Nigerians woke up on Sunday 25 August, 2013 to learn of a stowaway teenage boy, Daniel Ohikhena, who flew with Arik’s flight W3 544 from Benin to Lagos, thinking the plane was US-bound! Daniel, probably, had fantasised of life in far away America, watched films where some movie stars in a feign show of bravado, stowaway precariously on fast moving cars and aircrafts, chose to be the hero in reality, difficult to tell if he was oblivious of the risk his bluster involved, how far a flight from Benin to US was, or how he planned to survive extreme weather conditions.
The war of words and blame trading between Arik Air and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has continued unabated. FAAN investigations revealed “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 go under the aircraft and had not seen him re-appear on the other side.” It was gathered that the cabin crew then informed the pilot who radioed the airport control tower to verify. The airport official ignored the request to conduct a check, but instead, gave the all clear for take off.
From the foregoing, it is crystal clear that FAAN officials were complacent, and should accept responsibility that they failed in first, protecting the airports area from intruders and secondly, conducting a thorough check on the plane before take-off. Their lackadaisical attitude and negligence of duty would have brought down the plane in shreds had it been a terrorist was the stowaway. However, security is a responsibility for all players in the aviation industry. Arik could have taken it upon themselves to be thorough. The level of complacency in this country is alarming. If there are no sanctions for this incident, the task of averting future air mishap becomes a mirage. The porous state of airport security calls for worry at a time the nation is struggling to curb the spate of insurgency, terrorists desperate to destabilize Nigeria and spill as much blood as possible are ever lurking.
But how long will it take the Ministry of Aviation to beef up security at the nation’s airports is a question only themselves can answer; starting with the delayed erection of perimeter fences across airports nationwide. Why for example, should armed bandits raid the gateway airport in Lagos seamlessly, even with the avalanche of security agencies at the airport?
Remember how the claims by the former Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Dr. Harold Demuren, that the explosives found on Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, did not pass through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, Lagos? The would-be terrorist eventually opened up that he, indeed, passed through the Lagos airport, twice, with the deadly devices undetected. Mutallab was said to have told an American investigator that he got the devices in Yemen and brought them to Lagos. He then transported them from Lagos to Amsterdam. That is how safe our airports are.
The shear bravery exhibited by the adolescent stowaway is what has taken many by awe. Aviation experts are still at a loss how the lad survived the turbulence at such altitude. Information on Wikipedia reveal that stowaways in aircraft wheel wells face numerous health risks, many of which are fatal, which include: being mangled when undercarriage retracts, tinnitus, deafness, hypothermia, hypoxia, frostbite, acidosis or falling off when the doors of the compartment reopen. Thirteen cases of stowaway incidents in the United States alone were reported by a 1997 study, resulting in 8 deaths. The Arik Air flight from Benin to Lagos is a short trip which did not necessitate high altitude cruise, else Daniel Ihekina would not have survived. We would want to think that protocol should have demanded that, the SSS should have first took him for medical examined before commencing their investigation.
His bravery reminds us of the failure of governance. Citizens in droves, take to life threatening voyage, to go across borders in search of greener pastures but never before have we seen a compatriot this young, this daring. There are some points worthy of note.
First, if at his age, he could muster enough courage to stowaway, then such energy if properly groomed by education, his services as a matured adult can be of colossal benefit to the country as a pilot, in the SSS, military intelligence or any of the nation’s security agencies. It is a pointer to the abundant human resources the country possesses. As I write, he has been awarded a scholarship to university level. But was it carefully thought out? Shouldn’t we be mindful of what we reward in the face of mounting security challenges?
Secondly, the stowaway’s desperado is a reflection of the frightening level of abject poverty in the county and bleak future starring Nigerian teenagers and youths in the face. If not, the lad wouldn’t have given even a second thought to such a dangerous escapade. What is the government of the day doing to impact the lives of the common man? A teenager of thirteen years already knows he can live a better life in America. He grows up with that mindset that nothing good can come out of his country. For now, to be at par with, or leapfrog America and the rest of the developed world is almost unrealistic, but government can make life less miserable for its citizens.
The SSS might have to overlook Daniel’s risky adventure if it is found that he had no intent to terrorise, perpetrate a criminal act or pose any threat to passengers onboard. Funny as it seem, some give him credit not only for beating the security officials at their game but also for flying safely. Incredible, isn’t it?
By Theophilus Ilevbare