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ICAO warned us about poor security of Lagos airport since 2004, says Ojikutu

By Wole Oyebade
03 August 2019   |   3:39 am
Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) is the former commandant of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, in the 1980s and 90s. Ojikutu in this interview with WOLE OYEBADE said the cases of security breaches at the airport were not new but for the complacency and complicity of concerned authorities. Excerpts


Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) is the former commandant of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, in the 1980s and 90s. Ojikutu in this interview with WOLE OYEBADE said the cases of security breaches at the airport were not new but for the complacency and complicity of concerned authorities. Excerpts:

The recent incident in which a man invaded an Azman airline aircraft just before the runway was quite unusual. Were you surprised at that incident happening in this modern age?
I am not surprised at the incident. And why am I not surprised? I want to know the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority’s (NCAA) report on a similar incident that happened in Benin some five years ago. It was the case of a stowaway that entered the runway and entered the aircraft either through the undercarriage or baggage area and they still ended up flying him to Lagos. So, given a case like that, I am not surprised. But if a case like this has happened, people like us will want to know the report and what action is taken. That is number one.

The number two is this: I have always said that we do not have security fences in most of our airports. We have perimeter fences but definitely not security fence and the people in NCAA and Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) know the difference between the two. Those of us within know that security falls under the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) Annex 17 and perimeter falls under Annex 14.

In 2004, when ICAO came to audit, they wrote a report about Lagos airport and said that we do not have a security fence. If we cannot enhance our perimeter fence, (which is very doubtful even up till today, whatever money they want to spend will just be a waste) we should build a secondary fence as a security fence. That was the report.

I only read the report in 2007 when Dr. Harold Demuren took over as the Director-General of NCAA and brought some of us in to come and help him. We held that we needed to revisit that report and do exactly what they told us to do. That is, to build a secondary fence because we cannot enhance a perimeter fence.

Was it done?
We thought the government was going to do it. We needed a perimeter road for patrolling. If you build a secondary fence, certainly there will be a road for patrolling between the two. Even if you are going to enhance your perimeter fence, you still need a road outside and round the fence to patrol it. Not inside the fence. Unfortunately, most of the houses surrounding the airport have encroached the airport’s land. A lot of them are using the perimeter fence as part of their houses. That was what ICAO saw.

I saw a similar thing in Rwanda where I spent six months to help them do the same thing. The Rwandan government broke down all the houses around the perimeter fence. But can we do that here? Even when we know that all the people have encroached into the airport land? I hear people shout about the government’s policies but it is not all about the policy. Something must be wrong with us as individuals. People who were part of the airport from the beginning know about all these.

There was a time I recommended that FAAN and the Lagos State government should sit together and decide about the encroachment because nobody will build in that place without the state government given them C-of-O somehow. So, they should sit down to find out what they have done wrong. It is individuals’ unilateral exploitation of either our resources or our money. That is what happens around the airport.

If you come around the Shasha area, you will see FAAN’s signboard. It was mounted because I was crying that all those houses are on airport land up to Ajao Estate. It was when we were doing the audit in preparation for Category 1 certification that we discovered that people have encroached the airport land from the Ajao Estate end. Any house around that area was done between 2007 and 2008 and we drew the attention of the authorities to it. But somehow, you will find out that God has created us in a way I just don’t understand.

With the way they have encroached into the airport, Lagos airport is now inside uncontrolled urban development and complicated road network. For instance, the road transiting from Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) to MMA is a private road to service the three terminals. But it is the public that is using it because they want to collect money. In 1990 when I entered the airport, I warned them against it. I have already warned the new MD of FAAN also. There are so many things wrong with the access road and it was when they opened up the road that all these problems in the airport started.

But we all must note that airport security is national security. It is a component of national security; a border post. If any country wants to attack you, they enter your country through the border post. If not through the land, they come in through the air.

Why is FAAN not willing to control these flaws to enhance security?
Has FAAN seen it the way you and I are seeing it? You only need to statistically look from the Beesam area around the airport down to Shasha, you will find the hands of former managements of FAAN. A number of houses there were sold by people that were formally in FAAN. That is why I said they should all sit down and find out those they sold lands to. If they really want to secure the airport, FAAN must secure part of the land to build roads around the airport to meet the requirement of document 8973. Any structure behind the airport must be a minimum of six metres away from the fence, including the patrol road. What part of that airport meets this minimum requirement?

Since FAAN and the Lagos State have refused, isn’t it time the Federal Government sees to correct these flaws?
It has to be FAAN, as regulated by the NCAA. NCAA overseas and should ensure that FAAN complies with regulations. I have asked before, this is what ICAO said, but what is your own minimum standard for fence and security? They don’t have.

Are you worried about the possibility of insiders’ threat aiding intruders?
Exactly. When that boy entered, my question was how did he get there? There are only two ways. Either through the access control or he jumped through the fence. If he came in through the access control, then someone must have aided him. If I tell you the story of MMA, you will be sorry. Like when Saleh Dunoma (former FAAN MD) retired, I told them that Saleh is the last man standing (of the golden age employees).

We have to do away with the idea of bringing people from outside who have no idea of what aviation is all about and you put them in areas where they have to take responsibility but they cannot do so because they have no idea about what they are doing.

Are you talking about ministers or MDs?
No! I’m talking about the core managements of FAAN and each of their departments. You bring people from the university and deploy them to the security section, but it doesn’t work that way. I have told them that if they need to employ people into these areas, first send them to the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Zaria, to spend a minimum of six months to know what airport is all about otherwise they will just be doing whatever they like. That is why people come around and are embarking on strike every day because nobody is thinking of safety and security. I have just told you that the airport is a component of national security and if they do not see it that way, then they should all go home.

To what extent should the regulators be wary of insiders’ threat and sabotage?
I addressed this issue with FAAN a long time ago. What I told them is to find out those people they are giving On-duty Cards (ODCs), which gives access to security control areas – whether they work for FAAN or airlines. Find out how many have been given but have been disengaged and are still going about with the cards.

Indeed, what affects that airport in terms of security, affects you and me. Look at the people that died on the ground at Iju during the Dana plane crash. They are not in the airport, but the Chicago Convention protects them. Has anyone or NCAA done anything about it? The first statement of the Chicago Convention is the protection of the crew, passengers, and the public. So, you may or may not be in the airport but security issues affect us all. That is why we should hold the airport authority and the airlines responsible and that is the job of the NCAA.

The other aspect is the method of recruiting people into the airport and regular background check. This is not only on FAAN staff but everyone working in the security control area. So, don’t leave it to the operators; someone must be in charge. According to the national aviation security programme, it is FAAN that is saddled with background checks and they said they gave it to the police. But what the police are doing is just security checks and not background checks. They are not the same. In the background, you check things like a person’s real name, schools he or she went, the company kept and so on.

That is why I tell people that intelligence is the first line of defense. Because if you have people that you have not done intelligence background checks on, they are most likely to be the ones that will give you a problem and compromise safety. And there are cases like that in many airports, like the one that happened between New Jersey and New York. People that were given jobs at the airport and have not been paid are the ones that were planning to blow the pipeline between New York and New Jersey over 10 years ago.

We had cases of people working with Virgin Atlantic that was coming to Nigeria and sabotaged by people engaged on contract. We have a lot of people like that around here too in the security control area. I have seen these people, with ODC but without their names or passport. When I asked, they said they are on contract and I told them ‘you cannot put people who you don’t have their proper identities in the security control area.’ These are the issues.

What was the airport like during your administration?
Let me tell you a story. When I got there in 1990, people were stealing the runway lights. Yes. Today they have stolen five, tomorrow it is 10. The question was how would they go there to steal? It was always at night. I decided to go on patrol and took the people along. You know, the base of the runway light is like that of a spare tire with eight to nine nuts. And for you to loosen one will take you not less than five minutes.

On inspection, I found out that about 11 of them have been loosened already. My conclusion was that it is the maintenance boys that were behind it. They go there during the day, saying they are working and in the night, they just go there to pick them up one by one. I then directed that they should tighten all of them up but warned the maintenance boys never to go to the runway to work without first telling me. I actually put soldiers on the runway. And that stopped the stealing.

There were also those that went behind to loosen the baggage hole to steal passengers’ luggage. When this got to me I said nobody from Agege or Oshodi will come to the airport and go undercarriage to steal. They don’t know how to open it. It has to be people that know and it must be from the inside. What did we do, we started using a follow-me vehicle. And that one too stopped.

There was also a boy then, he is now a man because I saw him about eight years ago at the airport. His mother was a beggar and she used to carry him along at that time; he was between eight and 10 years old then. How that boy entered the airport, entered the undercarriage of an aircraft and ended up in Amsterdam still baffles me till today.

Are you going to tell me that somebody did not put him there? I was going around one evening on inspection and KLM landed as I was going in. Two Dutch police from Amsterdam was bringing a small boy and coming from the opposite direction. The boy, with a hood or cap on his head, with the police, passed me and the boy waved at me. I waved back; though I didn’t know him.

Suddenly, the two police turned back and started following me. They came and started asking me questions; I was in uniform. They said do I know this boy, I said no. They said he seems to know me and I said ha! It was then that the boy removed his hood and I recognised him with surprise. I just started laughing. It was then that they narrated the story to me. That was in 1991 or 92.

So, when they mention the one of Benin to Lagos and temperature and so on, I said I have seen it before; a boy of his age did the same on Lagos to Amsterdam on KLM. They all showed that we don’t have security at the airport. The one in Benin, I told them that if you don’t have a perimeter fence then you don’t have security. That is part of the problem.

What should we be doing differently to address these problems?
The main problem is that we are too careless with our lives. To me, these things we are seeing now are not new. We need to go back to the experience of the past to see that they are not new. When they happened in the past, what did they do? If we know what they did, then we should ask them why did they stop doing them?

They need to make sure that the people deployed are given adequate training. Create a career progression for them; a progression into the management level up to the director level even if you are going to make political appointees MDs. Don’t bring anybody from outside to come and man as a director without and experience in the field. The inspectors in the NCAA are two or three steps below those in the field. I have advised the minister to let the inspectors go to the field and gather experience for two or three years before they start inspecting. Their inspection is useless if they do not have field training. If they go to the field, they would have seen all these loopholes.