Safety first – The Nation

  • The invasion of the airport tarmac is grave safety threat that must be condemned

On August 3, Sokoto rocked with a political show of force, between defected Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, who left his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); and his political godfather, Senator Aliyu Wamakko, a former governor of the state many also dub Sokoto political lord of the manor. After Tambuwal’s early road show while defecting, the Wamakko counter-rally was clearly to bring the governor to heel, en route to scrounging for votes, in the 2019 general elections.

That was welcome, since politics is a turf of contestations, no matter how fierce or dramatic. What is not welcome is turning the tarmac and precincts of the Sultan Abubakar III International Airport into an aviator’s safety nightmare, with overzealous bike-riding partisans doing reckless stunts on the runway, to impress their home-coming principal.

That provoked the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to issue a dire caution to politicians, even as the 2019 elections draw near and the tempo of politicking spiked.

The FAAN warning went: “The unfortunate incident, which occurred on Friday, August 3, 2018, is a gross violation of the security and safety arrangements at the airport, as thousands of political loyalists violently accessed restricted areas at the airport fence in the process and resisting all security machineries in place. However, our team of aviation officers were able to curtail the situation and normalcy was restored at the airport.”

What is not good to hear was that, despite the bedlam and safety risks, Senator Wamakko still addressed his thumping supporters, at the airport vicinity. Inasmuch as no one could blame the senator for showing love for this doting supporters, more so when adrenalin was high to give a defecting governor a bloody nose, just to show who owned the land, he should have been much more safety conscious, and use that to guide his excited supporters right.

The senator is advised to be much more circumspect next time. If anything untoward had happened, it would have been linked to his name. Besides, it’s always safety first. Supporters need to be alive first before they could cheer or hail. That should always instill some moderation on the leadership, so that they promptly caution their supporters before they go astray.

Besides, there is this toxic convention taking root in the Nigerian, nay African polity, what the London weekly news magazine, The Economist, cheekily calls the African Strongman syndrome. By that the law, instead of being the equal-opportunity protector, just crouches before the rich, the influential and the powerful. It is only that sickly convention that could explain the Sokoto airport invasion and why heads have not rolled.

Having said that, however, there is something scandalously tardy about Nigerian airport administration and control that the Sokoto airport authorities had to react to the invasion of its vicinity by a mob, instead of taking preemptive measures to have averted it. Does the airport’s security cadre have an intelligence unit?

In Sokoto, Wamakko’s homecoming was an open secret. It was also clear a political show of force was looming. Days before the event, the media was agog with the news. Even, if it wasn’t, the Tambuwal road show should have made a counter-show an inevitability. If the major dramatic personae were coming from Abuja, the airport authorities ought to have figured that the airport would be a hub of a sort. They should, therefore, have anticipated a crowd surge and taken preventive measures, instead of the reactive one they took. That nevertheless left part of the airport facilities, the perimeter fencing for example, in ruins.

On that score, the FAAN itself stands condemned. For once, it needs to firm up its airport security protocol, such that at whatever time its security units are up and running to forestall any security breach.

It ought to make it clear to all that undisciplined behaviour at airport vicinities, particularly such behaviour that could cause safety concerns, is off limits. That should start with the especial emphasis that the rules, as stringent as they should be, apply to all and that there are absolutely no exemptions. That way, even the most important of the very important persons would know that no one is exempted. That is how it is done all over the world, for airports are ultra-sensitive places, safety and security wise.

If this is done — and it must be done — then Nigeria can start evolving a better counter-culture of airport security, where breaches and glitches are very rare, indeed. That is the only logical way to prevent the serious safety breach that happened in Sokoto on August 3 — and to make it never to happen again.

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