Fear of insider threat, terror attacks are now redefining the security situation at Nigeria's airports. Security experts aver their anxieties over possible loopholes, but concerned authorities seem to be rising to the occasion.
Last week, two Nigerian passengers arrived the country with guns through the airport. One was arrested on his arrival with Delta Air Lines; the other was arrested at the domestic terminal on his way from Lagos to Port Harcourt. Two of them arrived from the United States to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
The two when interrogated by security agencies said that they acquired the guns to protect themselves while holidaying in Nigeria. The one who arrived with Delta Air Lines said that the gun was duly checked in for him at the airport in the US with the consent of the Aviation Security (AVSEC).
THISDAY learnt that these two Nigerians decided to bring the guns to the country because of the impression gleaned from international reports that Nigeria was extremely unsafe due to terror activities, kidnapping and armed robbery in most part of the country; so they decided to protect themselves.
THISDAY also learnt that many Nigerians overseas were unwilling to return to the country because of these fears so they decided to stay back even when the economy of their host countries are dimming as against the burgeoning Nigeria's economy where opportunities are rising.
These negative security reports heighten the fears that the airports may be unsafe as well. But since terror attacks started in Nigeria the airports have been insulated because of the action taken by the Federal Government to fortify the airports with security operatives from different agencies and to introduce CCTV and other security equipment at most of the airports.
Location of Airports
But aviation security experts say that more still needs to be done. The CEO of Century Security and Safety, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) told THISDAY that most airports in Nigeria, including the Lagos airport, are located within complicated road network and uncontrolled urban developed areas, which leads to regular incursion by people who have nothing to do with airport activities, including miscreants and possibly anti-progress elements.
"And because the airport perimeter fences are very porous, there could be insider threats because of insufficient background checks on airport staff working inside the airport restricted areas," Ojikutu warned.
He alleged that in spite of the incessant acts of violence from Nigerian home grown terrorists, government security agencies at the airports, including that of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) have "not developed known lists to put those who could be threats to civil aviation on watch list or no fly list."
"Modern airport security is based on profiling of passengers and staff, not necessarily on access control or checkpoint screening. Too much dependence on checkpoint screening allowed the 9/11 in the US to happen and the passenger rage on the Arik flight from Maiduguri to Abuja last year to also happen," Ojikutu noted.
Also, industry security expert and CEO of Avscon Securities Limited, Bayo Babatunde, recommended urgent and continuous training of aviation personnel, provision of high tech equipment and pre-emptive intelligence reports and investigation as proactive measures to ensure continued protection of Nigeria's airports.
Babatunde agreed that airport security in the country has continued to improve but he believes that more should be done to ensure that Nigeria is not taken unawares by terrorists.
"Nigeria is signatory to the Chicago Convention that produced the operating standards commonly referred to as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annexes.
The practice of aviation security is guided by the same international principles as enshrined in ICAO annex 17. All things being equal, airport management should ensure full compliance with the operating principles that include healthy working relationship with all security agencies at the airport, and government making the right investments in training and technology. We are more than capable of protecting our civil aviation."
He recalled the actions taken as preventive measures after major terror attacks in the world and recommended that instead of waiting for such attacks to happen, security operatives should be proactive.
Protecting the Airports
THISDAY spoke with the Director of Security of FAAN, Wendell Ogunedo, on what the agency was doing as pre-emptive measures to continuously secure the airports against any breach or infringement.
Ogunedo said that since the terror incidents in Nigeria, FAAN had been taking measures to forestall any possible attacks at any of the nation's airports through the reinforcement of security measures, acquisition of modern security equipment and reappraising security situation of individual airports.
"We have been working with other security operatives like the Nigeria police and we now have explosive bomb detection at the airports and the bomb disposal unit of the Nigeria Police are working with AVSEC at all the airports in the country."
Ogunedo disclosed that the Federal Government had embarked on replenishing all the screening machines at all the airports in the country, including the 22 managed by FAAN and the ones that are privately owned, replacing the now old machines with new once with advanced technology.
"Before the end of this month there will be new screening machines at all the airports in the country and because we do not want to compromise on security in any way; we are providing the privately owned airports with the machines too. We are introducing comprehensive security system and we have been monitoring activities at all these airports to prevent security breach and so far so good."
He disclosed that government had signed training agreement with the Dubai-based Emirates Airlines for the training of AVSEC officials. According to him, before the end of this month, the first batch of 120 officers will leave for the training and the target is to train as much as 600 AVSEC officers.
"Although we don't make our security efforts public but don't forget that the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) in Lagos was dismantled and rebuilt in one year. During that period operations were done in a makeshift place and throughout that period there were no security issues. That will tell you that we are working."
"This last week, we recovered arms at the Lagos airport. We are working 24 hours as the E and D fingers which have been opened at the international terminal of the airport so things are getting better. We are embarking on upgrading the skills of our security personnel, for training and retraining of all of them," Ogunedo said.
He also disclosed that the FAAN security would soon introduce canine security system that is, using dogs to carry out security investigation, noting that it was part of the response to the changing security threat in the country.
"We have also carried out comprehensive shakeup by redeploying workers at the airports and we have decided that no officer will stay at one posting for more than three years, because when they stay too long they join the system, instead of improving it. We cannot allow the huge resources being expended on the remodelling of the airports to go without adequate security"
Ogunedo also observed that AVSEC officials did not use arms so they had to work hand in hand with police on the land area, while AVSEC takes full charge of passengers access the boarding area of any airport. He said that it was the current effort that made it possible for the recent arrest and subsequent deportation of two Bulgarian ladies that were ensnared to come to the country by a suspected fraudster, attributing the efforts to the new postings made, which brought in entirely new people to different positions.
"We arrested a suspected kidnapper at the airport who wanted to dupe Bulgarian ladies at the airport. If not through profiling they would have been duped. The two ladies were observed and the person who came to pick them was arrested. We contacted the Bulgarian embassy was contacted after they congratulated FAAN but we told them to put the commendation into writing."
Ogunedo said the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, wanted the two major airports in Lagos and Abuja to be certified by ICAO, a step that would improve the profile of the airports and attract more international operators to the country.
The director of security said that all efforts were geared towards actualising this objective.
"That is why we are changing all the screening machines that have issues. We are installing new machines with after sales service agreement, training and retraining of staff and we are also providing new screening machines for cargo at the cargo shed. Before the end of this year we hope that we shall realise that objective."
But Bayo Babatunde said that AVSEC should deemphasise on physical security to intelligence gathering and use of technology.
"The security protocols implemented at any airport are not only those things you can see with your eyes or hear; a lot evolve from a well-articulated and approved national security program, which is a resultant document based on a painstakingly documented security risk assessment and safety management system."
This assessment, he said, was highly reliant on security education available to other airport users besides the proper and regular training of aviation security personnel and other security operatives.