Aviation authorities must review their security operations for efficiency

Another shocking incident of stowaway was recently reported when a young Nigerian hid himself in the spares and equipment compartment of Medview Airline’s Boeing B747 and travelled to Gatwick Airport in London. The plan of the suspect was to drop on landing in London but he was unable to sneak out of the aircraft because his expectation that the aircraft would be delayed till night did not materialise. Rather, after disembarking its passengers from Lagos, those travelling back boarded the flight. Knowing that if he came out he would be seen and arrested in London, the suspect stayed in the aircraft. On arrival back in Lagos, he was eventually seen, arrested and handed over to the police.

In the past 10 years, there have been several incidents of stowaways and the stories did not always end this way. Although this suspect survived because of where he hid himself, others who attempted to leave Nigeria through similar means died. But the pertinent question remains: supposing the suspect was with a bomb, would he not have succeeded in destroying all the lives of the passengers on board that flight in what could easily have become one of the greatest tragedies in Nigerian aviation history?

Fortunately, the suspect was only desperate to get out of the country to what he believed would be a better place and that has been the drive behind many attempted stowaways. But if there is anything the incident has reinforced, it is the inadequacy of security at the nation’s airports. The suspect, for instance, waded through four levels of security before he could get into the aircraft. And none of them was able to stop him. Not only have aviation security operatives been confounded by the successful access of the stowaway to the aircraft, they have also admitted that the Lagos airport and other airports in the country are porous.

The stowaway confessed that he accessed the airport terminal through the protocol area that is usually manned by the police between the Hajj/Cargo terminal and the international terminal. The first security buffer is the perimeter fencing, which he scaled through. The second is the close circuit television (CCTV) which ought to monitor movements to the airside and he also escaped this. The third is the aviation security (AVSEC) officials who were supposed to man the tarmac 24 hours and they also did not notice the young man. The fourth is the security in charge of the aircraft. He also beat them.

Today, many Nigerians are desperate to leave the country by all means possible for assumed greener pastures that in most cases are no longer available. In fact, the situation is so grim that many of our young citizens now give themselves two options: either to arrive at their destination or die trying. But it is remarkable that out of the number of those who stowed away on international flight to other parts of the world, this suspect was the only person that survived.

While all others died in the wheel-well of the aircraft, this one survived because he hid himself in the spares compartment of the B747, the only aircraft type that has such compartment. But he and others before him who were able to access aircraft flying to international destinations succeeded because of the porous security at the airports.

Given the implications of the incident, we urge the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to review the National Civil Aviation Security Programmes (NCASP) and ensure compliance by all operators. It is also important for the airlines to review their security operations for the safety of their passengers while the authorities must do everything to end the regular flight to death by many of our desperate young citizens.