The Benin Airport stowaway

There is a lot of politicking concerning Daniel’s escapade. Statements have been made concerning the yearnings of our youth which are not being fulfilled by government. Others talk of the desire of our youth to emigrate to a better life rather than struggle against the odds to develop Nigeria. There has also been irrelevant talk of domestic abuse. A volunteer group has reportedly offered Daniel a scholarship up to university level so that he may be able to “afford to travel properly” in line with his ambition. However, the point should be made unequivocally that Daniel is not a star. He is an irresponsible young boy whose actions endangered not only his own life but also the lives of the passengers and crew on the flight.  There is a real and present danger that if he is seen to benefit immensely from this action others will be encouraged to follow suit. While it is true that the little boy’s ambition should be nurtured through qualitative education, other children must be warned not to follow in his footsteps. He behaved in an idiotic manner which should not be emulated.
If there is anything good to come out of this whole sorry mess it is that it revealed the fallacy of security at our airports, and the irrelevance of the on-going airport renovations. Daniel’s escapade was particularly disturbing because he “boarded” the aircraft   at the newly “renovated” and commissioned Benin Airport.  Frequent air-travellers have severally complained about the poor quality of finishing work in that particular airport and the lack of customer friendliness. For example, despite the millions spent supposedly on renovation, passengers still disembark and board aircraft standing in queues under the rain! Furthermore, passengers also complain that the new car parking arrangements and boarding procedures make the airport less passenger friendly. The official excuse had been the bulk of the money and new design features were spent on advanced security features. Daniel’s case has now proved that all these were simply excuses, a smokescreen to cover up poor design and official ineptitude.
Benin Airport also houses a Nigerian Air Force base. Consequently, in addition to officials from Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Aircraft Handling Company, Civil Defence, Nigerian Army, Immigration, Federal Fire Service, Customs Service and even Road Safety, Nigerian Air Force personnel also guard the airport.  It seems beyond credulity that none of these agencies could detect the presence of an unauthorized person in the vicinity of the runway on the airport tarmac.  
Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) and Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) are responsible for all airport “apron” operations in Nigeria and both deny that they are negligent in their duties. Daniel was alleged to have gained access to the plane when it was waiting for take-off at the beginning of the runway and not at the point of normal passenger boarding. In these times of an all-out war against terrorism, this is a serious indictment of security operations at the airport. We can only be thankful that Daniel was not a terrorist bent on creating havoc and destruction. With so many organizations involved in airport operations, it is perhaps no wonder that an unauthorized person could easily gain access to a departing aircraft. At Benin Airport in particular there is a surfeit of people including Youth Corps members who gather around departing or arriving aircraft beyond the security lines.  
FAAN needs to completely overhaul its security operations at our airports. Officials of the Ministry of Aviation seem far more concerned in awarding contracts for dubious renovation than ensuring passenger safety. On military aircraft carriers, all operational personnel on the deck of the ship wear coloured uniforms to identify who they are and which area their operations are confined to. In Nigeria there are so many different people surrounding an aircraft that they cannot identify themselves and it has become evident that FAAN must implement a similar sort of system to prevent a recurrence of this unfortunate incident.


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