Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos
By Chinedu Eze
The arrest of a security official of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Akinyele Adetule, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos when he attempted to launder $1.4 million (N218m), has confirmed long-held belief that those who know the inner working of the airport are among members of syndicates operating at the airport.
The arrest of Adetule took place less than a month after the EFCC arrested a 24-year-old man, Mr. Abubakar Sheriff, at the same airport with $7 million (N1.1 billion).
The Head of Operations, EFCC, Mr. Iliyasu Kwarbai, said the suspect was able to pass through Nigeria Customs Service and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) security checks because he was wearing his identity card and therefore did not draw any suspicion.
“The suspect is a FAAN security guard. He wore his tag and was thus able to move freely in the airport without drawing suspicion. He was carrying a bag and it went through the scanner. It is curious that such a huge sum went through the scanner undetected. Or was it a case of conspiracy and collusion?
“The suspect passed through NDLEA and Customs and he went to the waiting area; but he started making phone calls instead of proceeding to board his flight. We accosted him and noticed that his bag was heavy.
“When we searched him, we saw the large sum of money, which he said did not belong to him and that he was only trying to telephone the owner who never showed up,” EFCC said in a statement.
Adetula said he had worked for FAAN for over five years and he was promised N10, 000 if he could successfully get past security with the money.
Reacting to the incident, FAAN in a statement admitted that Adetula was a staff member of the organisation, stressing that he was not on duty when he was caught with the money.
“The suspect, who is an employee of the security directorate, was neither on duty nor on an official assignment. He was consequently accosted by security personnel at the Customs Currency Declaration Desk and has since been handed over to the EFCC custody for investigation,” the statement, which was signed by FAAN’s Head of Corporate Communication, Yakubu Dati, said.
The agency also commended the joint efforts of the EFCC, Customs, Police and other security personnel who aided his arrest, and assured them of its unalloyed assistance in unravelling the crime, “particularly as the staffer was acting on his own accord”.
According to aviation security experts, for years, currency smugglers have been using security operatives at the Lagos airport to facilitate the nefarious activity through which over N3 trillion has been smuggled out of the country since the past 13 years of democratic governance.
Together with drugs, there have been syndicates that facilitate the movement of couriers out of the country through the airports and there also have not been effective efforts to stamp out the security operatives that aide these smugglers.
A former FAAN Managing Director, Mr. Richard Aisuebeogun, said that insider threat, which is the violation of security policy using legitimate access or obtaining unauthorised access, was the major challenge of aviation security at the Lagos airport.
Airport security officials are said to collude with passengers to smuggle banned materials, including hard objects to the aircraft by being compromised and allowing them to board with carry-ons (hand luggage) containing the illegal objects.
NDLEA once made a damning report about the nefarious
activities of aviation security officials on how they aid and abet drug trafficking.
In a report titled “Investigation Activities: Request for the Release of Aviation Security Officials”, dated March 29, 2006, the agency said that it carried out hard drug investigation that involved conspiracy and abetting.
“On Monday 27th March, 2006 during the outward clearance of KLM flight to Amsterdam, two hard drug couriers were intercepted by the officers of the NDLEA at the KLM boarding gate at 2140 hours. The two couriers did not pass through the normal security check as they were carried through the tarmac gate one, in a station wagon car to the E wing of the MMIA and subsequently aided to the boarding gate.
“The two hard drug suspects confessed that they were carried through the tarmac in a car in which they laid down on instruction of the driver as they approached the tarmac gate,” the report said.
The CCTV review revealed that aviation security officials conspired, “aided and abetted couriers to the KLM boarding gate through unauthorised access door, thereby facilitating the circumvention of the normal security check and narcotics screening, contrary to the Provision of Section 10 (c) (b) of the NDLEA Act…”
NDLEA noted, “This practice of conspiracy, aiding and abetting through the tarmac and unauthorised access doors is an ugly incident that has been going on for some time at the airport. It is a syndicate of persons in the aviation security, FAAN and Avio Bridge that are involved in this matter.”
The agency therefore requested that FAAN should release the indicted officers and the driver of the said vehicle.
When the above disclosure was made, it was said that the then FAAN management transferred the suspects and there was massive shake-up but a source recently disclosed to THISDAY, “All those people have walked their way back to Lagos.”
THISDAY once spoke with an aviation security expert, Adebayo Babatunde, who said that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) security standard that took effect from January 2006, articles of annex 17 made it clear that all luggage that are in-bound must go through screening and any deviation from this is a breach.
“If you don’t screen, you allow threat items into the aircraft thereby compromising safety and security,” he had said.
He said that there was a proviso that all personnel involved in security at the airports must be properly trained so that they would be proficient in their job and have certificate of competence to know the implication of what they are doing.
Babatunde noted that close circuit cameras are used at the airports, focused on the screening areas to record anything that may be happening and there should be a superior officer who should observe the activities of those screening the passengers and such breaches “are notified and measures are taken to tackle the problem as they arise”.