By Dan Aibangbe
Nigerian airports in recent times have won the acclaim of Nigerians and the international community, especially in the wake of the executive order for improvement in the ease of doing business across board.
Over the years and through successive administrations, Nigerian airport authorities have been striving for improvements in facilities and services. However, the government executive order issued last year provided an added impetus to the achievement of a number of lofty goals.
Among these is the centralised screening, powered by automated digital machines. It ushered in a new era of efficient travel experience. Apart from improving the ease of commuting for the ordinary traveller, the upgraded check-in technology has effectively checkmated the activities of drug barons, drug couriers, smugglers and other non-conformist. Coupled with this is an improvement in the alignment of roles and general workflow. In addition, training and re-training have been organised for the hundreds of security personnel engaged by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), which equipped them with knowledge and expertise in the new trends in aviation security. Little wonder then that Nigeria, last year, seamlessly scaled through the safety audit conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
There has also been a resurgence in patronage despite the recession. The successful renovation of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, which impacted on the quality of service and infrastructure at the Kaduna Airport, was a definitive positive for the aviation industry. It demonstrated Nigeria’s ability to work miracles when necessary. It ushered in more confidence from the international community. It also brought up the necessity for additional tarmacs for the Abuja airport (as contained in the initial plan for its development).
With this background, the recent news about a possible new trend of luggage burglary came as a surprise (though not entirely unexpected). The possibility of such incident is the surprise here. What is not unexpected is that dark elements who have been upstaged by the recent changes will naturally try to up their game in order to create a new field of play. It is the destiny of change that it will naturally be resisted.
Although the specifics of the incidents are hazy and under investigation by the appropriate authorities, we strongly believe that no serious threat will eventually be discovered, such as could necessitate any significant addition beyond what has already been contemplated as necessary improvements to the technology required in securing the aviation environment.
Specifically, we are aware of plans being executed by FAAN to beef up security at the tarmac, runway and perimeters, such as reducing grasses and shrubbery to the barest minimum. which would be complemented by open air security gadgetry at the tarmacs and runways, also supported by necessary operational security vehicles for both landing and take-off protocols. The plan also includes consistent and intensive monitoring of the taxiways by armed operatives, deployment of static guards in strategic locations and improvement to airfield illumination.
Ordinarily, these areas are comparatively low risk sections in the aviation environment. However, a professional assessment of the situation, bearing in mind the prevailing socio-economic climate, revealed a need to pay special attention to forestall desperate activities by delinquent members of the society who are looking for loopholes within the new operating environment.
The recent hue and cry about the possibility of missing luggage can only constitute an added impetus for the rapid implementation of these measures.
It must be reiterated that security, worldwide, is a cat-and-mouse game in which both the protagonists and the antagonists perpetually strive to raise their game to outwit one another.
It must also be noted that security goes beyond the systems, gadgets and operatives to include intelligence from both formal and informal sources. This is the reason behind the popular refrain that security is everybody’s business. The general public owes the formal security sector the duty of participation in the area of vigilance and intelligence gathering. For this purpose, arrangements are in top gear by airport authorities to avail members of the public of hotlines for receiving inputs from them.
Information from volunteers is a great resource usually filtered for actionable intelligence. Rather than sit back and play the blame game, we recommend that everyone must be involved for the simple reason that the first line of victims of security breaches are not the operatives but the citizenry.
Ultimately, the law is on our side and we are on the side of the law. With the level of seriousness with which investigations are being carried out, everyone should be rest assured that such incidents, real or imagined, would only result in perfection in the evolving operational system in Nigeria’s airports.
More important is the need for the Nigerian public and economy to be correctly positioned to extract maximum profit and benefits from the huge investments by government in the aviation industry. This brings to mind the lingering desire for Nigeria to quickly and sustainably establish a national carrier. This is pertinent for us to realise the benefits of the various BASA (Bilateral Air Service Agreements), which will always be to our disadvantage until we start operating at least one national carrier. This is the pertinent actionable future for the industry.
• Dan Aibangbe, a media and PR consultant, wrote from Lagos.