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Anxiety as soldiers screen motorists at airport


Hundreds of travellers and airport users were stuck in a gridlock caused by armed soldiers conducting a search on motorists last Wednesday at the toll-gate of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.

The soldiers screened the motorists alongside men of the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.

The development, which caught many passengers and airport users unawares, triggered tension among travellers.

Our correspondent gathered that rumours of possible bombings of the airport by the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram, prompted the move by the security agents.

It was also gathered that security operatives were asked to be on red alert, especially at the airports as the yuletide approaches. This was in respect of the rush and increase in air travels during the season.

In a bid to ensure adequate screening of vehicles that enter the airport, the security agents at the NAIA toll gate ordered motorists to disembark, open their boots and standby while the officers searched the cars one after the other.

The exercise was painstakingly carried out virtually on all vehicles that made their way to the airport.

It led to prolonged traffic, increased tension among passengers and made travellers rush in to terminals immediately they succeeded in gaining entry into the airport.

While some of the travellers expressed displeasure about the screening, others commended the soldiers for conducting such a thorough search on motorists.

Ikechi Humphrey, a traveller, while running hastily with his luggage to the departure terminal, told our correspondent that he was surprised to be held in traffic for close to 15 minutes in front of the airport.

"I pray not to miss my flight because if I do I will have myself and especially those military men at the gate to blame," he said angrily.

Humphrey added, "Everybody knows it is a good thing to secure our airports, but as a regular traveller I didn't get any information from the airline I'm travelling with that there's some sort of screening of motorists at the entrance of the airport. Otherwise I would have prepared earlier."

When reminded that passengers were supposed to be at the airport for at least 45 minutes before boarding time, he said, "I travel often and I know when best to get to the airport. Meanwhile, when there is any form of adjustment we occasional get pre-info from airlines."

Another traveller who simply identified himself as Tolulope said she was surprised at presence of armed men.

According to her, the screening, though - might make some travellers miss their flight, was necessary considering the security concerns in Nigeria.

"The incident, however, did not disrupt flight activities at the airport. Passengers and workers went about their normal activities, but that was after entering the airport.

Flight activities went on as usual as passengers queued to board their respective flights. The vehicular screening, however, made the airport busy as passengers hurry into terminals in order not to miss their flights.

When contacted, the spokesperson for NAIA, under the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Mrs. Henriatta Yakubu, said there was no need to panic.

She admitted that the screening of motorists may have been prompted by the rumours, but maintained that all was under control.

She said, "There is no need for tension, although people will be surprised by seeing such at the airport today. This often happens when security operatives get intelligent information and it is good for the safety and security of our airports, especially when there are rumours of this sort.

"I will like to state again that there is no need to panic because everything is under control and it is normal to see this happen when there are such rumours."


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