Ike Abonyi and Chinedu Eze
There was pandemonium yesterday on an Arik Airline flight from Maiduguri, Borno State, en route Abuja, when a passenger, Mallam Aminu Galadima, stood up mid-air and shouted 'Allah Akbar' (God is great).
Suspecting Galadima to be a suicide bomber linked to the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, other passengers panicked, triggering a melee on board the aircraft.
Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, is the major operational base of the sect that has killed close to 2,000 since 2009 when it began its terror attacks.
Some of the passengers, alarmed by the behaviour of Galadima, who is said to have a history of mental disorder, rushed to apprehend and possibly disarm him.
However, nothing dangerous was found on him after he was thoroughly searched by passengers and crewmembers.
On arrival at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, the pilot immediately radioed air traffic control and airport security operatives who whisked him away.
Galadima was later handed over to security operatives, who swung into action to verify his mental state.
The State Security Service (SSS), Ministry of Aviation and Arik in different statements Tuesday, dismissed rumours that the plane was about to be bombed and assured the public of safety.
The SSS in a statement by its Deputy Director, Public Relations, Mrs. Marilyn Ogar, said Galadima was allowed on the flight due to negligence by his guardians who failed to notify airport authorities as previously agreed, before he boarded the plane.
Ogar said: “On Friday, October 19, 2012, the wife of the SSG (Secretary to the State Government) to the Borno State Government, Hajia Yachilla Jidda, travelled to Maiduguri in company of one Aminu S. Galadima, an interior decorator based in Abuja, to do some interior decoration work.
“On arrival in Maiduguri, he was lodged at Greenland Hotel. During the course of his stay, he exhibited unusual behaviour by smashing a window, and ended up with lacerations on his hands.
“The SSG was contacted, and in collaboration with the hotel management, the subject was taken to Atal Hospital, also in Maiduguri, where he received treatment.
“His family in Abuja was contacted and they gave confirmation that Galadima has been mentally unstable. In addition, his elder brother who lives in the UK was contacted and he requested that the subject be returned to Abuja for medical attention.
“On Sunday, October 21, 2012, he was taken to the airport to be returned to Abuja, but he missed the flight. However, the airport management was informed of his state of health, and they advised that whenever his return is scheduled, the management should be notified.
“Unfortunately, when Galadima was taken to the airport on October 23 (yesterday) for his return trip, the management of the airport was not informed, and 10 minutes into the flight, due to slight turbulence, his condition was triggered off. Meanwhile, Galadima is in the custody of security forces.”
The Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, through her spokesman, Mr. Joe Obi, in another statement, corroborated the SSS narration and described the rumour of a bomb attempt on the flight as a hoax.
The statement said Galadima, an indigene of Minna, Niger State, boarded the Maiduguri-Abuja bound Arik Air flight with registration number 5N MJE after going through all mandatory security screening and nothing incriminating was found on him.
“However, mid-air, the passenger began to act strangely, loudly screaming ‘God is great’. The plane landed safely at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja at exactly 1253 hours and the suspect was handed over to the SSS at about 1445 hours where he is currently being interrogated.
“We wish to reassure the flying public of the continued focus of the Federal Ministry of Aviation on the safety and security of the nation's airspace, while cautioning fellow Nigerians on spreading dangerous rumours. These rumours do not help to make our airspace either safer or more secure,” he said.
The airline, in its statement, explained that the passenger was not caught with any bomb or dangerous object.
It also disclosed that all the passengers on board the flight, including Galadima, had all gone through the normal security checks at the Maiduguri International Airport and nothing incriminating was found on anyone.
“However, when the aircraft landed in Abuja, another security check was conducted on the passenger and nothing incriminating was found on him. A further security search was conducted on the operating aircraft, a Boeing 737-700 NG (Next Generation) and no trace of bomb or explosives were found. The aircraft went back to service immediately.
“Arik Air wishes to assure guests that all its flights undergo strict security checks and passengers have nothing to fear.
“The airline’s Aviation Security Department is one of the most sophisticated in the industry and its commitment to security and safety of passengers is second to none in Africa,” it said in the statement.