Authorities of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport on Saturday, August 24, arrested 13-year old Daniel Ihekhina as he hopped out of the wheel well of Arik Air Flight 544 shortly after it landed on the tarmac in Lagos. The young boy had apparently beaten both Federal Aviation Authority of Nigerian (FAAN) and Arik Airline officials at the Benin Airport and stolen into the wheel compartment of the aircraft for a free ride to Lagos, thinking it was U.S.-bound.
Admitting the unfortunate incident, FAAN, in a statement, said some passengers had called the attention of the cabin crew when they saw a boy walk under the aircraft but did not see him reappear on the other side. Yet, the pilot took off without a thorough check of the aircraft.
Both FAAN and Arik resorted to trading blames while the nation tried to come to terms with the serious security breach, which could have been fatal, not just for the stowaway, but all the passengers on board. The Directorate of Security Service (DSS) took the boy into custody and quizzed the mother, while an investigative panel has been set up to look into the professional and security issues involved in the incident.
The case of stowaway Daniel has once again exposed the lack of adequate security at our airports. This is not the first time we are experiencing this kind of breach. In the not too distant past, a herd of cattle literally strolled onto the tarmac of a busy airport. We have also had one or two cases of stowaways that ended in tragedy. Now, it has happened again. At a time the nation is struggling to keep its head above the stormy waters of terror attacks, a teenager somehow managed to beat all security checks of both airport authorities and Arik Air. This is a frightening development. But for providence, that plane-load of passengers could have been blown up had Daniel Ihekhina been a suicide bomber wired with explosives. The nation would then have been thrown into another round of grief and pain.
It is a good thing that the shameful incident is under investigation because just trading blames at this point would be begging the issue. However, the report of the investigation must be made public and its recommendations implemented. A terrible and perhaps criminal negligence has occurred. Even the FAAN spokesperson, Yakubu Dati, admitted that it was “a clear case of security breach”. It has also been established that the stowaway did what he did right under the nose of FAAN, making its officials in Benin culpable.
Both FAAN and Arik have a case to answer. Their negligence could have thrown several families into mourning. Their one moment of dereliction of duty could have created another community of orphans, widows and widowers and inconsolable parents. Those found guilty should not be allowed to go unpunished. If we do not make an example of those who allowed this terrible security breach to happen, there is a likelihood that a real tragedy could still happen. What if Daniel was actually a suicide bomber?
Both FAAN and Arik let the nation down. The pilot took a shocking risk with the lives of all the passengers on board. He must bear the full consequences of his action and inaction.
This stowaway episode has also once again brought to the fore the great responsibility of parenting. Parents have an obligation to guide their children on the realities of life. They also need to be mindful of what their children are exposed to. Inattention to this basic responsibility can safely be said to account for Daniel Ihekhina’s obsession with the fast life in America, like he saw it being lived on the screen, since his mother admitted the lad was a movie buff. He must have thought that he could repeat in real life the movie stunts he saw his screen heroes perform in real life. According to aviation experts, the teenager could easily have been crushed to death if the flight he “boarded” had been a long-distance one.
The lesson for parents in all these is that they need to pay more attention to what their children and wards do after school hours. They need to create more time to teach their wards true values and keep them on the straight and narrow path. It is our collective responsibility to inculcate in our children that it is not all that glitters that is gold and that there abound in Nigeria still, untapped opportunities, though the lawn may seem greener in America and Europe.