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Lagos Airport: Tongues wag over theft of runway lightings

There is uneasy calm over the recent vandalism of airfield lighting equipment at the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos, which…

There is uneasy calm over the recent vandalism of airfield lighting equipment at the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos, which has led to the suspension of no fewer than seven officials, Daily Trust Saturday reports.

A major security breach at the MMIA – the busiest airport in Nigeria, has sent tongues wagging about the porosity of the airport which has suffered several breaches in the past, necessitating measures to nip the breaches in the bud.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) – the operator of the airports and over 20 others in the country, had procured many equipment to enhance security at the airport described as the number one gateway. But another breach was recorded last week when thieves allegedly vandalised multi-million naira airfield lighting cable on the runway of the MMIA, triggering angry reactions from stakeholders in the industry.

The incident has threatened the smooth completion of maintenance works at the international runway, it was learnt.

It would be recalled that FAAN had closed the runway18R/36L on March 11th 2023 for a period of eight weeks to carry out maintenance works on the runway.

Both international and local flights were however diverted to Runway 18L/36R which is meant to serve only the domestic flights.

It would be recalled that Runway 18L/36R was used for only daylight operations for over 14 years due to the non-availability of airfield lighting, a critical component aiding night operations. This explained why any domestic flight that arrived at the airport any time after sunset usually landed at the international runway and taxied for about 15 minutes to the domestic terminal due to the absence of the runway lights.

However, there was a relief for operators following the installation of the AFL components comprising approach lights, Runway Lights (Threshold and Centre, edge light and others) which enabled the runway to return to full 24/7 operations.

 

Shortly after, the authority in line with the runway maintenance programme announced the shutdown of the international runway for maintenance works scheduled to be concluded by May according to the statement released.

The runway, which is the longest in the country, covering 3,900 meters may remain closed for a long time over the theft.

With the completion of installation of AFL at the Runway 18L/36R, it was convenient to divert traffic to the runway to allow for the maintenance of the international runway (18R), but suspected thieves who were believed to be insiders took advantage of the closure of the runway to cart away the airfield lighting equipment serving the runway in what observers and officials at the airport described as a daring move.

A source, who spoke with our correspondent, said “Several electric cables connected to the airfield lighting equipment were carted away on the runway of the international airport.

“This is a highly security enhanced part of the airport and definitely those who carted away the equipment must have done that with the backing of insiders because flights were not operating at the time it happened.”

It was not clear how the suspected thieves accessed the runway as authorities are investigating to unravel the circumstances.

It was learnt that FAAN, acting on the directive of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Aviation, Dr Emmanuel Meribole, suspended no fewer than seven Senior officials including the Head of Aviation Security (AVSEC) at the international wing.

According to our source, the ministry was embarrassed with the theft report despite the various security measures in place at the airport.

“This is not only an embarrassment to us but a serious security breach which shows that we still have a long way to go as an industry. This is something we must not take lightly and I am sure heads would roll.

7 people suspended; General Manager redeployed

The theft report has elicited a series of actions including the suspension of seven officials serving at the airport.

But the Airport Manager, Mr. Felix Akinbinu, in a minor reshuffle was redeployed to the Airfield Services Department.

In a memo, announcing the redeployment, signed by the Managing Director FAAN, Mr. Kabir Mohammed, Akinbinu is to hand over to Mr. Sunday Ayodele who was before now General Manager Airfield services.

Head, Press and Public Affairs in the Ministry of Aviation, Mr. Oluseyi Odutayo, confirmed the suspension of some officers pending the conclusion of investigation.

He said a committee has been set up to carry out a thorough investigation into the incident, saying the outcome of the probe would determine the next action to be taken.

Daily Trust Saturday reports that the committee comprises officials of the Nigeria Police, DSS, Army, Aviation Security Services (AVSEC) working at the terminal.

The MMIA comprising the domestic and international wings has witnessed security breaches in the past which has attracted widespread condemnation.

In 2019, one Usman Adamu from Niger Republic who was carrying a bag caused panic on an Azman Air flight heading to Port Harcourt when he walked towards the aircraft awaiting final clearance from the control tower to take off.

He was seen climbing the engine of the aircraft and attempting to access the cabin. He would have got stuck to the engine if the Pilot-in-Command had not switched off the engine in the process.

Aviation security (AVSEC) officers of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) later came to apprehend him.

Embarrassed by the security breach, FAAN suspended four Senior Security heads pending the outcome of the investigation which was not made public.

In 2022, at the MMA2, a 14-year-old stowaway was found inside a United Nigeria Airlines plane during a pre-flight check and was subsequently arrested by Aviation security personnel. The invader was said to have told investigators that he was tired of the country and wanted to travel out.

However, the latest incident and the previous ones calls for concern and emphasises the imperative of stemming insider threats within the airport.

Aviation Security expert, Ayo Obilana, said the first level of suspects are the people who know something about electrical systems. He said insider threat cannot be ruled out in the incident.

He said, “For people to come around and steal airfield lighting is a manifestation of the decadence in the society. The first level of suspects are the people who know something about electrical. An ordinary person cannot go in there and steal. This is what we call insider threat in security parlance. In insider threat, they know the system, how it works, they know everything about the system. Of course, insider threat can be carried out with connivance of the outsiders. It is the people who are very knowledgeable about the system and about the electrical system.

“Again, setting up an investigation panel is a right step in the right direction and they must ensure that they bring in people who are knowledgeable about the system as part of the investigating panel otherwise it would end up to be a wishy-washy panel.

“Measures should be put in place to forestall future occurrences. Who are the people in charge of that particular area? You must ensure that justice is fair and well played by punishing those who are in charge of that place. There is the need for measures to safeguard the entire area in totality.”

Former Commandant of MMA, Group Capt. John Ojikutu rtd, said insider threat was responsible for the incident and charged the management of FAAN to look inward in stemming the tide.

He recalled how he nipped the menace in the bud as the airport commandant in the 1990s by positioning soldiers around the runways.

Ojikutu said, “This is not new at MMA. How I wish the FAAN management could go back to 1990 when similar things were happening in the airport. I was convinced that it was an ‘insider’s threat’. What did I do? I positioned soldiers on the runways and ensured that no FAAN maintenance staff went near the runways for anything without my approval, otherwise, it was ‘shoot at first sight’. It stopped completely.

“Runway lightings were being stolen and my conclusion then was: Runway lightings can only be useful for runways and not road nor house. Those stolen were being sold in return to FAAN by the same staff. That is why I am not in support of the unions carrying the picketing of their employers to the airports Security Controlled Areas.”

 

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