Five months after unknown persons carted away some of the parts of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) of the international runway 18/36R of Murtala Muhammad Airport (MMA), Lagos, the suspects remain unidentified.
This is happening despite an investigative panel set up by the management of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to unravel how the approach lights of the runway were dismantled and carted away at the restricted area of the airport, reports Daily Independent.
Also, it was gathered that the Department of State Services (DSS) conducted an investigation into the stealing and has since submitted its findings to the erstwhile Managing Director of FAAN, Mr. Kabir Mohammed.
But despite the submission, nothing is heard of the outcome.
The runway lights were discovered to have been stolen on July 10, 2023, and seven persons, majorly the Aviation Security (AVSEC) personnel on duty on the said day were suspended.
Its disappearance raised some security concerns, not just at the Lagos airport, but at all the airports in the country.
The incident had happened at a time Nigeria was preparing for the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Safety Audit.
It was learnt that those who carted away the lighting systems took advantage of the closure of the runway for over three months by FAAN, while some FAAN workers were alleged to have connived with outsiders to steal the airport lighting equipment.
However, a source close to FAAN confided in our correspondent yesterday that the management of FAAN may have replaced the runway lights, but yet to be re-opened for operations.
According to the source, replacement of the lights had reached over 90 percent completion, assuring that it would be commissioned in the new year.
The source said: “We are almost through with the replacement of the runway lights. As it is, we are about 98 percent gone. The report of the investigative panel is ready and submitted to the former management of FAAN. I think the management acted on it, but the report was not just made public.”
Also commenting on the issue, Mr. Abayomi Agoro, the President, Nigerian Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), described the carting away of the approach lights as a disgrace to the nation.
Agoro explained that the runway, which is used by international airlines for landing and taxiing, is the longest, but expressed regret that the vandalism had caused disruption of service to international airline operators.
He called on FAAN to make the report of its investigation public, while those found wanting should be sanctioned appropriately.
Agoro also emphasised that stricter security measures should be put in place to prevent recurrence in the future, maintaining that it had safety and security connotations.
He said: “For me, it doesn’t speak well of us. Also, it has a safety and security issue. That particular runway is the longest and the most prominently used for international airlines and the act of vandalism has obstructed its use. So, operators are compelled to use the domestic runway.
“When you are subjected to only one runway, we pray we don’t have incursion or any other incident that will now warrant the closure of the only runway. Also, for FAAN, as far as I am concerned, whosoever is responsible for the conduct of the investigation, should make the outcome public.
“FAAN needs to ensure that such an occurrence does not happen again. Aviation security is paramount to the development of the industry and now that new heads are coming in to pilot the affairs of the sector, I do hope they will take a look at that and devise a way of preventing future occurrence.”
Besides, Mr. Olumide Ohunayo, General Secretary, Aviation Round Table (ART), said the Lagos airport is too busy and sensitive to allow the runway lights issue to linger on for so long without solution.
Ohunayo explained that investigation into the disappearance was unnecessarily delayed by FAAN, five months after the incident was exposed.
He declared that the Lagos airport was too important to be left alone without an alternate runway, stressing that the airlines spend more to taxi from the domestic runway to the international terminal.
“As they continue with their investigation, which is overtly delayed, I think they should begin to put things in place to prevent recurrence and also punish those whose duty was supposed to ensure that it didn’t happen in the first place.
“We are still waiting for them to provide the Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) camera footage. I also think there is the need to increase patrol, there is need to ensure that there is extra security at the airside.
“Lagos airport is a high revenue one for FAAN and that should have been a priority for FAAN to install the instrument. If the international airlines now start to taxi to the international runway from the local that will add to the cost of their operations and it will be passed on to the passengers,” he said.
Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Centurion Securities Limited, said that the crime could only be perpetuated by insiders, especially some disgruntled staff of FAAN who had access to the airside.
Ojikutu also queried the recruitment process of some of the personnel in the critical areas of the airport, especially at the airside, insisting that there are numerous gaps in the recruitment system.
He further wondered if background checks were conducted on the new employees, most especially those who work within the restricted areas of the airport.
“How do we dispense the personnel at the airport? What is their career progression? Some people were eased out of the system even when they still have more years to spend in service and after easing them out, the government would now engage inexperienced personnel to replace them.
“The fact is that for you to lose one runway lighting it will take you about two to three minutes and in a situation where we lose about 10 to 12 of them, it will take you a minimum of 30 minutes. You can’t do this without the knowledge of FAAN staff. It is still the same FAAN staff that are stealing these facilities. The runway lighting is just a line light, which is for directing the aircraft to land.”