NIGERIANS are fortunate that they did not have another air accident to contend with. This fortune, an immeasurable one on account of the gravity of the risk that birthed it, should compel the severest sanction against all who were culpable and engender a thorough overhaul of the Nigerian aviation system to prevent a recurrence.
Daniel Oikhena, the little boy who hid himself in the wheel well of an Arik plane on a domestic flight from Benin to Lagos escaped death certainly; the passengers on board escaped same as the boy’s action put the plane at the risk of a crash and the whole nation was only thread-barely spared another round of mourning.
This grand fortune, however, should be a wake-up call. The Oikhena incident has, once again, ridiculed the country and exposed the lapses at Nigeria’s airports. How the boy managed to beat airport security and succeeded in sneaking into and hiding in the wheel undercarriage of the plane undetected has confounded aviation authorities and all who are now familiar with his escapade. And in this bewilderment resides the terrible malaise plaguing the aviation security unit.
How come Daniel Oikhena (12), an audacious junior secondary school student, was not seen smuggling himself into the plane in Benin and found only when he alighted from the plane’s wheel undercarriage upon landing in Lagos? Disembarking passengers saw him emerge and raised the alarm. He was fortunate that the flight was only 35 minutes, otherwise, he probably would have been dead.
Evelyn Oikhena, Daniel’s mother, has told security officials that her boy had nursed the dream of travelling to the United States of America and the boy actually believed the flight was US-bound, hence, his action was to realise his ambition of going abroad.
Daniel meant business. He tucked some items into his school backpack and then went out early in the morning to hide in the bush near the airport for the morning flight. He waited patiently until the aircraft was about to depart before he moved stealthily underneath the plane and disappeared into one of the wheel compartments.
Some reports say the plane’s pilot had reported to the control tower the presence of a strange boy in the bush some 200 – 300 metres away. The control tower then told the pilot that security was being sent to check. Apparently, this was not done as the plane taxied away. Whether this was the case is beside the point. There ought to be layers of security checks before clearing an aircraft for take-off. That, of course, did not happen, revealing that security at the airport was anything but meticulous. This total collapse of intelligence and security is unpardonable.
The hope is that Oikhena’s act would not be a template for other undesirable elements with more sinister ideas who would seek to exploit the crass incompetence of the aviation authorities and their lax attention to duty for more dangerous purposes.
The Benin incident was not the first time such security loopholes at Nigerian airports would be exposed. In July 2005, for instance, a herd of stray cows found its way unto the Port Harcourt International Airport runway.
An Air France Airbus 330 with 196 passengers from Paris, upon landing, hit one of the cows. Luckily, no one was hurt but the plane was badly damaged.
Again, in March 2011, a Hawker 850 aircraft with some leaders of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) confronted goats on the runway of the Bauchi airport, threatening safe landing of the plane. Before then, there had been more than a few such life-threatening security breaches, unbecoming of any nation let alone the almighty Nigeria.
Following these ugly incidents, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the agency responsible for airport infrastructure and security, promised to take perimetre fencing of the airports as a matter of priority. But this has not happened in all the airports. As usual, in a peculiarly Nigerian fashion, once the dust settles on one incident, attention shifts and nothing is ever done until another incident.
What could have happened if the boy was on a terrorist mission to blow up the plane? It is doubly surprising that the Oikhena saga could happen at a time when Nigeria is waging a war against terrorists, signposting a certain lack of seriousness on the part of the nation’s authorities about ensuring the safety or security of citizens.
A greater tragedy has since unfolded: Rather than accept responsibility and addressing a grave security issue, regulators and operators are trading blame! This is an insult for which the aviation high command should sanction all concerned. If the managers of FAAN, especially had any sense of duty or shame, they would have quit their jobs by now since the higher authorities did not deem the Oikhena incident grievous enough to do the appropriate thing, namely fire the incompetents!
Some persons and groups have reportedly awarded Oikhena scholarship up to university level to enable him realise his dreams. This gesture is certainly not supposed to encourage his daring but a show of sympathy for his poor family background.
This outpouring of goodwill should, however, not becloud sense of judgment and excuse his action. He may be young and daring but his attitude should be properly channelled to his studies. His escapade should also be a message to parents that an investment of more time in the training of their children is needed to monitor their movements, actions and behaviour. Daniel is reportedly addicted to action movies replete with his kind of escapade, albeit in fiction, and had watched them late into the night before embarking on his famous journey from Benin.
More importantly, the false belief of the Nigerian youth that there are greener pastures abroad and therefore, they would do just about anything to go abroad is a known malaise. Many have died in an attempt to reach Europe through the Sahara Desert. Many have ended up in prison. Yes, the harsh economic situation in Nigeria can be blamed but greener pastures are found only where planted.
There cannot be enough education and enlightenment schemes to cure this malaise.