By Okuneye Moyosola
Thousands of people pass through airports every day. Some are travelers, aviation workers, business people and several other categories of people. This population makes an airport a potential target for various forms of crime. In Nigeria, like any other place in the world, airport security attempt to prevent any threats or potentially dangerous situations from arising or entering the country. If the airport security succeeds in this bid, then the chances of any dangerous situation, illegal items or threats to an aircraft, country or airport is greatly reduced. The constant rise in air travel has made every airport a potential terrorist target as well as other avenue for crimes like drug and contraband trafficking and it is now a key area where intense security is an absolute requirement.
Today, airports and the aviation industry at large require specialized security solutions to meet the elevated threat levels and assist in the identification of suspicious activity amongst passengers and staff in and surrounding airports. However, the Nigerian aviation industry seems to have taken the issue of security with levity as several cases of security breaches are often recorded at the airports.
The recent case of a man identified as Usman Adamu who climbed an aircraft while it was about to take-off at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja on the 19th of July, 2019 is disheartening. The incident, which involved an aircraft with the registration number 5N-HAI, occurred at 10:09a.m when the aircraft was ready for takeoff after a clearance from Air Traffic Controllers (ATC).
The suspect, identified as Usman Adamu who claims to stay at 1 Araromi Street, Iyanu-Ipaja appeared on the domestic end of the taxiway and attempted to gain access to the aircraft while it was taxiing to the holding point.
According to a viral video shot by one of the passengers, the man illegally gained access to the airside with a piece of hand luggage. The video also showed that the man climbed the aircraft wing and deposited the bag inside one of the engines. The aircraft was at the holding bay expecting clearance for take-off when the incident occurred.
The man’s action caused panic and frenzy as some of the passengers immediately demanded that the pilot and cabin crew open the aircraft doors for them to disembark due to safety concerns.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) said the suspect who climbed one of the aircraft of Azman Air ready for take-off to Port Harcourt Airport had been arrested and kept in its custody.
This incident has left several questions in the mind of stakeholders and aviation experts. How did the man get to the airside? Are the security officials at the airport effective? Is FAAN really focusing on ensuring utmost security at the nation’s airport?
Recall that earlier in July, the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) condemned the recruitment by FAAN into the Aerodrome Rescue and Fire Fighting Services aviation security departments in the authority.
The union in a petition to the Managing Director of FAAN signed by its Secretary General Comrade Ocheme Abah dated June 28, 2019 raised an alarm over what it called scandalized level of disconnection from the public civil service rules and disregard for technical, safety and security requirements.
NUATE lamented that the catchment areas provision in the civil service rule for lower cadre employees has been completely jettisoned while maximum age requirement for recruitment was thrown overboard as well as technical and physical fitness.
Investigation revealed that the recruitment was marred by irregularities as politicians hijacked the exercise by forcing on the agency more than half of people that turned out for the exercise.
It was learnt that the over 300 persons shortlisted by the authority to close existing gaps are getting curious over alleged attempts by the Ministry of Aviation to supplant names from a section of the country on the alleged orders of officials of the aviation ministry.
Sources hinted that some forces loyal to the Ministry supplanted the names of candidates with their people after the original candidates completes ongoing training in Kaduna to ascertain their fitness for the job. Experts also say recruitment into sensitive units in aviation including; aerodrome safety and fire fighting unit, as well as aviation security, should be based on carrying out background checks on the would be candidates rather than filling the list with people from certain parts of the country.
This also shows that the security experts employed by FAAN do not have the skills needed for the job. Majority of employees in the aviation security are employed based on connections and not in their ability to do the job. The process of recruitment had been hampered without following the International Civil Aviation Organization’s requirements. This has also affected the level of security at airports as majority of the security personnel do not know their job responsibilities thereby putting the lives and properties of passengers at risk.
Speaking to MMS Plus on FAAN’s mode of recruitment, an Aviation Security Consultant and Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) said “The security of the airport is the same thing that you have at the national level. I was the one that made recruitment for FAAN in 2006. Out of 25,000 people, I was able to get 431 that were qualified. So, when I hear of these things happening at FAAN, I am not surprised. A lot of people that they recruit now are those that were recruited through the back door and not the normal process”.
Ojikutu noted that airport security has to do with national security adding that the security at the airports needs to be of national standard. “When you are talking of airport security, you are talking of border security. The airport is a border town, it’s just like you are entering this country through Seme border. Aviation has taken the border into the heart of the country, so when you are landing in the airport, you are entering the country through the border town. Therefore, the security that you put there must have a national outlook. We need to ask ourselves these questions? Does the security at our airport have a national outlook?”
“The airport is about 23 kilometers. Who are the people that are manning it? Who is keeping watch over it? How many people have been kept there to watch over 23 kilometers? Do you have people at the stretch of 23 kilometers not to talk of over 100,000 kilometers which probably will be the total length of the whole country? For example, when you build a house, you build a perimeter fence. You also lock your door and you put burglary proof. That doesn’t mean that someone cannot climb your fence and gain access to your house. You also have someone you share your fence with which is your neighbour. Does this make you safe? No. The case of the man getting to that engine could be likened to that? How did he get there? He could have entered your compound through the other compound. This brings us to another question. What security does your neighbour have too? You have to be interested in the security of the other person”
A lot of security personnel are needed at the airports for effectiveness. Security personnel who lack adequate knowledge will put the aviation industry at risk. Therefore, FAAN must ensure that security personnel deployed are enough for the airports. The process of recruitment should also be done in a transparent way.
Lack of a standardized technology system has greatly affected the nation’s aviation industry. There are various threats within the aviation industry both at airports and security agencies. The use of standardized technology would improve efficiency greatly within the industry.
Advanced CCTV surveillance systems could monitor both inside the terminal and the outer perimeters and advanced analytics equipment could automatically detect unattended baggage and suspicious behaviour. A professional security camera system helps authorities maintain a high level of security by providing the necessary tools to monitor large areas of concern.
Cameras utilize advanced software to help detect specific activities and monitor areas for suspicious individuals. Surveillance recorders offer programming features to help detect incidents. Drones can also be used to provide support to manned guarding via a control centre to react to threats quickly and act as a visual deterrent.
Aviation security is a crucial factor in the development of any economy. The government must ensure that threats to aviation industry are reduced or totally eradicated. The country needs to improve its security aviation standards to ensure safety at all times.