The Security Breach At Calabar Airport

Monday, April 12, 2010

The recent dramatic incident at the Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar, in which a taxi driver breached airport security and drove his cab straight onto the tarmac and rammed into an Abuja-bound Arik Aircraft waiting to take off with 200 passengers on board is puzzling. The loose and porous security at the airport is to blame.
Luckily enough, the car turned out not to have any bomb planted in it. Had this been the case, or has there been an explosion, the story would have been different, as a major disaster would have occurred. Both the plane and the passengers could have been torn apart in the blast. How did the man manage to get into the restricted area of the airport unhindered? Where were the security personnel who were supposed to guard the two Air Force gates through which the man accessed the tarmac? Are there no security restrictions at the Calabar Airport?

The incident clearly exposed the security lapses at Nigeria's airports. Once again, it serves as a wake up call for the authorities to review and overhaul the entire security system at the nation's airports. What we are dealing with is a failure of security that could have disastrous consequences.

Happening at a time attention is on Nigeria's aviation security following the December 25, 2009 attempt by the Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a Detroit-bound plane in the United States, the incident, certainly, is a bad advertisement for Nigeria. Mr. Abdulmutallab stopped over at the Lagos Airport from Ghana en route the US through Amsterdam. But the fact that he is a Nigerian and passed through the Lagos Airport put Nigeria under focus. We expected that the ugly incident which led the US authorities to put Nigeria on the terror watch list would have spurred the Nigerian authorities to provide extra security measures at the nation's airports. But the Calabar Airport incident has proved the contrary.

Perhaps, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) should be reminded once again that the time to secure the airports is now in view of the growing threats of terrorism from within and outside the country. Nothing should be taken for granted any more. Not even the culture of giving Nigerian "big men" and their entourage unrestricted access around the airport including the tarmac. Such dangerous practices should be discouraged.

Thus, it happened that the taxicab passed through what was supposed to be two guarded Nigerian Air Force gates right onto the tarmac without any checks or hindrance. The car knocked down the gates, raced onto the tarmac and smashed unto the belly of the parked aircraft waiting to take off.

The impact of the car reportedly triggered off an alarm. Where were the security men? Apart from the Air Force personnel that were supposed to man the gates, there should have been policemen as well as FAAN security personnel on duty.
It should be clear to the authorities that airports are national frontiers linking the country to the outside world. Unfortunately, our airports are poorly maintained. The infrastructures are poor and sub-standard. That explains why the airports are not protected even with perimeter fences.

Nigeria's airports may have built at a time when there was no major security threat in the country. As a result, airport security has all along been taken for granted. In the Calabar airport case, it will in fact be surprising if there is any video recording of the entire saga as there may be no Closed Circuit Television Cameras at the airport. Such gadgets are supposed to be part of the installations to monitor security. How many airports have them in Nigeria?

Airport security has become a global issue. The Nigerian authorities owe it as a duty to protect life and property at the airports and elsewhere in the land. There is no alternative to that. In the meantime, the cab driver who claimed that he wanted to punish "unrepentant sinners" and that he would return to complete his attack should be made to face the full wrath of the law. His interrogators must try to find out if he has any hidden sponsors or persuaders.

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