Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria’s busiest airport, is left in the dark after thieves stole the lighting system for one of the runways.
The ground lights were installed in November after years of dusk restrictions on landing on that wing, The Guardian Nigeria reported. The lack of lighting forced diversions from the domestic runway to the international runway and caused flight disruptions. The International Center for Investigative Reporting noted that the airport waited for those runway lights for nearly 16 years. The second runway at the MMA operated without lighting until the system was installed less than one year ago.
Abdullahi Yakubu Funtua, a spokesperson of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, told The BBC that the FAAN will block all loopholes to prevent this from happening in the future. An Anonymous source told The PUNCH that those who stole the lighting systems took advantage of a three-month closure and alleged that some FAAN workers plotted to steal the equipment.
“The criminal took advantage of the closure to commit the crime,” the anonymous source said to The PUNCH. “I cannot give the actual worth of the theft, but almost all the lighting was removed. The permanent secretary came around to see for himself the huge damage done. A lot of FAAN officials have been suspended.”
The PUNCH backed its unnamed source, stating it had found some FAAN department heads had been suspended over the missing lights, directed by Dr, Emmanuel Meribole, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Aviation. The anonymous source claimed there was regular thieving due to a syndicate consisting of agency workers who have access to restricted areas and outside accomplices.
Another unnamed source, this one from the FAAN, stated the suspended personnel were in charge of guarding important airport facilities.
“This is not new at MMA,” former Military Commandant at MMA Group Capt. John Ojikutu said to The PUNCH. “I wish the FAAN management could go back to 1990 when similar things happened in the airport. I was convinced that it was an ‘insiders threats’. What did I do? I positioned soldiers on the runways and ensured that no FAAN maintenance staff went near the runways for anything without my approval; otherwise, it was shoot at first sight. It stopped completely.”
The mile-and-a-half-long runway has been closed since March 13 for maintenance. The FAAN has told news outlets it is not clear when the lighting system was stolen but the closure allowed a window of time for the theft to take place. The thievery has raised concerns over airport security across Nigeria. Fatai Afolabi former financial secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees, told The ICIR that the FAAN would need to look inward to address the various security challenges. Afolabi said there are “personnel and touts with no business operating at the airport.”
“What has happened is a reflection of the activities that go on in the airport,” Afolai told The ICIR. “When you look at our airport, you will see a lot of security agencies, but their concern is to get some things from travelers. Security is not their concern.”
The FAAN has launched an investigation to find and arrest the criminals and, if possible, recover the lighting system.