27 March 2016

Nigeria: Anxiety Mounts Over Lapses At Nation's Airports

In the face of possible terror attacks after the Brussels airport bombings last week, there are fears that the attitude of security operatives at Nigeria's airports, especially the international airports in Lagos and Abuja, may expose the facilities to terror attacks.

THISDAY investigation revealed that the joint security personnel made up of the Nigeria Air Force, the Nigeria Police and Aviation Security (AVSEC) compromise security at access control and could allow terrorists gain entry to the terminals.

THISDAY observation revealed that the security at the entrance gates to the Lagos Airport international terminal extort money from passengers who are not willing to queue to access the terminal at peak hours. Since last year the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) installed X-ray machines at the entrance gates of the international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt to screen passenger luggage before it is taken into the terminal.

But security personnel have turned this laudable effort to money-making ventures whereby they delay the screening of the bags until passengers throng the gates and then they start collecting money to allow passengers to go into the terminal.

Many passengers have missed their flights in this process and THISDAY learnt that FAAN management has made efforts to end extortion at the gates, but because the security personnel at these gates come from mainly the Nigeria Air Force and the Nigerian Police they tend to defy the directives given by FAAN, claiming to be answerable to their bosses outside the airport.

A senior official of FAAN told THISDAY yesterday that the agency has made significant efforts towards the fortification of the airports under its management but "the police and the Air Force at the access control have questionable attitude."

The source said there should be regular change of guards and profiling of all officials that work at the airports and those who are no longer familiar with the system at the airport should be brought in, in the face of the terror attacks in Brussels which may have emboldened the terrorists to extend their action to other countries.

The source condemned the operatives for turning the drop off zones at the front of the international wing of the Lagos airport to car park for VIPs from whom they collect money and allow their vehicles to be parked there, noting that such vehicles could be laden with bombs which when exploded would have devastating effects, wasting lives and property.

The source also noted that the warning, which FAAN issued recently to passengers to be wary of suspicious movements and to come to the airports on time when travelling and not leave their bags unattended is immaterial if the security personnel do not change their attitude.

THISDAY also learnt that Abuja airport is porous and could be accessed through various areas by outsiders.

Aviation security expert and CEO of Scope, Adebayo Babatunde said the passengers cannot be prevented from accessing the airport but there should be proper access control, adding that the most potent instrument to check terror is intelligence, so all the security operatives must share intelligence across airports and across nations.

He said if intelligence fails then technology should be deployed to screen all airport users and the airside of the airport, while the terminal must be rendered sterile.

"We must follow international security procedures; there should be no compromises. If a bag is unattended remove it and destroy it and government should urgently acquire explosive detection system (EDS), which has been recommended for all international airports," Babatunde said.

He noted that due to economic crunch, Brussels may not have acquired modern, hi-tech security equipment at the airports and the terrorists took advantage of that.

Meanwhile, air travelers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) yesterday decried the absence of sniffer dogs and the lack of adequate military and police personnel to assist the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), secure the airports across the country.

FAAN's security outfit in collaboration with the army at the tail end of 2015, foiled two attempts of suspected Boko Haram members to unleash havoc at the airport, while claiming they were on surveillance mission at the airport.

The Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, at the height of the recent airport bombing across Europe, had assured stakeholders over the weekend that government was deploying sniffer dogs across the airports to complement the efforts of FAAN security outfit.

The passengers who spoke under anonymity complained that placing the pictures of wanted Boko Haram members at the airport by the military was not an adequate measure to check insurgents at the airports. They decried the inadequate police and military men to assist the FAAN security outfit.

According to them, FAAN staff were obviously too overwhelmed with the large turnout of travellers during the period. One of them said: "Look around you, can you see any sniffer dog or a CCTV camera?"

THISDAY however gathered that the ministry had deployed long distance CCTV cameras around the airport. The Acting Chief Security (CSO), of AVESEC, Mr. Abdulraham Kayode Mamman, hinted that efforts had been put in place to intensify security at the airport following the ministry's directive that security must be beefed up at the airport.

Checks at the two tarmacs, the arrival and departure lounge showed the absence police with the sniffer dogs, said to have been deployed across the airports to beef up security.

On the absence of the dogs around and within the airport, Mamman, explained that the police, though not permanently stationed at the airport, do come in with the dogs to do routine checks.

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