August 28, 2013

Lax Airport Security

HOW and why a teenage stowaway, Daniel Oikhena, was able to fly from Benin City in the tyre hold of an aircraft to Lagos should be of more concern than the frenzy exchange of blames among those responsible for the incident.

The 15-year-old disembarked from the wheel well of an Arik flight on Saturday to the consternation of those at the scene. Oikhena, on his part, was shocked that he landed in Lagos not America, which he had dreamt of visiting.

Security agencies are quizzing the boy and his mother. They have enough reasons to worry about the incident. In plain terms, there were enough breaches to have compromised the security of airport operations in Benin City, Lagos or more places.

The explanations that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, gave in blaming Arik, is at best puerile.

FAAN said passengers who saw Oikhena pass without exiting at the other side of the aircraft brought the matter to the attention of Arik pilots who reported to the control tower, yet Arik operated the flight.

How plausible is it for passengers, presumably on the window side of an aircraft, to see the other side, again through the window side, to monitor the movements of a teenager? What sustained their attention on the teenager? How could passengers see the teenager and airport security did not see him?

Were FAAN security personnel off duty when he made his way to the aircraft? Everyone moving around special airport areas has an “on duty” identity card, did Oikhena have one?

In addition to the card, people on “tarmac operations” wear reflective aprons, was Oikhena wearing one? He could not have got into the aircraft without assistance of insiders.

FAAN was so strict about these guidelines that it once denied Speaker of the House of Representatives Dimeji Bankole access to the tarmac. His convoy did not pass the security checks that could have permitted him access to the tarmac.

We applauded FAAN then for its adherence to the rules. What has changed?

Two cases of stowaways preceded this. In March 2010, a corpse was found in the nose wheel compartment of the United States carrier, Delta Airline, Boeing B777 aircraft parked at the Lagos airport.

Last October, a dead body was found in the wheel well of an Arik flight that returned from New York.

Airport security is a complex web of agencies but FAAN has overall responsibility for land security at airports. Its security critically failed, again.

FAAN’s lethargic response suggests a poor understanding of the vast implications of the incident. Suppose Oikhena was wired with bombs? FAAN should tell Nigeria what happened and measures to stop repeats.