Securing Nigeria’s Airports from Terror Attacks

0
Adamu on top of Azman aircraft engine

Last week’s runway incursion into the airside of the Lagos airport, through which Usman Adamu gained access to Azman Air flight that was on holding point to take off to Port Harcourt frightened air travellers and showed how porous the nation’s airports are. Chinedu Eze writes that if urgent action is not taken to secure the airports, they might be exposed to more security threats

Last week’s runway incursion into the airside of the Lagos airport, through which Usman Adamu gained access to Azman Air flight that was on holding point to take off to Port Harcourt frightened air travellers and showed how porous the nation’s airports are. Chinedu Eze writes that if urgent action is not taken to secure the airports, they might be exposed to more security threats.

The incident involving a Nigerien, Usman Adamu, who entered the engine of Azman flight which taxied to a holding point at the Runway 18L at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), confirmed the earlier reports that unauthorised individuals have easy access to the most restricted area of the Lagos airport

It also authenticated past reports of robbery incidents of some aircraft on the taxiways while waiting to take off. These reports were denied variously by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and other concerned agencies.

Runway Incursion

Passengers, who were already settled in the aircraft and waiting for it to take off were rattled when they saw Adamu, who clutched a bag, which the petrified passengers suspected could contain a bomb. According to reports, the passengers shouted to draw the attention of the crew as Adamu meandered his way from the aircraft engine to the wing, possible struggling to access inside the Azman Air Boeing 737aircraft.

Reports also indicated that the man kept walking on and around the aircraft for over 20 minutes before the Aviation Security (AVSEC) officials of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) could be alerted and they moved in to apprehend Adamu and put him in custody.

Industry experts said Adamu who entered the engine of the aircraft would have died if not that the Captain of the flight switched off the engines when he noticed the intruder. Otherwise he would have been sucked in and killed, which would also result to severe damage of the aircraft.

At the time of filing this report, it was not yet known what prompted the man to access the airside of the airport, but eye witness accounts revealed that the man ran straight from the link road between the domestic and international airport and crossed the airside fences between the VIP Lounge and the Nigeria Air Force hangar and accessed the airside of the airport.

However, this was yet to be confirmed by FAAN, which is still investigating how Adamu found himself at the most sterile area of the airport, which is highly restricted and which is regularly patrolled by the joint security personnel drawn from the Police, the Nigeria Air Force and FAAN Aviation Security (AVSEC).

The airline in a statement confirmed that the Pilot “took a preemptive effort to shut down the engines as the same person was noticed wandering around the aircraft and later, he was seen climbing the part of the aircraft in an attempt to gain access to the cabin.” 

FAAN’s Reaction

FAAN in response to the incident described it as a very serious one and said it had deployed all processes to get to the details of the incursion and also suspended officials in charge of security at the airport.

“Following the unfortunate airside incursion at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos today, July 19, 2019, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria has suspended indefinitely the Aviation Security unit heads who were on duty when the incident occurred, pending completion of ongoing investigation into the regrettable security infringement. The affected officers are the Airport Chief of Security, Mamman Mohammed Sadiku, International Terminal Security Officer, Oni Adedamola Abiodun, Head of Department Domestic Terminal 2, Owotor Kenneth Okezie and Head of Department Domestic Terminal 1, Badejo Adebowale Ayodele.  

“In the interim, a General Manager of the Authority, Dr. Anne Enyinnaya-Egbadon, has been detailed to take charge of security at the airport. Other affected officers have also been replaced. The current arrangement is aimed at ensuring an efficient and thorough investigation towards the recovery and sustenance of the airport’s proactive security integrity.  FAAN views this breach as a serious security concern and has commenced investigation to ascertain the remote and immediate causes of this incident to forestall future occurrence,” FAAN said.

The agency also took full responsibility of the incident and moved immediately to reinforce security at the airport.

 Security Breach

Reacting to the incident aviation security experts described it as major security breach.

The Chairman of Scope Centre, Aviation Security Firm, Mr. Bayo Babatunde, told THISDAY that what happened was due to the failure of security management system (SMS).

“This is a very high security breach and danger to international aviation.  It’s also a failure of the Security Management System. The airside is supposed to be sterile and only authorised persons wearing their approved On Duty Cards should have access.  How did the threat evade security procedures?  Was he assisted in by one of the concessionaires supply trucks? Did he use the nearby bush and breached the perimeter fences? Was the CCTV working and manned by a diligent personnel? What were the motives? These and several more are urgently begging for answers from thorough investigation of the incidence,” Babatunde said.

Also aviation security consultant and CEO of Centurion Securities, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd) wondered how the man was able to access the airside of the airport.

“How could he have entered the security controlled areas? Either through the airport access ‘controlled’ areas or from the porous areas especially the airport perimeter fences that need security enhancement. By the way, how many people working in the airport security controlled areas, especially the airside is properly documented to have access to those areas? How many of them do we have sufficient background checks on them? I need not to say more,” Ojikutu said.

The Airside

When reports of robbery attacks on taxiing aircraft at the Lagos airport was made public about two years ago, concerned aviation authorities doubted the possibility because it looked incredible, but pilots that had flown on many domestic routes narrated their experiences in the past and noted that it happened in the past and could happen again.

They attributed this to security laxity and alleged that those who could have the courage to go and rob at the airside of the airport were those familiar with the airport environment and also those who knew the processes and procedures in flight operations.

They accused sacked workers of handling companies, airlines and possibly former workers of aviation agencies of being possibly responsible for the theft. They anchored their argument on the fact that anyone without the knowledge of the aircraft luggage hold, movement of aircraft on the taxiways to the runway and also knowledge of the airport environment would not dare take the risk of robbing aircraft on the airside of any airport.

But Adamu’s action has shown that it was not only those who had experience of the airport could access the runway, which obviously is porous.

Fortifying the Airport

Many Nigerians commended the swift action taken by FAAN, led by its new Managing Director, Captain Hamisu Yadudu, who announced the handing over of the intruder to the police.

Captain Yadudu said the federal government had already assisted in the award of contracts for perimeter fences at the airports, including detection devices and CCTV cameras with infrared capacity for night operations.

He added that plans are also underway to erect observation towers this year, so as to enable proper monitor and coverage of the airport, assuring travellers and airport users that new measures were already being put in place to enhance security at the nation’s airports.

He explained that already, FAAN had a security patrol/escort team in place for arriving and departing aircraft but another joint patrol team involving FAAN AVSEC, the Police and the Military have also been constituted to assist in protecting the sanctity of the airside and ensuring the security of lives and properties of airport users and the travelling public.

He noted that globally new threats were springing up daily and the criminal elements were fashioning out ways to circumvent security architectures but promised that FAAN would continue to work with relevant stakeholders and the regulatory agencies towards ensuring safe operations at our airports. 

Also in a statement signed by its spokesman, Mr. Sam Adurogboye, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said it was collaborating with the aviation security personnel of FAAN and all other relevant agencies to strengthen security at the nation’s airports.

“This is to forestall a similar occurrence of the security breach that happened at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) last weekend.

After a review of the preliminary report submitted by FAAN to the Authority and further investigation by NCAA, FAAN has been advised to provide additional security patrol vehicles at the airside. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and other relevant agencies will continue to work together towards ensuring adequate security at all the nation’s airports,” NCAA said.

 Recruitment

However, THISDAY learnt from FAAN officials that the root cause of the incessant security breach at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos could be attributed to the unqualified personnel recruited at the AVSEC Department.

The officials said the bulk of the personnel in the Aviation Security Department of the agency were not trained and were recruited without requisite qualification and experience so they lack the skill, the motivation and experience to do the job.

 They recommended that to stop constant security breach at the airport and other airports under the management of FAAN, the agency should recruit new set of staff, who will seek the job because they want it and who are qualified to do it, warning that recruiting unqualified and unmotivated people to do the sensitive job of airport security could lead to insider threat.