Stowaway: Unaddressed security breaches put travellers at risk


Following the discovery of a stowaway at the Lagos airport, experts in the aviation sector have said the failure to address security breaches at airports across Nigeria poses a threat to passenger safety.

These concerns are coming after United Airlines on Sunday reported a 14-year-old stowaway was found in its parked aircraft at the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2 (MMA2).

The stowaway had explained that he gained access into the airside through an opening at ‘Ile- Zik’ area of the Lagos airport perimeter fence along Lagos-Abeokuta expressway.

The invader, who gave his name as Rasheed Mufutau, said he was “tired of the country and wanted to travel out.”

Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst, told BusinessDay that the incident showed there were security gaps at the Lagos airport that should be closed.

“Stowaway is a major problem for the aviation industry and every country has had this problem since the early days of aviation. The United States has been able to tighten security in all the layers to stop stowaways. Even with that, ground workers go to pick up parked aircraft at the air side, fly it and crash land, which is even more dangerous,” Ohunayo said.

He said Sunday’s incident was the latest in a series of stowaway cases in the country and should be addressed, especially at a time when the country is faced with insecurity challenges.

He said: “This should open our eyes to see that we still need to tighten security around the airport premises. The perimeter fences should be upgraded and the CCTV camera that is supposed to monitor the runway and the tarmac should be functioning and monitored regularly. I believe if someone had seen the stowaway, this wouldn’t have happened.

“If the modern CCTV camera sees an infraction, it gives a red beep and it won’t go unnoticed. We have to accept that a 14-year old has breached our security on the air side and this time around, we need to look at how to tighten security at the air side in all airports in Nigeria.”

On March 6, 2021, gunmen attacked Kaduna Airport staff residing at the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) quarters and reportedly abducted nine persons. The bandits were said to have gained access to the residential quarters through the airport runway at night.

Barely two weeks after the March 6 incident, there was another attempt by armed bandits to kidnap aviation workers residing in the staff quarters of FAAN at the Kaduna airport but it was foiled by the military. The bandits again gained access into the quarters through the runways 23 and 05.

In March 2022, gunmen attacked Kaduna airport, killing the guard at the site of Very high frequency Omni-directional Range (VOR), a navigational aids equipment belonging to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). The attack prevented smooth take-off of flights as staff scampered for safety.

In November 2016, a lifeless body of an unidentified stowaway was found in the main wheel well of one of Arik Air’s A330-200 aircraft at the Oliver Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg.

The airline had then said this discovery made it the third dead stowaways that have been found on the airline’s aircraft beginning from 2012, 2015 and 2016.

The Arik aircraft operated the scheduled Lagos-Johannesburg flight that departed the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos at 3:55pm on November 29, 2016 and arrived in Johannesburg shortly before 11pm. After the aircraft landed, the engineers at the airport where the aircraft was scheduled for a routine maintenance check discovered the body of the stowaway during inspection phase.

Read also: How 14-year-old stowaway accessed the airside despite security at Lagos airport

There have also been stowaways through the fence at Benin airport in the past.

“I have repeatedly said that the airport perimeter fences (Annex 14) are not security fences (Annex 17). We need to upgrade or enhance most airports perimeter fences which are mostly porus to security fences. The 23km perimeter fence of the MMA seriously needs to be security enhanced to stop the incessant incursions into the airport,” John Ojikutu, aviation security consultant and secretary general of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative, told BusinessDay.

“Most urban and private buildings around the airport have exceeded the limits allowed to be closed to the perimeter fence. Some of the buildings are even using the fence not as their fences too but as part of their buildings. The minimum allowed including the roads shoulders is 6m. The shoulder of the Lagos-Abeokuta road to the fence is much less than the 6m,” he said.

Ojikutu said there have been several incursions and stowaways at MMIA, one of which happened on KLM in the early 90s under the aircraft undercarriage at Lagos airport on a flight scheduled for Amsterdam, although the stowaway survived and was brought back.

He recalled another stowaway on an Egyptian airline (Dakar to Lagos) who did not survive.

“There was another on British Airways (London to New York) but plenty of naira was found on him. It was believed he was a Nigerian possibly on a previous flight from Lagos to London; he did not survive the flight. We had one in early 20s from Benin to Lagos and followed immediately by another in Lagos, both survived,” he said.

Ojikutu said after all these experiences, one would expect the reviews of the Airport Security Programme and the Airlines Security Programme and if possible, the National Civil Aviation Security Programmes.

“I strongly believe that these are very necessary especially now that the country is in the midst of various threats coming from many directions that cannot be discerned by our security and intelligence agencies,” the security expert said.

He said there is a need for the NCAA to review the Airport Security Programme of MMIA, MMA2 and the United Airlines Security Programme, adding that an incursion into the airport by unauthorised persons is becoming common.


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