Experts seek review of aviation safety programmes
Security experts in the aviation industry yesterday warned that terror attacks were imminent at airports around the country.The experts, after a close look at happenings in and around the aerodromes, said that the news of another stowaway on Arik Air aircraft suggested that attacks might just be closer than the authorities were aware of.
The concerned stakeholders, who spoke at the breakfast meeting of the Aviation Safety Round Table (ASRT), a think-tank group of the sector, urged an immediate review of the aviation security programmes at the airports and operating airlines, if the country must prevent a possible attack.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has said it is doing its best to ensure that security standards are duly implemented at the airports.
The lifeless body of a stowaway was on Wednesday found in the main wheel well of one of the Arik Air’s A330-200 aircraft at the Oliver Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg.
An aviation security consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), observed that it was the second time Arik was being targeted within three days, after some armed robbers told police in Port Harcourt, Rivers State that they were headed for an Arik plane when they were apprehended in a shootout.
He hinted of a recent incident where a domestic airline passenger plane could not land because some herdsmen, allegedly with sophisticated ammunition, were grazing their cattle around the runway.
Ojikutu said that the incidents showed that terrorists, including Boko Haram insurgents, Fulani herdsmen and Nigeria Delta militants were becoming aware of how porous the nation’s airports were, and fast exploring the openings.
According to him, most of the airports have no perimeter fences and others that are fenced (like the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos) already have private homes using the fence as a part of their buildings. He said both situations constituted a security risk to any airport around the world.
Ojikutu also noted what he described as the challenge of insiders’ threat, where airlines are owing salaries and security operatives can still not tell which of the agencies is in charge of coordinating security.
“For all of these issues, I will hold the NCAA responsible. When the case of stowaway happened in Benin, I asked them ‘how did it happen without an insider’s connivance?’ The perimeter fences are porous. The MMIA has one that is not security-enhanced. That is why we have all these cases of stowaways.
“What I expect NCAA to immediately do is to review all the security programmes of these airports, and of Arik in particular. We are talking of the lives of Nigerians here being put at risk and government of Nigeria has a responsibility to protect them,” Ojikutu said.
Apparently in agreement with Ojikutu, cybercrime security expert, Ifeanyi Ugochukwu, said the threat of terrorism was no longer in doubt, “it is only a matter of when it will happen.”
Ugochukwu said that while the security operatives were focused on physical threats, cyber threats were already “upon us with drones already in private hands in the country.”
He said: “Cyber security threat is real. It is not about if it will, but when it will happen. Our environment encourages insiders’ threat because we employ people we don’t have their background checks to work in our airports. The Nigerian state, regulators, operators and the passengers all have work to do, but must first be aware of the precarious situation we are in.”
According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) attachee, United States’ Embassy, West Africa, Gary Pleus, aviation is a common target of terrorist groups around the world .
Pleus said since the 911 attack in the United States, adversaries had advanced to the use of underwear bomb vest, explosives hidden inside toothpaste tubes, rocket small arms, shoe bomb and departure hall attacks, all to beat security and wreak havoc.
While he gave kudos to the Nigerian security operatives for departure hall security, he said that insiders’ threat, stowaways, disgruntled workers and so on were all still threats that must be dealt with.