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Combating menace of stowaway

A stowaway is a person who secretly boards a vehicle, such as an aircraft, bus, ship, and cargo truck or train, to travel without paying and with the aim of not being detected.

In most of the reported cases, stowaway are usually unsuccessful in their fatal attempts to scram, but those who had mother luck smiled on them had explained their objectives to be driven by the need to escape from the living circumstances; political or harsh economic environment in their home countries and start a new life in a more desirable location.

Stowaway episodes aboard vessels on the seas had from time been a hitherto familiar scenario. In fact, it could rightly be said to date back from ages. Indeed, some notable Africans who later rose to become legendary figures in the political landscape of Africa have had their stowaway experience succinctly narrated in their autobiographies. In these cases, it was invariably an adventure motivated by a desperate quest for acquisition of the Golden Fleece, especially in the United States.

Relatively, recent cases were the horrendous saga of Kingsley Ofosu, the sole survivor of a group of nine African stowaways discovered aboard the cargo ship MC Ruby in 1992, and subsequently murdered by that ship’s crew.

However, this was to be followed by successive spates of daring stowaway attempts on aircraft. From 1947 until September 2012, there were 96 known stowaway attempts worldwide, in wheel wells of 85   separate flights, which resulted in 73 deaths, with only 23 survivors while between December 2003 and last quarter of 2016, more than five cases of such deadly trip emanating from our airports were recorded. The last unfortunate case involving a Nigerian was in November 2016, when a lifeless body of a stowaway was discovered in the wheel of an Arik Air’s 330-200 aircraft, at the Oliver Thambo International Airport Johannesburg.

Earlier in that year, a male Nigerian was also found dead in the wheel of an Arik Aircraft at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos.

The latest in this recurring decimal of suicidal dare-devil desperation was again to repeat itself on a particularly fateful day, July 19, this year, when a man was reported to have appeared at the domestic end of taxi way and attempted to gain access to the aircraft, which was taxing to the holding point for take-off.

Passengers on board the Azman air flight were nipped in jitters of fear after the  man, later identified as Usman Adamu, climbed the left wing of the aircraft as it was about to off .

A viral video shot by a passenger, captured the grim scenario of the man surreptitiously gaining access to the engines, as passengers showed intense panic and urged the pilot and the cabin crew in frenzied fit of desperation to open the aircraft doors for them to quickly disembark.

The pilot alerted the traffic controllers and the message was intercepted by the security control monitoring centre, who mobilised the patrol teams to the scene of the incident. He was consequently apprehended and detained.

The apprehended stowaway claimed he wanted to travel to Ghana. He however refused to disclose how he managed to navigate his way to the prohibited airside.

The Managing Director of Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, described the incident as a serious security breach that called for grave concern. He stated further that the brazen violation of safety and security was not only unfortunate, but also most embarrassing in view of the substantial quantum of effort and resources continually expended on the maintenance of the integrity of the Airside and Airport safety as a whole.

He stated further that the security wheel is ever revolving in response to newly emerging threats, adding that FAAN is working in concerted synergy with stakeholders and regulatory agency (NCAA) in a determined move to tackle the security challenges unfolding from time to time.

Capt. Yadudu recalled that prior to last month’s incident to be specific; the same suspect was arrested in the same premises of the airport by the patrol security team. His profile pictures were taken, while he was consequently evacuated out of the airport to a distant location, in accordance with standard procedure.

The procedure is being reviewed in response to emerging development. Meanwhile, FAAN has commenced a thorough investigation which has warranted the suspension of four of its staff. The investigation was to ascertain his intent, whether criminal or not, as well as an appraisal of his mental and psychological state. All officers found guilty of negligence of duty at the end of the investigation would be held accountable.

Following the incident, the FAAN MD has reaffirmed his resolve to tackle the menace of insecurity with renewed zest and gusto. His concern for a security proof aviation stems from his belief that the industry ranks as a foremost stimulus to foreign investment and economic growth. It is against this background that the slightest threat to security stands to impinge negatively on investments if attempts are not made immediately to nip it in the bud.

As a proactive man of foresight, Capt. Yadudu had always been fired by the vision of a security proof aviation. Right from his assumption of office, he had put the security question on the front burner and ever since then, he had never relented in the drive towards an excellent fructification of this vision; just as he has also manifested in words and indeed, an excellent commitment to bequeathing a secured airport management system that ranks among the best in global aviation.

FAAN management has vowed to do everything possible to sustain  the ICAO certification of Lagos and Abuja airports while working assiduously to achieve same for airports in Kano, Port Harcourt, Enugu and Kaduna to meet world industry standards

Indeed analysts and other industry stakeholders unanimously believe that his effort in the modernisation of the nation’s airport, if sustained and intensified at the current momentum, stands as a stimulus to high traffic tourism, as well as a tremendous boost for foreign investment.

  • Atobatele is former General Manager, Public Affairs, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).
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