Frequent cases of stowaway endanger security at the nation’s airports
Ordinarily, the airside of any airport is known as a sterile area that is strictly out of bounds and can only be accessed with the approval of security operatives. But in the last 10 years, there have been reports of people who ignorantly believed that they could hide in the wheel-well of aircraft and make it to their overseas destinations. Several times this had been tried and it ended up tragically as it happened recently with another stowaway found in the wheel-well of Arik Air aircraft, when it arrived at South Africa Airways Technical maintenance facility in Johannesburg.
What makes it particularly worrisome is that this is becoming an epidemic of sort. In March, 2015 there was a stowaway who sneaked into the wheel-well of Arik’s massive Airbus A340-500 aircraft, hoping to hide there and get to New York. Unfortunately, instead of arriving at the JFK Airport, New York alive, it was his dead body that came back to Nigeria and fell at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport tarmac in Lagos. It was learnt then that security operatives at the airport could not say precisely what happened and how the dead man was able to access the airside of the airport and sneaked into the wheel-well of the aircraft.
In 2013, a similar tragic incident happened when the dead body of a young man dropped on the tarmac after the return of a flight to New York. It was later learnt that the deceased gave N100, 000 to an airport official to procure US visa for him. But when he could not succeed in doing that, he helped the deceased into the wheel-well of an aircraft destined for New York.
In September 2013, a then14-year-old boy, Daniel Oikhena, hid in an Arik Air Benin-Lagos flight and arrived alive. The boy, concealed in the wheel-well of the aircraft, which is the tyre compartment, survived the flight to Lagos. When interrogated, Oikhena said he thought the flight was going to the United States and was hoping to fulfill his life’s ambition of overseas trip. His survival was attributed to the fact that it was a short flight of about 35 minutes which ensured that the aircraft while airborne did not climb to high altitude.
That the stowaway and their collaborators often had easy access to the airside of the airports, especially the nation’s busiest Lagos airport, is an indication of how easy security in sensitive parts of the airport could be breached. Yet having access to the sterile area of the airport exposes it to terror attacks, and thus endangering the lives of thousands of air travellers.
Instructively, there have been recent bomb attacks on airports and airplanes that emanated from weak security system. On October 31, 2015 a Russian airliner, Metrojet Flight 9268 disintegrated above northern Sinai following its departure from Sharm El Sheik International Airport, Egypt. Available reports revealed that a bomb may have been taken into the aircraft despite security procedures. The terror attack on June 28, 2016 at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, was attributed to weak security system which allowed terrorists to gain access with automatic weapons and explosive belts. The Brussels airports security had to be fortified after suicide bombers attacked it on March 22, 2016.
Against the background that Nigeria has similar weak security system at its airports, we call on the authorities to scale up their security, perhaps with dogs and the use of technology, as additional reinforcement. Also there should be regular profiling and monitoring of security personnel to prevent insider threat.