The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria and Arik Air indulge in a blame game in order to shift the loose security responsibility at Benin Airport to each other
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Sep. 9, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
IT IS no longer news that Daniel Ohikhena, the 15-year-old teenager, was arrested at the Lagos Airport, Ikeja, after he was spotted emerging from the wheels compartment of a plane belonging to Arik Air on August 24. What is at issue now is the various lies, half truths amidst facts that have been peddled by the actors in the game namely the Arik Airline and the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, FAAN. Mixed reactions have continued to trail their actions which invariably point to the danger such security breach poses to users of airlines in Nigeria.
The saga has dredged up fundamental issues regarding the security of lives and properties of Nigerians who make use of airlines on a daily basis. The Benin incident had shown that there is need to audit and investigate the Arik Air and the Benin Airport securities programmes. The blame game which the FAAN and the Arik Air have employed to deny Nigerians the truth, would not help the situation. Arik is blaming the FAAN for not fencing some part of the airport, while the FAAN said that Arik was duly informed of the presence of the teenager before its aircraft took off from Benin.
Yakubu Datti, FAAN spokesman, said its preliminary investigation had revealed that Arik did not give an accurate account of the Benin Airport incident. “Our investigations reveal that a passenger on board the flight called the attention of the cabin crew while the aircraft was waiting to take off at the threshold of the runway, to the effect that they had seen a young boy walk under the aircraft and had not seen him re-appear on the other side. The cabin crew, in turn, informed the pilots in the cockpit about this. The pilots called the control tower and asked them to request FAAN to do a sweep of the area after their departure, opting to carry on with their flight despite the report. Upon the arrival of the aircraft in Lagos, we were informed that there had been a stowaway found alive alighting from the wheel well of the aircraft. While FAAN takes this security breach extremely seriously, we deem Arik’s attempt at indicting and smearing FAAN as irresponsible. Safety and security breaches occur when all the checks in the system are beaten. Given that security is a responsibility for all players in this industry, a critical last opportunity to detect and prevent this stowaway was offered and had the airline taken the information by passengers as seriously as they should have, this incident would have been avoided,” he said.
On its part, Arik Air blamed the incident on inadequate security at the airport. Chris Ndulue, managing director, Arik Air, expressed shock over the incident wondering how the teenager beat the aviation security personnel at the Benin Airport to get to the runway. “We are worried by the incessant security lapses at our airports. We are appealing to the management of FAAN to immediately address the problem,” he said.
But Fola Akinkuotu, director-general, NCAA, said the regulatory authority has commenced full investigation into the matter. Although declined to specify the nature of penalty it would impose on Arik Air, its pilot or the FAAN, if they were found guilty, he however said, “If at the end of the day, we discover that somebody has not done what he should do, then the appropriate sections of the law will take its full course,” he said.
Many Nigerians still cannot fathom the reason for Ohikhena’s uncommon adventure, thoughtlessness and his ability to survive the 35-minute flight at an altitude of over 21,000 feet. It was reported in the media that Ohikhena wanted to escape parental abuse at home by hiding in the undercarriage of the plane. The report said that the boy had also thought he was actually on a flight heading to the United States of America. While the parents, who were obviously alerted through relatives and other sources, were on their way to reclaim him, he was handed over to men of the Department of State Security for further investigation.
When the State Security Service, SSS quizzed the mother of the 15-year-old stowaway, she said her son was a nice boy who never displayed any tendency for such a dangerous venture. “My son answers Daniel in school and Ricky at home. I went to my elder sister’s place who put to bed and when I got home the next morning (Saturday), I couldn’t find him. My daughter told me that they quarrelled in the night because he woke up at midnight to watch movies and she told him to stop and sleep. She said he eventually slept in the parlour while she went back to sleep in the room. One of his younger brothers said he saw him remove all his school books from his bag; so I asked my neighbours whether any of them saw him and they told me that at around 5 to 6 am, they heard sounds that somebody was opening the gate but never thought it was my son. He doesn’t go out. What I know is that he is always watching films in the house but he doesn’t have friends. I went to Oba Market police station, they referred me to Evbuotubu police station, when I got there, they said they will declare him missing after 24 hours and that I should come back the next day,” she said.
Experts in the aviation industry have expressed surprise over the survival of the teenager. Chris Aligbe, managing director, Belujane Consult, said there was no expert in the aviation industry that could give a satisfactory explanation to what happened, stressing that the boy’s survival was, indeed, miraculous. He noted that the boy’s survival could be as a result of the short distance that the plane flew from Benin to Lagos airport which lasted just 35 minutes of flight time. He said that the aircraft did not ascend high into the sky as it only flew at 10,000 feet above sea level.
“There are no aviation experts that can give you a satisfactory explanation on the incident. The nostril of the aircraft is not designed for anybody to stay in. The boy’s survival was miraculously done by God because the aircraft could have crushed him when the plane was retracting its tyres. Although the hole is a bit wide, it is not meant for anybody to stay in. There is no scientific explanation to it; there is no aviation expert or technology that could explain how that boy survived on board that aircraft,” he said.
Meanwhile, Oikhena has been offered a scholarship to study up to university level and fulfill his dream of flying to the United States of America by the De Raufs’ Volunteer Group, a group of supporters of Rauf Aregbesola, Osun State governor. Amitolu Shittu, director-general of the group, said the scholarship was offered to the stowaway to enable the boy to achieve his target of travelling through the air. But the scholarship offer has been condemned by many Nigerians as a reward for crime. They argue that such an offer is capable of luring criminally-minded youths to believe that crime is a short cut to national recognition and reward.
Whatever the immediate reason for Daniel’s actions is, it clearly reflects the desperation of millions of Nigerian youths to flee the dehumanising conditions of living in the country. Deprived of jobs and basic amenities, as well as driven by hunger and poverty, the average Nigerian youth often dreams of leaving the country at the slightest opportunity and going in search of the proverbial greener pastures abroad by any means possible. Although he is relatively young, it is not unlikely that Daniel may have nursed similar dreams. Yet, the boy’s action is not different from several attempts by other Nigerian youths in the past to cross into Europe through perilous tracks in the Sahara Desert.