Securing airports against terror attacks - PUNCH
APRIL 28, 2021
Punch Editorial Board
THE alarm raised by the Federal Government over plans by some criminals to attack major airports across the country has further heightened the security challenges facing Africa’s most populous country. Despite being plagued with leadership incompetence and a faltering economy, Nigeria also gasps in the grip of terrorism, banditry, and kidnapping. The threat to attack airports is a new dimension that must be prevented at all costs.
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria said that it received an alert from the Ministry of Aviation on plans to attack the airports. It listed the targeted airports to include the ones in Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Sokoto and Kano. Improving airport security and effective criminal justice responses founded on a strong legal regime are essential elements for countering civil aviation terrorist acts.
Experts say that the aviation sector remains an attractive terrorist target due to its importance to the global economy and the opportunity to inflict mass casualties. It is striking that the Federal Government quickly rose to the occasion by directing the FAAN to immediately enumerate “appropriate counter-measures for the safety of airports/facilities” to combat the risk and call an emergency meeting of airport security committees to “study the current state of airport security, jointly recommend corrective steps and share responsibility for successful implementation.” The government has also reinforced the level of security at Abuja, Lagos, Kano, and other identified airports across the country. The reinforcement was part of measures deployed to tackle any form of attack by criminals.
But security agents need to be vigilant and ensure collaborative efforts to ward off threats at the airports. Criminal elements had in the past issued threats to attack critical national assets only for the security agencies to exhibit bravado which soon waned a few weeks after. The United Nations headquarters in the Federal Capital Territory was attacked in 2011 where some lost their lives and others were injured. The country’s security chiefs should quickly proceed to examine the warning and gather adequate intelligence to halt attempts to attack any of the airports and other major national assets.
This is not the time to engage in rhetoric as emblematic of the nation’s security heads. Security experts have noted that past abduction of pupils in a school in Chibok, Borno State, should be enough for security forces to comprehend the kidnapping style of criminals to frustrate the activities. But sadly, nothing was learned from that episode. Rather than decreasing, kidnappings, violent attacks and killings are increasing with more daring styles introduced into the illicit acts. After the Chibok incident, pupil abduction has occurred in Dapchi, Yobe State; Zamfara, Katsina and lately Kaduna states with other incidents of kidnapping reported across other states.
The nation’s security forces need to embrace preventive models and not knee-jerk approaches. This is the area deserving outstanding work. Their operation should be intelligence-driven and explore collaborations with international security agencies to gather intelligence and record successes in covert operations. They should know that no foreign security services rely solely on their own intelligence efforts alone. The United Kingdom, the United States and Canada among other countries, usually share signals intelligence with their allies to reinforce joint resilience in arresting potential threats. Nigeria should join the rest of the world in best practices. It ought to be working diligently to provide at-risk people, buildings, and national assets with modern security. It should be prepared to counter modern terrorism with intelligence and new technologies.
Nigeria’s security services must significantly improve on intelligence-sharing to effectively deliver premium security apparatus in safeguarding the country both internally and against external aggressors. The country’s failure to utilise intelligence was also dwelt on by one of the ambassadorial nominees, who retired as the Chief of Defence Intelligence, Muhammad Usman. He disclosed that his office had an intelligence report that Boko Haram insurgents would kidnap Dapchi girls. He said, “There was an intelligence report on Dapchi before it occurred. We saw indicators building up, but it was not managed properly. State governors have a role to play because if you are given intelligence, we expect troops to move in, but this does not happen in the North-East because of bad roads and difficult terrains.”
The Nigerian government was accused by the international community of not acting on intelligence reports when a team of military and intelligence experts in Nigeria were embedded and spy planes sent with thermal imaging to search for the missing Chibok girls after locating them from the skies above a forest thrice the size of Wales.
In this regard, every effort to protect the airports must be calculatedly executed and no one, no matter how highly placed, should be allowed to compromise security directives at the airports. Passengers and workers within the airport premises should show responsibility because security is everybody’s business. They should be on the alert and swiftly report perceived threats to the security forces. This is not the time for security agents to display overzealousness. Vigilance should be the watchword of everyone to collectively frustrate the antics of criminals.
Airports across the world now have stringent security measures to counter raging terrorism threats. Authorities in Nigeria’s airports should urgently perform security audits to replace non-functional facilities, improve screening lanes, install security cameras and boost mobile patrols to passably secure the facilities which are the gateways to the country. Countries should work together to share information, technology, and best practices on aviation security.