I know there have been several security breaches in many of our airports including the issue of stowaways. Some of them are being investigated currently and I do not wish to interfere with the process. However the flagrant abuse of procedure as highlighted above, unnecessary duplication of duties and the corruption/begging culture are some areas that could provide useful insights. Looking at the security architecture at our airports, one continues to wonder why one big breach that could lead to huge losses has not happened.
I had an unfortunate encounter with a security agent at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja on Tuesday December 22nd. I had just passed through the immigration and customs and was trying to find my way to the temporary departure lounge upstairs. When I tried to use the escalator I discovered that it was faulty. I then turned towards the elevator and also discovered it was faulty. At that point, I turned to one of the officials (I cannot remember which one of them) and tried to complain to him. As we were talking, another immigration official joined us and complained bitterly how many passengers were made to pass through the experience of climbing the stairs. He graphically described the experiences of many pregnant women who had to climb the stairs amidst pains.
At that point I reached out for my camera and asked them if I could take a few pictures and alert relevant authorities. They obliged me and I took a few shots with a hope of passing them on to the Minister of Transportation who we all know will be willing to act promptly on it. Just as I was about climbing the stairs, a security personnel who turned out to be from the Department of Security Services beckoned on me. I was not sure why he invited me but I suspected it was because of the pictures I took. He told me that his name is Femi Adegoke – I did not even bother as many of such names turn out to be fake. However true to my suspicion, he ordered me to open the camera and delete the pictures. Of course I refused initially and he seized my camera. I willingly left the camera with him and proceeded to the departure lounge.
I was sure the security official was taken aback by my response. I did not argue with him but rather left a fairly expensive camera with him. He expected me to argue then beg or tip him. As I was about to pass through the final check into the departure lounge, another security agent appeared and beckoned on me. This time he got hold of my passport and sort of seized it. Again I did not protest but dutifully followed him downstairs. He was joined by the former guy and they struggled to get all my details and probably stop me from travelling. At that point I had to make a few telephone calls which did not yield much results.
That pathological begging culture in all our airports is the aspect that is most embarrassing. It makes us a laughing stock before visitors.
A scene had already started building up. I asked them for my offence and they said that I took pictures of the dysfunctional escalator without permission. I told them that I took permission. The gentleman who permitted me was right there in front of me but I could not point at him. He was already in panic. I tried to explain to the DSS guys (two of them) and another lady that I wanted to help as a citizen to pass the information to relevant authorities. They refused bluntly. They had seized my passport. In fact they threatened to beat me up. The DSS fellow told me that if not for democracy, he would have shown me the road to hell. At that point they were more than four on my matter. After about one hour of to and fro arguments, I decided to delete the pictures, take my camera, head to the departure lounge with a promise to write this piece.
Even as I put that encounter behind me, the level of insecurity in our airports remain a subject of concern to me. Sadly with many security agents littered there doing little. The real issue here is although there are people like Femi waiting to pounce on those who will take pictures, issues of insecurity manage to fall through. I will tell you the reasons. They are all man-made. There are too many incompetent people masquerading like Femi doing other things than preserving security. They have commercialised security and inadvertently enthroned insecurity. You will notice that there are so many of them in all the airports all over the country. They concentrate at various screening points where they allow anything and everything to pass through as far as you can ‘grease’ their palms. If you refuse to tip them, they beg you for it. That pathological begging culture in all our airports is the aspect that is most embarrassing. It makes us a laughing stock before visitors. True.
In a typical case, they will allow your luggage pass through screening and turn around to ask you what you have in them. When you answer, they will simply tell you…. “Oga we trust you but what do you have for us for Christmas?” Really, so you trust me enough to neglect your duty? Where do you know me? Of course the trust is not without expectation. If a passenger shows willingness to give the officials money then you will get expedited passage. In some cases the security officials volunteer to take you the passenger through other points and explain to his/her colleagues that the person is a ‘trusted’ ‘good’ man/woman, of course so that each of them can collect something in exchange. I will not talk about the regular outward movement of cash through our airports. We are told of the cashless policy in Nigeria until the Dasukigate!
What is the minimum qualification that one needs to have to work in such sensitive locations? Is there a mechanism for security coordination and real time monitoring? Must they security agents be this numerous to be effective?
Another example of abuse of security process, especially at Abuja, happens to concern the handling of access tags. These tags are supposed to be used for privileged access for those escorting VIPs. With the tag, you can enter most places including the tarmac. The tags, which are supposed to be kept in a central location, are meant to be handed only to individuals who have passed through screening and who are legitimately attached to recognised government officials. Rather than that, they are kept in the pockets of security ‘big boys’ at the airport who hand them over freely to their friends and preferred dignitaries. It is a lucrative business and no one cares to screen many of those who carry those passes. You can imagine the level of danger such a practice can constitute to the security of the entire airport.
I do not want to mention the issue of malfunctioning or dysfunctional equipment again. It got me into trouble last Tuesday. I will rather dwell a little more on the incompetence of these security agencies at the airports. It will be nice to know who recruits them. What is the minimum qualification that one needs to have to work in such sensitive locations? Is there a mechanism for security coordination and real time monitoring? Must they security agents be this numerous to be effective?
I know there have been several security breaches in many of our airports including the issue of stowaways. Some of them are being investigated currently and I do not wish to interfere with the process. However the flagrant abuse of procedure as highlighted above, unnecessary duplication of duties and the corruption/begging culture are some areas that could provide useful insights. Looking at the security architecture at our airports, one continues to wonder why one big breach that could lead to huge losses has not happened. This could be a warning. This could be the warning. Something urgent needs to be done to rid our airports of multiplicity of do-for-nothing security agents who focus on gratifications and make our airports prone to avoidable security lapses.
Uche Igwe is a doctoral researcher at the Department of Politics, University of Sussex, UK.