According to security experts, the aviation sector has always been the prime target of terrorists.
Recently, a deadly attack targeted at an AirFrance flight crew was launched on Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali by suspected terrorists.
The downing of a Russian jet over Egypt by terrorists was meant to avenge Vladimir Putin’s airstrike in Syria.
Also, the deadly group, Al-Qaeda, had launched the deadly 9/11 attack on the United States to avenge what it called the US invasion in some parts of the world.
The incident led to the death of over 2900 people and the destruction of property and infrastructure worth $3tn.
Countries across the globe have improved their aviation security systems in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Nigeria also appears to have made some efforts to beef up its airport security over time. However, the efforts are a far cry from what needs to be done to improve security, according to aviation experts and industry analysts.
Findings by our correspondent show that Nigeria’s aviation security system is faltering amid rising local and global insurgency.
While countries have made their airport security more formidable by deploying state-of-the-art technology with massive investment in human capacity, Nigeria’s aviation security system is still tottering.
According to findings by our correspondent, the challenges range from obsolete equipment, inadequate manpower to insiders’ threat and corruption.
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 being 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.
Findings show that only 25 AVSEC officials are usually on duty in each shift, creating a gap of 75 personnel.
Aviation security experts warn that inadequate manpower in the Aviation Security department of FAAN will create gaps that can threaten the total security apparatus of all the major airports in Nigeria.
Over the years, there has been stoppage of recruitment of security personnel in FAAN. This has led to inadequate number of personnel manning the screening machines and conducting the profiling of passengers being checked to travel, a situation that gives rise to delays in processing passengers.
An informed FAAN source says 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.
Apart from inadequate manpower, insider threats and lack of perimeter fencing have been described as some 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.
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.
“We are caught in the era of global insurgency and Boko Haram in Nigeria. We need to improve on intelligence gathering and seek to control arms importation into the country,” he adds.
Aviation security expert and the Chief Executive Officer, Centurion Aviation Security Consult and Secretary General, Aviation Round Table, an industry pressure group, 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.
Apart from inadequate training and obsolete equipment that have weakened security at the nation’s airports, the expert warns of insiders’ threat at the nation’s airports.
Ojikutu says, “We need to look at the insiders’ threat. Do we do a background check on the airport staff who are paid peanuts. I’m talking of those who clean the aircraft, its toilets, baggage loaders etc. They could be given peanut to compromise the safety of passengers. Insider threat is rising and Nigeria must do something about it urgently.”
According to the Centurion CEO, who is also a former Military Commandant of the MMIA, Nigeria needs to enhance airport perimeter fencing, noting that most airports in the nation have no perimeter and security fences.
“We are still far behind but we can get there. There will be a need to review the entire airport security system. There will be a need for massive investment in training, equipment and personnel recruitment.
Bribery and corruption among airport staff which could lead to insiders threat constitute another factor that may hamper security at the nation’s airports.
The writer recently discovered to his amazement that with the payment of just a N2000 reward, anyone without any means of identification or travelling out of the country, could buy its way to the sensitive part of the airport.
The writer approached some airport workers covertly at the MMIA a few weeks ago, asking them how he could get to the airside of the nation’s flagship airport. He told them he had something to do there.
To his amazement, he found an airport worker who promised he could get an airport security official to do the job for him.
The airport worker had asked, ‘Do you have N2000?’ He replied “Yes.”
He was taken to a top official of the AVSEC of FAAN, who was supervising other security officials on duty post at the MMIA.
After giving N2000 to the official, he was allowed to the airside of the airport.
A few weeks later, our correspondent repeated the same and discovered that the practice had become the norm at the nation’s flagship airport.
The occurrence is a major security breach going by the global aviation industry’s security standards. In the global aviation security protocol, a non-passenger is forbidden from crossing an airport’s landside (terminal building) to the airside.
Further findings show that some people also pay N2000 bribe to gain access to the baggage arrival section of the airside to meet their relatives and acquaintances arriving the country. This occurs on a daily basis.
The porous state of Nigerian airports has also been evidenced by the several incidents recorded in recent years.
Apart from cases of stowaway, which have become a regular phenomenon, cases of how lunatics and suspicious people gaining access to security-sensitive areas of some of the nation’s best and international airports are common occurrences.
Just this year alone, there have been at least reported cases of airport stowaways in the Nigerian newspapers.
According to Nigerian airport and airline officials, who chose to speak on condition of anonymity, there are scores of unlawful entrances into the airside of the nation’s international and local airports on monthly basis.
They also add that there are several other cases of stowaways that go unreported in the media. The ugly trend, according to the officials, calls for a major review of aviation security in the country.
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.
A pocket of cases of stowaway and unlawful access to the airport’s landside and airside had also happened in recent years.
Officials say apart from people bribing their way through security officials to the airside of the airport through the terminal building, there are scores who gain unlawful entrance through the porous perimeter fencing of the airport.
In August 2013, a 13-year-old Daniel Ohikhena beat airport security and hid himself in an Arik Air aircraft wheel compartment and was flown from Benin City to Lagos.
A few weeks later, a 25-year-old man, Leroy Ugaga, beat airport security and was trying to illegally board an Abuja-bound Arik Air flight at Benin when he was arrested.
Prior to Ohikhena’s incident, another Nigerian was discovered in the undercarriage compartment of Arik Air aircraft, after it returned from a flight to New York.
Ohikhena was the fourth person in the last few years to take such a risk.
In March 2010, a Nigerian, Okechukwu Okeke, was found dead in the nose wheel compartment of the United States carrier, Delta Airlines, Boeing B777 aircraft parked on the tarmac of the Lagos airport.
Also on September 19, 2010, another Nigerian, a man, was discovered crushed to death in the wheel well of Arik Air flight, which arrived from Johannesburg, South Africa.
On November 8, 2010, a man suspected to be mentally deranged attacked former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the Presidential Wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
The incident occured at about 8am,when the unnamed suspect forced open the door of a car conveying Obasanjo from the airport and jumped into the vehicle.
Obasanjo, who had just arrived the airport from a trip, was being driven in a convoy out of the presidential wing when he was attacked.
The PUNCH learnt that it took the timely intervention of Air Force officers and security aides attached to Obasanjo to save the former president from harm. He was later surrounded by a team of security men.
The attacker, who appeared to be in his forties, could not say exactly what prompted him to attack the former general. The alleged attacker was taken to the military commander’s office at the airport and later transferred to the airport’s police station.
The Commissioner of Police, Airport Command, Mr. Chris Ola, confirmed the incident and said, “The incident was a security breach; we have commenced an investigation into the incident to ascertain if there were some people behind the attack.”
“We can’t ascertain if the man is a lunatic because you can’t call somebody a lunatic unless through a medical examination; we will take him for medical examination tomorrow.”
There have been other cases of unlawful entrance to the nation’s airports including those of suspicious trucks gaining access to the airside of some airports.
Apart from human beings gaining access to Nigerian airports, animals including cows have reportedly strayed into some airports, causing near-fatal air mishaps.
Industry analysts and aviation security experts have called for an urgent review of the aviation security system.
A former Assistant Secretary General of the Airline Operators of Nigeria, Mr. Alhaji Muhammed Tukur, recalls that the United Nations has described Boko Haram as one of the deadliest terror groups in the world. As such, he says there are obvious vulnerabilities in the nation’s aviation security system that must be reviewed and closed immediately.
Tukur says, “We have requirements by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the United Nations agency that regulates the global aviation industry, which Nigeria must meet. The current state of the nation’s airport calls for concern. It is beyond what most people are thinking; Nigeria is a major country in the world and it is time for us to take our airport security very serious. We have seen what happened to AirFrance crew and Russian plane in Egypt.
He added, “Government needs to focus on both the international and local airport. There must be adequate security screening of all current and existing airport and airline employees. Local airlines who have suspended operations must cut down on the number of staff they put at the airport until they resume operations; it is time the government stopped those who don’t have any business at the airport from coming there.
“Otherwise, people hanging around the airport without any major business easily become a ready tool in the hands of terrorists. We need to deploy more manpower and technology to improve security at our airports. There is also a need for departing aircraft to begin to have car escorts to prevent possible attacks. You recall that the CEO of AirFrance recently said that airlines were prone to danger in the face of global insurgency; so there is a need for us to beef up both airport and airline security in Nigeria.”
The US has yet to fully recover from the 9/11 attacks, according to experts, stressing the need to improve aviation security.
The destruction of the World Trade Center and nearby infrastructure caused serious damage to the economy of Lower Manhattan and had a significant effect on global markets, closing Wall Street until September 17 and the civilian airspace in the US and Canada until September 13.
Many closings, evacuations, and cancellations followed, out of respect or fear of further attacks. Cleanup of the World Trade Center site was completed in May 2002, and the Pentagon was repaired within a year.
On November 18, 2006, construction of One World Trade Center began at the World Trade Center site. The building was officially opened on November 3, 2014.
Numerous memorials have however been constructed, including the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington County, Virginia, and the Flight 93 National Memorial in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Many countries strengthened their anti-terrorism legislation and expanded the powers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to prevent terrorist attacks in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Experts say Nigeria needs to do likewise as some legislation is required to fight terrorism in the aviation sector.