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National security: Cause for concern

By Helen Ovbiagele, Woman Editor

Some very serious incidents don’t get the attention they deserve, simply because they didn’t take place in big cities or the hub of the nation.

Now, if the incident of a taxi cab being driven under the belly of a fully-loaded plane which took place the other week at Margaret Ekpo airport in Calabar, had taken place in Lagos or Abuja, I’m sure its full horror would have been communicated to most Nigerians.  There would have been a huge outcry on the lapse in security which allowed the incident to take place.

It was reported in several national dailies and a few days later, there was an attempt at a follow-up, in which it was alleged that the attack on the airline might have been targeting five Americans and some top politicians who were aboard the plane.

It was also alleged that the Police in Calabar said that ‘the manner in which the suspect carried out the aborted attack, gave confirmation that he was handed down clear instructions and details of his target by his alleged sponsors’, adding ‘that investigation was on-going to unmask the sponsors of the futile attempt’.

The Awka Ibom cab driver was alleged to have ‘driven his cab crashing through two security gates and headed straight for a boarded aircraft. In the process, he even did a u-turn and squeezed the cab under the belly of the aircraft.’

That convinced the investigators that the man was quite sane and sound,  and knew exactly what he was doing.

Well, this piece is not about the state of mind of the cab driver, or his motive.  Rather, I’m concerned about our country’s lackadaisical  attitude about national security; be it on the streets, airports, seaports and at the borders.

One would have thought that when traveling by air,  our main worry would be that of safety in the air.  Now we have to worry about security and safety on the ground at the airport itself, since it appears that there’s no protection in place for aircrafts on the tarmac.

Air travel in Nigeria has become saner in recent years.  I remember years of running on the tarmac, struggling with our luggage to go board an internal flight, as if running to catch a bus. This was amidst planes landing and taking off.  Quite scary for the elderly and the young ones.

Then, military people and those considered VIPs were driven through a special gate and straight to the tarmac and the aircraft.  Not for them, the indignity of sitting in a departure lounge, among other lowly mortals, (even in a VIP lounge),  before departure.   I used to wonder then how safe it was for people to be allowed to travel without going through the process of checking-in, and going through the security equipment.   These were the days before terrorism had a face on the international scene, so, no-one thought much of it.

But the times have rapidly changed, and security has become a big problem all over the world, even in the most remote village.   No country feels safe from terrorism, even from its own citizens, especially in the western world because, hosting multinationals, they don’t know who’s on the side of the enemy .  It’s like sitting on a time bomb.

Thank God, we’ve not yet got to the point of having alerts in colours, telling us the danger height in the country.
There’s no need enumerating here, the various ways in which lives and property have become unsafe indoor and outdoor  in our country.   Every day the situation gets worse and all we can do is to cry out to God to come to our rescue.

I believe that if our young people are trained for a vocation and given employment, criminal activities will begin to dwindle.  A desperately poor person may see crime as the only option for survival.

Governments at all levels should make job provision for our children a priority, so that they can be gainfully employed, and stand a chance of living  a well-adjusted life.

It is the responsibility of our rulers to ensure our safety at all times.  Airport security is almost non-existent in the country, otherwise a cab driver wouldn’t have been able to crash through two gates to get to the tarmac.  If those gates were strong and really meant as a security barrier, the cab would have been damaged beyond repair when it crashed into the first one.  We shouldn’t rely on guards to prevent illegal access to the tarmac, because, there’s very little they can do, if the gates are not strong enough to keep away intruders.

A determined attacker would run through the weak gates, whether there are guards there or not.  Before you lift your baton or rifle, he’s rammed through and gone to achieve his aim.

We can’t erect  walls and gates  around runways, but an airport should be under surveillance at any time; day and night.  Isn’t that part of the duties at the watch tower?    The gates for ambulances and other essential services for the planes, and also for checking in heads of state, should be well-manned by all arms of our security services.  There should be no slack moments.

The fields and farms that are near the airport should be well-watched too, as well as our airspace.
The other week, it was alleged that a soviet plane wandered into British airspace.  British fighter planes wasted no time in warning it and going to escort it out of their airspace.  I was impressed by the alertness of the British Air force.  That doesn’t mean they and other western nations don’t have security issues, or, that residents there feel adequately protected, but the speed with which they acted was commendable.

I think Nigeria is important enough in the sub-region to have fighter planes at the ready, manned by committed staff day and night; ready to shoo away intruders from our airspace, and attack them if necessary.   Our airspace is not just areas around the airports in the country, but the entire landmass which makes up Nigeria.

Each state in the country should take internal and external  security issue seriously, and man its borders effectively.  The governments – federal, state and local – should liaise with all parts of the nation to sensitize people  on the issue of security.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.