The recent discovery of the corpse of a young man in the wheel well or undercarriage compartment of an Arik Airline aircraft that returned to the country from New York, in the United States, has raised salient questions on security at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, in Lagos.
The success of the stowaway in accessing the tarmac and the aircraft on which he probably attempted to enter the United States illegally is a serious security breach. It is worrisome that anybody could just stroll into the undercarriage of an aircraft on the tarmac at a national airport without being accosted by either security agents or the officials of the airline. Whether the stowaway accessed the wheel well on his own or through connivance with airport security or airline officials, he was a security risk to the aircraft and all its passengers, as he might as well have been a suicide bomber intent on planting bombs on the airplane.
This would have spelled disaster for the airline, the passengers and Nigeria as a whole. The discovery of the corpse of this stowaway is a serious indictment on the management of the airport and the airline. It is an incident that should be investigated to determine how the stowaway got onto the plane.
The impression that this discovery has created is that Nigeria’s airports are not safe. This is too bad, especially in the face of the growing wave of terrorism in the country. It seriously questions the diligence of airport security personnel who are expected to secure both the tarmac and the aircraft on it. This is more so as this is not the first time such incident has been recorded in the country.
There have been other similar occurrences, such as the March 2010 discovery of the corpse of a Nigerian identified as Okechukwu Okeke, in the nose wheel compartment of a plane operated by the United States carrier, Delta Airline, at the Lagos Airport. Such past incidents should instruct airport personnel on the need to properly secure all aircraft on the tarmac. The case of this latest stowaway should draw attention to the danger that lapses in airport security can cause. It is, however, necessary to warn youths against the desperation to stowaway on aircraft. They need to be made to know that it is dangerous to fly in the external compartments of airplanes because they are neither pressurized nor heated. Stowaways in the wheel well, even when they are not crushed by the wheels, are likely to die from cold or suffocation due to lack of oxygen.
We counsel Nigerian youths against such desperate tactics. If they must travel outside the country, they should strive to do so through legal means, and not through dangerous methods that could claim their lives. The Nigerian government should also strive to make the country conducive for youths to actualise their potentials. If the authorities make the country worth living in, and youths are kept productively engaged, the desperation of young Nigerians to travel abroad by all means, fair or foul, will be reduced.
We urge airport and airline authorities to pay closer attention to the security of aircraft at all times. Every necessary effort should be made to keep unauthorised persons away from aircraft and the tarmac. This is necessary to stop this type of incident and the possibility of terrorists planting explosives on airplanes on the tarmac.
The challenge of terrorism in Nigeria and other parts of the world calls for seriousness in the efforts to secure air travel. Carelessness or complicity in any form should not be tolerated and any airport or airline official found culpable in this stowaway incident should be punished to send a strong message that security of airports, aircraft and air passengers is not to be trifled with.