By George Onah, CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, GEORGE ONAH, Jimoh Babatunde & Daniel Eteghe
Port Harcourt THE fear on the faces of the hurriedly disembarked passengers of Arik Airline 7.50 a.m Port-Harcourt to Lagos (W3 701) flight was palpable.
Warnings by members of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, that they would bomb Abuja, Lagos and Niger Delta without warning only upped the fears and worsened the situation
Obviously, recent series of bomb explosions especially the Independence Day twin bomb explosions that claimed over 11 lives are still fresh in their memory.
Most of the passengers who were hurrying to Lagos to catch various appointments Tuesday morning elected to go by the 7.50 a.m flight because it was the earliest for the day even though it cost higher at N21,000 for an economy ticket. There was an Air Nigeria flight scheduled for 8.50 a.m that went for N20,000. There was also an Aero Contractors flight.
In spite of a slight delay, all passengers were seated at 8.15 a.m and the aircraft marked 5N MJJ was almost ready for take-off when top Nollywood actress, Hilda Dokubo, was seen answering a phone call. Thereafter, she picked her hand luggage and briskly disembarked.
A couple of minutes later, some security boarded the plane and had a chat with the pilot who in no time asked the passengers to pick their luggage and disembark immediately, citing security reasons.
On enquiries, it was gathered that Dokubo received a text message alerting her of a bomb being planted on the airplane, for which she was said to have informed the airline authorities.
She was later invited by security agents for questioning at the Port Harcourt International Airport over the bomb scare.
Confirming the incident, Deputy General Manager Public Affairs of Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Mr. Victor Arisa said Dokubo was “merely invited to brief security agencies” on the information she availed them.
But Police PRO Rita Inoma-Abbey (a DSP) told Vanguard that she had not been informed of the development. However, a source at the airport said the actress was still being questioned at press time.
Thereafter, bomb experts were invited, the plane was searched but the outcome was still being awaited at press time.
While the search was on, the disappointed passengers waited endlessly. A couple of them, who missed their appointments in Lagos asked for a refund, which the airline authority gave them.
However, those who wanted to continue with the journey became agitated and threaten to disrupt operations until another aircraft marked 5N KJJ was flown in at 11.45 a.m to take most of the shaken passengers to Lagos while the rest waited for another flight in the afternoon. Before embarking the plane, the passengers were searched thoroughly with the contents of their bags combed with scanners.
Arik Air reacts
Meanwhile, Managing Director of Arik Air, Chris Ndulue, in a press briefing at the airline’s headquarters, said despite the frisking of the aircraft, checked-in luggage and the passengers, no threat was found on any, but for safety reason, all the passengers were evacuated and put on another aircraft by the airline.
He described bomb threat as a usual experience in the industry, but declined to reveal the identity of those behind the threat. He explained security agencies were currently investigating the issue.
He said: “This is something that usually occur in our environment and I can tell you now that the security agencies are investigating the threat. I cannot say those who are behind the threat, but I hope the investigation will unravel their identities.
“I want to say here again that if such message comes daily, we will react the way we have reacted today (Wednesday).”
Apart from the primary screening by various agencies at the airports, Arik also provide its secondary screening to all the passengers boarding its aircraft. It is better to be on the side of caution always.”