The suspension of three top officials of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria FAAN at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja recently by the Minister of State, Aviation following a serious safety breach at the airport should not come as a surprise to many Nigerians because of the serious security and safety challenges in many of Nigeria's airports. What should be of interest to Nigerians, and what will surprise many will be what the new federal aviation ministry administration will do with the final report when submitted. The suspension of the three top officials of the NAI Airport followed a bizarre incident at the airport in Abuja recently when some passengers bulldozed their ways unto the tarmac and prevented a Turkish Aircraft from taking off in gross breach of safety regulations. Reason? The airline brought the passengers without their luggage, an action that angered the passengers into taking the law into their hands. Preventing an aircraft from taking off on schedule, or any unlawful seizure of an aircraft by any person or group is a gross breach of airport security. The action is also illegal, and a serious violation of international aviation protocol as stipulated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation ICAO standard. Nigeria is an important member of the international community and the largest economy in Africa with many important businessmen flying in everyday.
Therefore, this embarrassing incident is unacceptable and capable of denting the nation's already battered image. It resembles a typical local motor park mentality, and must not be allowed to repeat itself. This serious incident should be instructive to many decent Nigerians for several reasons. For one it raises a serious question about the issue of security in Nigerian airports. Abuja is the window through which the visitor will get his first glance at Nigeria. It is sad that this incident happened in Abuja. This strange occurrence in Nigeria's capital city is a repeat of other strange incidents across the country. In early July 2005, an Air France with 196 passengers on board ran into stray cows on the runway of the Port Harcourt International Airport. The Airbus 330 flew in from France. Luckily, there was no loss of life or any injury. Much of the injury was on the image of Nigeria. It took officials of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria FAAN three hours to round up the surviving cows, and clear the runway of debris of the seven cows killed following the collision. In reaction, the federal government then directed the perimeter fencing of the airports. Several years after this directive was given, some of the airports are still not fully fenced and remained porous. In March 2011, at the peak of campaigns for Nigeria's general elections, a Hawker 850 aircraft carrying vice presidential candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria ACN Mr. Fola Adeola experienced a runway incursion by goats at the Bauchi Airstrip. Although the disaster was averted, the incident badly shook the passengers, and generated malicious rumours that the incident was deliberately planned because the passengers were members of the opposition political party. Again, it should have served as a warning for the government to consider reviewing, with all seriousness, the issue of security at Nigeria's airports. In September 2011, an alarm on airport security was raised by the then Assistant Secretary General of the Airline Operators of Nigeria. He said cows stray into runways and airside at the Kaduna airport almost on a daily basis. He cited the case of a commercial aircraft that could not land, and had to hover round for some time to allow the animals move away from the airfield before initiating final descent. Also, some Nigerian airports still harbor touts who hang around to irritate passengers about one dubious deal or the other, or hawking foods that are not properly preserved. This is unacceptable, especially in view of the fact that the aviation sector remains one of the prime targets of terrorists worldwide. So allowing people to loiter around airports without proper clearance is a blueprint for disaster. The issue of perimeter must be implemented as a matter of urgency in all local and international airports. This will be a wise and proactive move because a stitch in time saves nine. Perimeter fencing will also ensure that unauthorized persons especially insurgents and terrorists are kept are kept away from runways and restricted operational areas. The government should increase the number of security personnel at the airports. The head of security at the NAI Airport, before he was suspended, in his preliminary response to the incident where passengers prevented a Turkish airline from taking off, complained of inadequate staff. He said there were only 192 security men taking care of the entire airport, so the irate passengers overpowered the few security men on duty. The law must make example of anyone, at the airport, who displays such gross indiscipline in the future. Airlines, especially foreign ones must be compelled to treat Nigerian bound passengers with respect and accord them all the privilege that other international passengers enjoy. That includes ensuring that luggage are properly cleared and shipped on the appropriate flights. In litigation conscious societies, the Turkish airlines will dare not carry a passenger without his luggage. The Nigerian government must insist that the right thing be done if it aspires to maintain its position as Africa's largest economy, and one of the new investment destinations.