk.
Shortage of manpower
The incident that happened in December 2015 had shown that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) lacks adequate manpower in its Aviation Security (AVSEC) department. The gaps created threatened the total security apparatus of all the major airports in Nigeria.
For instance, the suspended officials of the authority have argued that the passengers were able to access the tarmac because they overpower them. They stated further that this was possible because they were lesser in number. The Acting Head of Security, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Abuja, Mr. Ali Hausawa, while explaining to the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika said, “It is not that we allowed them; they forced themselves to the tarmac because we had just one worker on duty at the time. We do not expect them to pass through an active luggage carrying belt, but they were agitated and angry and they passed through it and gained entry to the tarmac. “So they overpowered the official on the ground at that time. We had just one man because there is a shortage of manpower. All the men on duty were stationed at various locations at that time; so, the passengers overpowered the security personnel,” he said.
Over the years, there had been stoppage of recruitment of security personnel in FAAN. This has created a gap in proper and efficient policing of airports across the country. Investigation had shown that many of the security officials work over time and those who monitor the x-ray screen spend hours on the screen against the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommended 20 minutes per officer.
It is believed that when an official spends more hours monitoring the content of passengers’ luggage he would lose concentration and inadvertently allow prohibited objects, including well concealed bombs, guns, knives and other dangerous goods and drugs to pass through. The number of AVSEC officers working at the nation’s airports currently is only 1396, and that the department needs additional 2916 to make up the total of 4312 needed to effectively man the security posts at the airports.
Incessant cases of Stowaway
Incessant cases of stowaway have been a nightmare for stakeholders and operators in the aviation industry. For instance, in early September 2015, a 25-year-old man, Festus Chikeluba, was arrested while attempting to hide under the tyre carriage (wheel-well) of an Accra-bound MedView Airlines aircraft at the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2 in Lagos. He had successfully beaten airport and airline security to get near the parked plane. Earlier in the year, a decomposing body of a suspected stowaway was reportedly found in the wheel-well of an Arik Air flight that arrived from the New York. On December 2, 2015, one Mr. Alabibu Olushola, scaled the perimeter fencing of the airport and attempted to attack an Accra-bound aircraft of Med-View Airline that was on a holding point. Med-View, in a statement, said the pilot sighted the man and alerted the control tower to the need for security.
Again, Olushola beat airport security to gain access close to the plane. Although many industry observers argue that stowaway in air transport is a worldwide phenomenon, they agree that such incidents are becoming very frequent in Nigeria. Cases of stowaway and unlawful access to the airport’s landside and airside had also happened in recent years. In August, 2013, when Daniel Oikhena hid himself in the wheel well of Arik Air aircraft, flight WS 544, and flew from Benin City to Lagos. 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. Also on September 19, 2010 another Nigerian man was discovered crushed in the wheel well of Arik Air flight, which arrived from Johannesburg, South Africa.
Obsolete security equipment
Nigerian airports parade some of the oldest airport security equipment. Apart from being grossly inadequate, most of the body scanners, baggage X-ray machines and walk-through metal detectors are obsolete with many of them currently unserviceable. According to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria’s aviation security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, there are only four 3D body scanners at the nation’s flagship airport, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, out of which only two are serviceable. According to them, there are about 12 units of baggage X-ray machines at the premier airport but only a few of them are put to use because there are no enough AVSEC officials to man them. Normally, about 100 AVSEC officials are meant to be on duty (for each duty shift) for effective manning of all operational areas and screening of passengers and baggage at the MMIA. Further findings show that only 25 AVSEC officials are usually on duty in each shift, creating a gap of 75 personnel.
Lack of perimeter fencing has been described as one of the factors affecting aviation security in the country. Many airports in the country today don’t have comprehensive security fencing, the same with perimeter fencing, which barricades the airside of the airport from encroachers and other unwanted persons. They are known as inner and outer perimeter fencing. This may have however contributed to the increase in cases of stowaway recorded in the country. In 2013, a 13-year old boy, Daniel Oikhena sneaked into the airside of the Benin airport and entered the wheel well of Arik aircraft, which brought him to Lagos. Also few years ago people gained access to the Lagos airport and stole INEC computers imported for the 2011 elections. They gained access through the broken fence along the Akowonjo area of the city. AVSEC officials are fingered by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as responsible for managing airport security.
Experts have argued that the support AVSEC is getting from the Nigeria police and Nigerian Navy for the landside of the airports can only go to the extent that it controls the entry and exit of passengers and other airports users but it cannot help in the profiling of air travellers, which is the sole responsibility of AVSEC personnel, who are trained in accordance with aviation standards to do so.
Aviation Security Expert and the Chief Executive Officer, Selective Security Limited, Mr. Ayo Obilana, says FAAN lacks critical airport security equipment including 3D body scanners, adequate CCTV camera, explosive detectors and modern X-ray machine among others. “FAAN needs Federal Government’s help to buy these equipment; the agency does not have the money to do so,” Obilana adds. He also says that there is a lack of coordination among the various security agencies providing security at the nation’s airports, adding that security agencies work at cross purposes.
Also speaking, aviation security expert and the Chief Executive Officer, Centurion Aviation Security Consult and Secretary General, Aviation Round Table, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd), says the nation’s aviation security system is far from being where it ought to be. While highlighting the danger of inadequate manpower, Ojikutu stresses that passengers could take very dangerous goods and weapons onboard the aircraft when overworked AVSEC officials become too tired to properly examine hand luggage and effectively profile the passenger through the X-ray machines.