For some weeks now, disturbing reports on the stealing of items in some passengers’ luggage as their jets taxied to a stop on the runway of Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) have been trending in the media. The first incident reported involved a Vista Jet 584, which arrived Lagos from Istanbul on December 12, 2017. Items from the luggage of two crew members were said to have been stolen and the luggage hold found open.
That report elicited both denials and a promise to investigate the incident by the police and the authorities of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
The apprehension that incident generated was yet to die down when another private jet conveying two of Nigeria’s foremost musicians from Uyo to Lagos on December 26 was reportedly also attacked. Ayodeji Balogun aka Wizkid and Tiwa Savage said their luggage was tampered with, and some items removed, while the jet which flew them to Lagos taxied to a stop on the MMIA runway.
Although FAAN again denied the second incident, saying the alleged victims did not make any formal complaints of any losses they suffered, and that it is impossible for anyone to rob a moving aircraft, these burglary claims are worrisome. They raise serious concerns about security, which is at the heart of air travel. The agency has, however, assured the nation that investigations are still ongoing with a view to fully unraveling the incidents and bringing culprits, if any, to book.
Let FAAN ensure a diligent probe of these allegations and make its findings public. There should be no cover up. We also urge all the stakeholders in the aviation sector to wake up to address the gaps in the security of our airports. Airports, including the MMIA in Lagos, are gateways to the world. Security breaches like these alleged ones should never arise at any airport in the country.
There have been a number of breaches to security at out airports resulting mostly from lack of adequate facilities and disciplined implementation of standard procedures. But, the aviation industry globally is not one to condone laxity. So, we had better clean up our act.
The FAAN, as the apex regulatory authority in the industry, has a responsibility to lead the way. Rather than engaging in image laundering whenever breaches occur, it should strive to ensure the enforcement of standard aviation security practices in our airports at all times. Many of our airports have had issues with perimeter fencing of their premises, power outages, leaking roofs, stowaways, compromised and inadequate runways, and inadequate Instrument Landing Systems (ILS), which should help with landing in bad weather.
But, of all these challenges, the most significant is security compromise. Whereas, our airports seem over-burdened by the presence of too many security and bureaucratic personnel, some of these people compromise the airports’ integrity by openly soliciting for bribes and hand outs from airport users. The damage this does to our image is incalculable, and it contributed to some of the recent ratings of some our airports among the worst in the world. It is, however, gratifying that some bold measures are reportedly being taken to deal with the problem.
The airport security officials should ensure that loafers and criminal elements known as “port rats’ who plagued our airports in the past and seemed to have been eliminated have not returned with a vengeance. Those saddled with the responsibility of investigating these infractions should factor in this possibility and ensure that justice is done to all concerned. Denials and quick attempts to burnish the image of the airport authorities will do the country no good in the long run. The aviation sector is an open book which plays by the same universal rules. Let the relevant agencies get to the root of these allegations and do whatever is required to boost security at the MMIA and our other airports.