How Nigeria escaped US blacklist after aircraft bombing attempt in 2009 – Former NCAA DG
Harold Demuren, the former Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has explained how Nigeria was removed from among the blacklisted countries by the US following the attempted bombing of a United States aircraft by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian underwear bomber in 2009.
This is also as stakeholders in the Nigerian aviation industry have called on all security agencies to work in synergy to avoid terrorism attack in the sector, but insisted that the sector is still safe for flight operations.
Speaking at the Second 2022 Breakfast Business Meeting organised by Aviation Round Table (ART) in Lagos on Thursday with the theme: ‘Perspective in Multi-Layer Aviation Security System and Passenger Facilitation,’ Demuren who was the Director-General of NCAA as at the time of the incident, in his keynote speech, said that his attention was drawn to the December 25, 2009 incident by Babatunde Omotoba who was the Minister of Aviation from December 17, 2008 till March 2010.
According to him, Omotoba had woken him up in the middle of the night to break the incident to him, but noted that the installation of modern equipment at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, revealed the entire activities of Abdulmutallab at the airport to the security team.
He explained that the Closed Circuit Television Camera (CCTV) footage provided by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) at the airport, extricated Nigeria from complacency in the heinous crime.
Demuren said that Nigeria was able to provide all the necessary documents as requested by the US, which led to the removal of Nigeria among the blacklisted countries by the US.
He, however, said that the singular act led to improved security at all the nation’s airports, especially the international aerodromes, stressing that the security layers in Nigeria were increased from seven to 20 by the US.
He regretted that prior to the incident, the father of Abdulmutallab had informed the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) of the radicalisation of his son, but said rather for such information to be shared among the various security agencies, the security outfit refused to act.
He therefore called for cooperation and collaboration among the security agencies in the sector for an improved security system.
He said: “Up to the 1980s, there was no major aviation security challenges in Africa. Then came the 1993 Nigerian Airways Hijack (Lagos-Abuja Flight, diverted to Niamey, Niger Republic). After this was the 9/11 attack in the US, which changed the face of aviation security in the world. Layers upon layers of security were introduced in the US.
“In Nigeria, we had the Umar Farouk Abdul-Mutallab 2010 failed bomb attempt on KLM/NorthWest Airline. After this incident, NCAA ordered for enhanced multi-layered security measures at our airports, including body scanners.
“The Abdulmutallab incident was the saddest day of my life as the DG NCAA. I was woken up in the middle of the night by the Minister of Aviation who told me to go and watch the news. It was all over the news that a Nigerian wanted to kill Americans, but the CCTV footage saved us. When we were asked to provide our evidence, we were able to show it to the US and what we had then, some big aviation countries didn’t have them.
“At this point, I’d like to appreciate the contribution of the various agencies at the airport, particularly FAAN for providing the CCTV footage. The Nigerian Immigration Service that provided detailed entry and exit from the airport and the MAVIS for providing the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) information and others. These were parts of the information NCAA used to remove Nigeria’s name from the ‘US Country of Interest Watchlist.”
Earlier, Gabriel Olowo, the President, ART, said that in view of the current security deterioration and challenges in Nigeria on farmlands, religious places, road and rail transportation, it was pertinent for the group to continue to discuss the security situation in the industry.
Olowo lamented that the various communiqués arising from the past breakfast meetings of ART were not implemented by the government, but insisted that would deter the body from continuing to propagate safety and security in the sector.
John Ojikutu, aviation security expert in his paper ‘Civil Aviation Security Defence Layers and Airport Passengers’ Facilitation,’ also said that the Abdulmutallab incident led to increased security apparatus in the industry in Nigeria.
He, however, decried the multiple security desks in the sector, stressing that it was discouraging travellers and investors into the country.
He emphasised that there were some lapses in the profiling of the Abdulmutallab by the various bodies from the Department of State Security (DSS) immigration, Aviation Security (AVSEC) and even the airlines.
Also, Ayo Obilana, in his paper titled: ‘Addressing the Challenges of Passenger Facilitation Process in the Aviation Security Regime,’ explained that in the US, there are only five security checkpoints; three in arrival and two at departure.
But, in Nigeria, he said there are no fewer than 20 security checks at arrival and departure and described the security system in the country as analog operations.
“This for me is known as analog operations known as bank cheque book mentality,” he said.