BY OUR EDITORS
The federal government had recently raised the alarm over the planned attack on some major airports across the federation.
The Federal Ministry of Aviation, in a memo to airport security chiefs, stated that criminals were planning to strike in Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Sokoto, and Kano.
The notice, dated April 9, 2021, and signed by Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) deputy general manager, Administration and Logistics, S.M. Mamman, read: “I am directed to convey a warning from the Ministry of Aviation regarding security threats by criminal elements against airports in Nigeria and to request the immediate enumeration of appropriate counter-measures for the safety of airports/facilities under your purview.”
In the opinion of this newspaper, this is a matter that should be taken with all the seriousness it deserves. In a country already bedeviled by insecurity in many states of the federation, we cannot afford our airports to be the target of terrorists in the country.
Indeed, with terrorists and bandits targeting schools in Nigeria to gain global attention, our airports are certainly an attractive prospect. The aviation sector remains an attractive terrorist target due to its importance to the global economy and the opportunity to inflict mass casualties.
Regrettably, traveling by road in the country is a high risk venture due to the activities of bandits and kidnappers. Apart from the outlaws, the roads are in terrible states of disrepair.
Besides, an investigation by this newspaper showed that most of the existing fences of airports in the country are also poorly manned and could be easily breached by terrorists and bandits.
The poorly built fences, coupled with underutilisation of airport premises, have given room for thick bushes to grow, covering up the fences in some instances, thereby allowing hoodlums to take cover and carry out attacks on airport facilities.
It was also learnt that most of the poorly fenced airports are surprisingly in the northern part of the country where insurgency and banditry reign.
Last year, a 25-year-old man was caught at the runway of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, attempting to hide in the wheel-well of Air Peace flight. He was, however, arrested by aviation security of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). Also last year, a similar incident happened when a middle-aged man identified as a Nigerien attempted to climb an Azman Air aircraft on the same runway but was stopped and eventually arrested by security operatives.
To be sure, International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) security guidelines prescribe that all airports must be secured with double perimeter fences.
To meet this specification, nets, barbed wire, cameras, sensors, infrareds, intrusion detection devices are required, all of which would cost close to N1 trillion to fix.
We also recall 9/11, the series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks committed in 2001 by 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda against targets in the United States, the deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil in U.S. history.
Instructively, a report by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Counter-Terrorism Working Group (CTWG), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT Bureau) and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration,in a virtual workshop on “Soft Target Protection in an Aviation Ecosystem” to address terrorist attacks in airports all agreed on the need for increased collaboration between airport personnel – such as civil aviation authorities, law enforcement, and the private sector – and local government agencies. Conducting local risk assessments and deploying multi-layered airport security and screening procedures are also critical to reducing vulnerabilities at the airports. This is certainly the way to go .
The federal government needs to adopt these measures as prescribed by the organisation as a means of forestalling attacks on our airports.
We also recommend the use of advanced technology, smart biometrics and increased surveillance at our airports. Passengers, irrespective of class and status, should be screened thoroughly at the airports .The practice where airport officials openly ask for bribes from passengers is a dangerous practice that exposes our airports and airlines to danger. This has to stop. Protecting our airports from terrorists and bandits is a task that all stakeholders must prioritise.