Security operatives and other aviation officials are becoming major obstacles to enforcing security at Nigeria’s airports, thereby creating a strong possibility of security breach.
At the international gateways observed, officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service, Customs, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), and Quarantine and Aviation Security of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) connive to form a profiteering racket that enlarges their pockets but weakens airport security.
An official of FAAN told THISDAY that these operatives work like mafia, sometimes using sign language among themselves to compromise security by allowing prohibited goods to pass through X-ray machines into the aircraft and foreigners without adequate documentation to gain entry into the country.
In the face of possible terror attacks after the Brussels airport bombings last week and the recent successful hijack of Egypt Air airliner that was flying from Alexandra to Cairo on Tuesday, there are fears that the attitude of security operatives at Nigeria’s airports, especially the international airports in Lagos and Abuja may expose the facilities to terror attacks.
THISDAY investigation revealed that the joint security personnel made up of the Nigeria Air Force, the Nigeria Police and Aviation Security (AVSEC) compromise security at access control points, which could allow unauthorised persons access to the terminals.
THISDAY observation revealed that the security operatives at the entrance gates to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport terminal extort money from passengers who are not willing to queue to access the terminal at peak hours.
Last year, FAAN installed X-ray machines at the entrance gates of the international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt to screen passenger luggage before it is taken into the terminal.
But security personnel have now turned this laudable effort to money making venture whereby they deliberately delay the screening of the bags until passengers crowd the gates and then seek gratification to allow passengers who are in a hurry to go into the terminal. There are instances where passengers who resisted such extortions end up missing their flights in the process.
THISDAY learnt that FAAN management made efforts to end extortion at the gates, but because the security personnel at these gates come mainly from the Nigeria Air Force and the Nigerian Police, such efforts have not yielded positive results as these security officers tend to defy the directives given by FAAN, claiming to be answerable to their bosses outside the airport.
The AVSEC operatives also solicit money from passengers and in doing so weaken their power to enforce security regulations concerning the passengers and their luggage.
A senior official of FAAN told THISDAY that the agency had made significant efforts towards the fortification of the airports under its management but “the police and the Air Force at the access control have questionable attitude.”
The source said there should be regular change of guards and profiling of all officials that work at the airports and those who are no longer familiar with the system at the airport should be brought in in the face of the terror attacks in Brussels which may have emboldened the terrorists to extent their evil plots to other countries.
The source also condemned the operatives for turning the drop off zones at the front of the international wing of the Lagos airport to car park for ‘VIPs’ from whom they collect money and allow their vehicles to be parked there, noting that such vehicles could be laden with bombs which when exploded would have devastating effects on lives and property.
The source also noted that the warning, which FAAN issued recently to passengers to be weary of suspicious movements and to come to the airports in time when travelling and not leave their bags unattended is immaterial if the security personnel do not change their attitude.
“You can have the best of equipment but it comes to nothing without a change in the attitude of security personnel. There should be effective security oversight of all the areas of the airport; there should be proper surveillance. All these were effectively done during the audit of the international airports by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) last week but what we want is continuity. The period of the audit has helped us,” the source said.
THISDAY also learnt that Abuja airport is porous and could be accessed through various areas by unauthorized persons.
“In Abuja there are so many entrances and the officials of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) drive to their radar facility at the airside of the airport with their cars, which should not be allowed. In Lagos, people are not allowed to access the airside with their cars. Ideally, people should not stay too long in one beat, covering one terminal, they should be moved around so that they would not be too familiar with other airport users and compromise security. On duty card (ODC) must be issued after proper screening of the person requesting it. If the issuance of ODC is abused there will be security breach at the airport,” the source said.
Aviation security expert and CEO of Scope, Adebayo Babatunde, said the passengers cannot be prevented from accessing the airport but there should be proper access control, adding that the most potent instrument to check terror is intelligence, “so all the security operatives must share intelligence across airports and across nations.”
He said that if intelligence fails then technology should be deployed to screen all airport users and the airside of the airport and the terminal must be rendered sterile.
“We must follow international security procedures; there should be no compromises. If a bag is unattended remove it and destroy it and government should urgently acquire explosive detection system (EDS), which has been recommended for all international airports,” Babatunde said.
He noted that due to economic crunch, Brussels may not have acquired modern, hi-tech security equipment at the airports and the terrorists took advantage of that.
Former Managing Director of FAAN, Richard Aisuebeogun, said the challenge in airport security is the ability of a security programme to avert persons with bad intentions from gaining access to sensitive areas of the airport and the overall prevention of any kind of security breach.
So it is the responsibility of airport managers to ensure that certain security elements are in place and this includes airport perimeter control.
According to Aisuebeogun, African airports within the limit of resources available to them have secured the perimeters of the airports by providing both Perimeter and Operational fences in some airports. The World Bank is also assisting African countries with some perimeter fence work.
“We have also provided access control at designated gates/entry points to ensure strict access control to the airside so that only genuine passengers and staff gain access.
“African airports are equipped with perimeter roads to enable security patrol and aid emergency operations. All entry points/gates are also manned and access control measures put in place to prevent intrusion; during periods of red alert, aircraft may also be escorted to holding points by security agents.
“The introduction of the machine-readable travel document (MRTD) programme by most African countries Immigration Services which became a mandatory global standard by April 2010 is also a vital tool in addressing aviation terrorism. This programme has been acknowledged as one of the most important available tools for enhancing the security of global civil aviation and promoting global inter-operability, and an essential tool for preventing terrorist movement across borders,” Aisuebeogun said.
But it has to be noted many of Nigeria’s airports are yet to be fully fenced to stop unauthorised access by criminals and potential terrorists. The incidents of stowaways, which gained frequency in recent times, indicate that the airports are still very porous. The physical fencing must be done before the protection of individuals from accessing the airports could be effectively enforced.
“It is pertinent here to state that security at the airport is multilayer and multi-agency, consisting of the military, the police and other Para-military agencies like the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Customs, Immigration, Directorate of State Security (DSS), etc. And we rely on timely intelligence for the success of our security operations.
“Terminal security also involves; management of public areas and restricted areas, access control, security checkpoints and the separation of arrival and departure flows. Terminal buildings are targets in many countries – if not necessarily the target of terrorists, certainly that of criminal elements attracted to the presence of large gatherings. Passengers themselves present additional security challenges to the terminal operation,” Aisuebeogun said.
The federal government must have to rejig the security system at the airports and provide the needed funding for the acquisition of security equipment and ensure continuous training of personnel in order to ensure that terrorists do not have access to the nation’s airports.