The ‘Security Scare’ at MMIA, By Dele Agekameh
The day was last week Wednesday, December 2, 2015. And the scene was at the local wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, MMIA, Ikeja, Lagos. On that day, Medview Airline’s Flight No 2108, which was heading to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State enroute Abuja, had called its passengers for boarding at about 11:15 a.m. Within minutes, the intending passengers had taken their seats. My seat was No 01F.
After observing all pre-departure formalities, the aircraft started taxiing on the active runway for final departure.
Suddenly, a female member of the cabin crew broke protocol. She stood up from the crew’s seat and hurriedly walked past the Business Class cabin and headed straight for the window by the front row of the aircraft. She peeped through the glass window and then quickly walked back towards the cockpit’s door. The only male crew member on the flight then followed her to the spot where she had earlier peeped through. At this juncture, many passengers left their seats to join the crew members in the peeping game. It was obvious that something was amiss. Commotion took over as both the passengers and the crew were now visibly apprehensive.
In the ensuing confusion, the pilot hurriedly brought the aircraft to a halt but the engine was still running. By this time, the news had gone round the aircraft that someone, a man, holding a polythene bag, had been spotted running after the aircraft as it was taxiing.
The news sent cold shivers through the spines of the passengers as more passengers surged forward looking terrified. One particular passenger, a bald-headed young man in his early 40s, started shouting on top of his voice and knocking furiously at the cockpit’s door. All attempts by the attendants to calm him down were rebuffed as he kept on saying: “Let me get down. Let me get down”.
He then relapsed into a brief soliloquy: “I am coming from the United States and I am going to Maiduguri just to get a document. I don’t think I want to go with this aircraft any longer. My life is more precious to me,” blah, blah, blah! Some other passengers soon joined him at the entrance to the cockpit demanding that the pilot should head back to the departure hall.
The pilot finally emerged from the cockpit and tried to calm the incensed passengers. He told them that when he spotted the man carrying a polythene bag and running after the aircraft, he had quickly alerted the control tower on his observation and requested for aviation security personnel. But lo, no airport security personnel whether FAAN, Police, Airforce or any personnel from the surfeits of security agencies at the airport showed up in the first 20 minutes in which the whole aircraft was engulfed in confusion and panic. When someone finally showed up, he was like one of the airlines’ officials who usually give signals to pilots on take-off and landing. He merely strolled in and did not betray any emergency emotions at all.
Anyway, by the time the lone airline personnel later resurfaced from underneath the aircraft, he was followed by a half-naked young man, possibly in his late 30s, with bruises all over his body.
He had a trouser on but no shirt, no shoes. The skin of his stomach, chest and back, had peeled off, making him to look like someone who had been partially roasted in a furnace. To the surprise of all the passengers, the airline personnel, neither attempted to get the “intruder” arrested, nor call for reinforcement.
The intruder simply walked away. As he walked away, the airline personnel signaled to the pilot to continue the journey. This enraged the passengers who insisted that the journey should be aborted because of doubts over their safety. The major worry to the passengers was the fact that, though the intruder had been fished out, the bag he was carrying was nowhere to be found. Besides, the fact that no attempt was made to arrest him as he strolled away from the scene, further infuriated the passengers.
The pilot tried to persuade the passengers that there was no cause for worry. He told them that in order to ward off the intruder, he had deliberately increased the speed of the engine and it was the subsequent heat emission from the aircraft that burnt the upper parts of his body. He also said that the bag he was carrying might have been blown away in the process. But the passengers ignored his epistle and stood their ground. The pilot eventually buckled. It was right on the runway there that a landing stairs was provided to allow the passengers to disembark.
It was then I noticed about 10 Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, security men and an Airforce Sergeant or Staff Sergeant at the scene making calls. When I moved near the Airforce personnel to ask him why no security personnel at the airport responded quickly to the distress call, he kept the cell phone glued to his ear and pretended not to notice my presence.
But I was determined, so I waited. From the conversation he had with the person on the other end, it was a mere family discussion. When he was done, he simply said: “Eh..hen, what did you say?” I shook my head in disbelief and walked away from him.
All the passengers went back to the departure hall where they were kept waiting for more than three hours. We finally boarded another aircraft, Flight 2104, which was a combined flight, at about 3:20 pm with Captain Otobo in command. That flight also had its own problem which almost resulted in fisticuffs as the number of passengers far exceeded the available seats.
However, the following day, the story that appeared in the newspapers was at variance with what really transpired. The statement issued by the FAAN, read: “Vigilant aviation security staff of FAAN, apprehended one Mr. Alabibu Olushola, who was attempting to stow away in a taxiing aircraft on the tarmac of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja. The culprit was arrested as soon as he scaled the perimeter fence near the moving aircraft and after interrogation he was handed over to the police.” FAAN said the intruder was quickly apprehended as soon as he scaled the airport’s perimeter fencing. That was a white lie. Also, his purported arrest later was only an afterthought. The story was either doctored by FAAN or a dummy was deliberately sold to the public to cover up the inexcusable security lapses at the airport. The questions are: Would somebody want to stowaway to a place like Maiduguri at this time when bombs are dropping over there like ripe oranges? Why is it that no other person except the pilot noticed the intruder on the runway? Is the runway that close to the perimeter fence of the airport?
If the incident at the MMIA is taken as a yardstick, then it is clear that Nigerian Airports are a disaster waiting to happen. In these days of Boko Haram and security breaches all over the place, if the intruder had had the intention of wreaking havoc on the aircraft and its passengers, he could have easily achieved that sinister motive. From what I personally witnessed on that day, though I am not a prophet of doom, a major disaster is lurking around the nation’s airports. It is not a question of if it happens, it is certainly waiting to happen, unless security is drastically improved around the airports.
The airports are too porous. There is no security. The security personnel there are more interested in the money they can make than providing foolproof security. Perhaps, it is only God that has been protecting passengers at these airports. Like OBJ once said: “Me, I dey look o!
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