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Stampede in the air: Between rumour peddling and (un)convincing clarification

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When news of the alleged suicide-bombing attempt on an Arik aircraft became public, news and social media went agog. For people who had relatives on the plane, their hearts were in their mouths. They had become jittery, unsure of what fate lies ahead of beloved ones.

The plane took off from Maiduguri, the capital of a state that has been under siege for over two years, witnessing some of the most gruesome attacks on lives and properties.

Imagine having have a background knowledge about such a place but you needed to take a flight from there. All necessary checks done and you embark. Minutes later, plane takes off and then quickly a co-passenger jumps up and starts acting funny midair. I bet you would not receive it as a 'Basketmouth' or 'Seyi Law' comedy show.

As pandemonium erupted, it was learnt that the pilot of the aircraft with registration number 5N MJE immediately radio the Air Traffic Control and airport security operatives.

A source said, “It was a terrible experience we hope will never re-occur. The passengers and crew were all thrown into confusion. A man jumped up and started behaving in a strange manner. He then screamed Allahu Akbar (God is great). I thought it was the end.”

The fright is totally understood. Passenger Aminu Galadima scared the hell out of his co-travelers; the kind of anxiety that adds “High Blood Pressure” (HBP) to your health profile.

After the incident, the Department of State Services, Arik Air and the Aviation ministry all came out to downplay the 'hijack-like' scenario.

Special Assistant to the Minister of Aviation on Media, Mr. Joe Obi, said Aminu went through necessary security checks at the airport and did not raise any suspicion until he started shouting midair.

Hear him, “A passenger, AminuGaladima, a native of Minna, Niger State, boarded a Maiduguri-Abuja- bound Arik Air aircraft with registration number 5N MJE after going through mandatory security screening.

“Nothing incriminating; no explosives or weapons whatsoever were found on him. However, midair, the passenger began to act strangely, loudly screaming, 'God is great.' Fellow passengers, alarmed by his behaviourrushed to apprehend him.

“A thorough search by fellow passengers and crew members revealed nothing dangerous about him. The pilot immediately radioed Air Traffic Control and airport security operatives.

“The plane landed safely at the NnamdiAzikiwe International Airport, Abuja at exactly 12.53hours and the suspect was handed over to the SSS at about 14.45hrs. He is currently being interrogated.”

On its part, Arik air through its Public Relations and Communications Manager, Mr. Adebanji Ola, said, “There is no iota of truth in the rumor making the rounds that a passenger attempted to bomb an Arik Air aircraft operating a flight from Maiduguri to Abuja today, Tuesday, October 23, 2012.

“To set the records straight, a passenger on board flight W3 812 from Maiduguri to Abuja caused a scare when he started shouting 'Allah Akbar' shortly before the aircraft landed at the NnamdiAzikiweInternational Airport, Abuja. The frightened passengers on board the flight became suspicious, thinking the man was about to do something sinister.

“All the passengers on board the flight, including the man in question, had all gone through the normal security checks at the Maiduguri International Airport, and nothing incriminating was found on anyone.

“However, when the aircraft landed in Abuja, another security check was conducted on the passenger and nothing incriminating was found on him. A further security search was conducted on the operating aircraft, a Boeing 737-700 NG, and no trace of a bomb or explosives was found. The aircraft went back to service immediately.”

Both explanation sounds confusing though slightly convincing. But we should not close the chapter just yet; there are questions we should ask.Why did the passenger snap on the plane and not before boarding? Was that the first time he was on a flight? What are his health records?

Also, the Department of State Security said he was an aide (or at least known) to the wife of Borno State governor; wasn't she aware that Aminu was unstable? Did Aminu or someone else book the flight ticket? Has he ever been indicted in a crime? Where has he been; who has he met in the past few months? What was his mission in Abuja? Who are his associates?Authorities should provide answers.

Only recently, a man security agencies tagged “a lunatic”, beat all security procedures and was caught running towards an aircraft about to take off. Up till now, no one has said anything; no update whatsoever. What a country!

The October 23 incident is another wake up call to the government. We will not accept the usually absurb excuses when the worst eventually happens. I know some readers are saying “God forbid”. Amen, but we must put our house in order.

Nigeria is a country people pray a lot but forget (or refuse) to do the even the simple things the right way.

All breaches of protocols in our airports must be re-investigated. The 're-brand' campaign should in fact start from our airfields – clean, welcoming, safe and secure.

Evil-doers must be told – and audibly too – that they will be apprehended if they dare think,talkless commit atrocious acts. This country cannot afford another episode of disaster. Our image is suffering please.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Wale Odunsi and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Wale Odunsi