By Dayo Johnson,Regional Editor, South-West
THAT cows took over the runway of the Akure airport last Saturday and delayed an aircraft from landing is not news to many travellers using the airport. It has become a recurring decimal that cows compete for space on the runway as airlines have to wait endlessly to land on many occasions.
In fact, staffers of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, at the Akure Airport co-habit with the cows almost on daily basis.
The fear of attack by the herdsmen, who have permanently sojourned in the vicinity, has made officials of the airport to continue to keep sealed lips on the threat that their presence in the restricted area is causing.
It has become a routine for the security personnel of the airport to engage the herders who stray to the runway from the forest surrounding the airport.
Sources at the airport said the authorities have let the herdsmen be, to avoid confrontation with them.
According to Vanguard’s finding, the cows, after grazing in the restricted areas, would take solace on the runway to relax for the night.
They also litter the runway with cow dung which is always evacuated the following morning by the airport cleaners.
Unfortunately, the airport has no perimeter fence to wade off intruders.
With the absence of a fence, wandering herders and their cattle have had unhindered access to the airport.
Vanguard was reliably informed that sometime last year; a legionnaire employed by the authorities of the airport, simply called Baba Ojo, was almost beheaded for challenging the herders from putting the lives of travellers at risk by allowing their cattle to stray on the runway.
A source told Vanguard that some of the herders are so comfortable that they wave to airport officials while their cows graze daily in the restricted area.
Recall that sometime in May 2016, during a clash between some herdsmen and farmers, the state government held a peace parley which included security agencies, farmers, cattle breeders, cattle rearers, traditional rulers, community heads, and government officials among others.
At the meeting, a top official of the FAAN in Akure shocked the gathering when she raised the alarm over security infringement by herdsmen whose cattle now use the airport runway as relaxation centre.
The official said no fewer than 40 cows on daily basis converge on the airport warning that they pose a serious threat to flight operations.
Last week’s ugly incident where cows took over the airport runway and disrupted flight operations at the Akure Airport was seen as not only a security risk but an embarrassment to the country.
Officials of FAAN and the airport security personnel had a hectic time clearing the runway to allow the aircraft to land safely after about 20 minutes delay.
Vanguard gathered that the pilot was about returning to Lagos when he was informed from the control tower that the cows would soon be cleared to allow for its safe landing.
FAAN bares fangs at security officials
Embarrassed by the ugly incident, FAAN swiftly apologised to Air Peace Airlines and its passengers for the incident.
FAAN, in an apology by its General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Mrs Henrietta Yakubu said “normalcy was restored quickly, as officers of the Aviation Security department quickly dispersed the cows from the runway and the aircraft was cleared for landing.
“The authority will like to assure travellers and the general public that efforts are already ongoing to close the gap that aided this incident,” Yakubu stated.
But absolve itself of incompetence, FAAN suspended the head of Aviation Security in Akure for the embarrassment caused by the cows invasion of the runway.
FAAN’s General Manager said the “agency was not unaware of recent developments at some airports within the country with respect to security breaches, and had started putting measures in place to improve security.
“We have taken various initiatives and measures to guard against breaches of any sort at all our airports nationwide.”