Abuja, Lagos, Maiduguri — Passengers and crew on an Abuja-bound Arik Air flight from Maiduguri panicked yesterday when a man on board suddenly began chanting religious slogans and attempted to break into the cockpit, a source privy to what happened told Daily Trust last night.
Authorities gave the man's name as Aminu Galadima, an interior decorator based in Abuja and an indigene of Minna, Niger State, but there are no further details about him or the number of passengers on board.
Rumours circulated in the afternoon that a passenger attempted to down the Arik flight, but aviation authorities and the airline quickly issued statements saying there was no bombing attempt and no weapon was found on the man and the aircraft.
The plane landed safely in Abuja at 12.53pm and Galadima was handed over to the State Security Services about two hours later.
"Trouble started midair when the man rose from his seat and spoke with a loud voice. He exclaimed at the passengers with special reference to those in position of affluence that they can never escape," a source told Daily Trust yesterday.
"We would get you wherever you go. All of you should say your last prayers because all of us would die in the next few minutes," the man was quoted to have said.
He began chanting Allahu Akbar, meaning God is Great!
This triggered commotion in the cabin, as people started reciting Kalimatush Shahaadah with some of them crying profusely.
"The man then moved towards the cockpit but could not have access to it because the door was firmly locked," the source said.
"Nobody could confront the man because people fear that he might have explosives concealed in his body. And when he realised that he could not enter the cockpit, he somehow gave up and returned to his seat until the plane finally landed in Abuja."
But this left passengers traumatised throughout the remaining flight time.
In a statement in Abuja last night, State Security Service spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar said the man was taken to Maiduguri by an official's wife before he began behaving strangely.
"On Friday, 19th October, 2012, wife of the SSG to the Borno State Government, Hajia Yachilla Jidda, travelled to Maiduguri in company of one Aminu S. Galadima, an interior decorator based in Abuja to do some interior decoration work," Ogar said.
"On arrival in Maiduguri, he was lodged at Greenland Hotel. During the course of his stay, he exhibited unusual behaviour by smashing a window, and ended up with lacerations on his hands.
"The SSG was contacted, and in collaboration with the hotel management, subject was taken to Atal Hospital, also in Maiduguri, where he received treatment.
"His family in Abuja was contacted and they gave confirmation that Galadima has been mentally unstable. In addition, his elder brother who lives in the UK was contacted and he requested that subject be returned to Abuja for medical attention.
"On Sunday, 21st October, 2012, he was taken to the airport to be returned to Abuja, but missed the flight. However, the airport management was informed of his state of health, and they advised that whenever his return is scheduled, the management should be notified.
"Unfortunately, when Galadima was taken to the airport on 23rd October for his return trip, the management of the airport was not informed, and 10 minutes into the flight, due to slight turbulence, his condition was triggered off. Meanwhile, Galadima is in the custody of security forces."
'No bomb scare'
The Aviation Ministry, in a statement on the incident, said there was no bomb scare as rumoured.
"The rumour making the rounds of a bomb scare on an Arik Airline flight from Maiduguri to Abuja is absolutely false. In fact, it is a hoax as there is no iota of truth whatsoever in this wicked rumour," said Joe Obi, spokesman for Aviation Minister Stella Oduah.
"A passenger, Aminu Galadima, an indigene of Minna, Niger State boarded a Maiduguri - Abuja bound Arik Air aircraft with registration number 5N MJE after going through all mandatory security screening. Nothing incriminating, no explosives or weapons whatsoever were found on him.
"However, mid air the passenger began to act strangely, loudly screaming 'God is Great'. Fellow passengers, alarmed by this behaviour rushed to apprehend him. A thorough search by fellow passengers and crew members revealed nothing dangerous on him. The pilot immediately radioed Air Traffic Control and airport security operatives.
"The plane landed safely at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja at exactly 1253 hrs and the suspect handed over to the SSS at about 1445 hrs where he is currently being interrogated.
"We wish to reassure the flying public of the continued focus of the Federal Ministry of Aviation on the safety and security of the nation's airspace, while cautioning fellow Nigerians on the spreading of dangerous rumours. These rumours do not help to make our airspace either safer or more secure."
Arik Air also gave its account of the incident through a statement by its spokesman Banji Ola, who said was no bombing attempt as speculated.
"There is no iota of truth in the rumour making the rounds that a passenger attempted to bomb an Arik Air aircraft operating a flight from Maiduguri to Abuja today, Tuesday, October 23, 2012," Ola said.
"To set the records straight, a passenger on board flight W3 812 from Maiduguri to Abuja caused a scare when he started shouting Allah Akbar shortly before the aircraft landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
"The frightened passengers on board the flight became suspicious thinking the man was about to do something sinister.
"All the passengers on board the flight, including the man in question, had all gone through the normal security check at the Maiduguri International Airport and nothing incriminating was found on anyone."
Ola said that when the aircraft landed in Abuja, another security check was conducted on the passenger and nothing incriminating was found on him.
"A further security search was conducted on the operating aircraft, a Boeing 737-700 NG (Next Generation) and no trace of bomb or explosives were found. The aircraft went back to service immediately," he said.
"Arik Air wishes to assure guests that all its flights undergo strict security checks and passengers have nothing to fear. The airline's Aviation Security Department is one the most sophisticated in the industry and its commitment to security and safety of passengers is second to none in Africa."
For its part, the Nigeria Police Force through spokesman Frank Mba said it was not aware of the incident.