Nigeria has had a bad reputation for aircraft safety for decades. Africa’s most populous nation does have very busy airports and it is widely known that most aircraft accidents occur when there is bad weather, a problem with the runway, or when navigational aids are not working properly. However, on November 18, a man was caught with explosives at the Lagos International Airport, Mohammed Murtla Airport.

Airport security detained and arrested a Nigerian man with a bag of explosives who tried to get on a Bellview Airlines Flight to Abuja, the nation’s capitol. This has caused security officials to question if some of the country’s air disasters may have been terrorist related.

On October 25, an Nigerian ADC Airlines 737 crashed in Abuja, killing 103 persons. Earlier in the year, a planeload of Nigerian military officers perished when their plane traveling from Abuja to Calabar crashed. Seventy six died in that incident. On December 10, 2005, a Nigerian Sosoliso Airliner went down in Port Harcourt, killing 106. In October that year, 117 lost their lives when a Nigerian Bellview airliner taking off from Lagos crashed.

Is it a coincidence that all of these events occurred on Saturdays, including the arrest of the man with explosives on November 18? Does Nigeria need to increase its security at the domestic terminal at the airport? Nigerians fear flying on domestic airliners any more and these questions must be answered.

It already has been reported and confirmed that the State Security Service (SSS), is working on the link between a text message sent to some “top government functionaries” and the air mishaps involving the airliners. This Day newspaper reported the story. The message was captioned ‘Breaking Silence from Concerned Aviation Workers (CAW)’, and ran thus: “We, aviation workers did the Bellview, Sosoliso, and today’s ADC aircrash. We are equipped with over 100 automated remote-controlled explosives stored in 20 airport. “Our demands: Pay Nigeria Airways’ workers all (their) entitlements. Release (report of) Onwuzita (panel) of Inquiry. Remove (Professor Babalola) Borisade as Aviation Minister. Pay to avoid Arik Air and Virgin Nigeria (becoming victims). Same message sent to Captain M. Joji, secretary-general, Private NMPERATO.”

The natural inclination is to write this text message off as a cheesy extortion attempt by disgruntled and underpaid aviation workers. But the climate of militancy in Nigeria’s Niger Delta causes one to wonder whether or not there is more to the story than meets the eye.
When passengers on a NICON Airlines plane read the identity of airlines whose Air Operating Certificates (AOCs) were suspended in the newspapers they had just purchased before boarding the plane , the passengers on the flight that had just taken off from Abuja nearly panicked and demanded the aircraft return to the airport upon reading the story when airborne, according to The Vanguard.
The heaviest flying season is only weeks away. If the Federal Government is unable to insure passenger safety, how will this effect domestic air travel in Nigeria. The nation’s roadway system is a mess, trains don’t run everywhere people want to go and the airline system is unreliable. What is a holiday traveler to do?

Wordworks2001 is a retired US Army master sergeant who lives in the USA and works in Nigeria. He has a blog at http://wordworks2001.blogspot.com

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