ABOUT two weeks ago, the news filtered into the country’s aviation sector and the country at large of how a herd of cows strayed into the Akure Airport runway while an Air Peace Airline aircraft with passengers onboard was about landing.
Thank God that no serious incident was recorded as the flight eventually landed safely after seven minutes of delay.
Two weeks after the development reared its head, different groups have continued to react differently with the majority expressing their reservation about the incident coming at a time airports around the world are advancing in all facets.
In a swift reaction, the airline through its Corporate Communications Manager, Chris Iwarah while confirming the incident declared “Flight P4 7002 from Lagos had to delay landing into Akure Airport on Saturday when the pilot-in-command sighted cows on the runway at about 12.15pm.”
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) through its General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Henrietta Yakubu apologised to Air Peace even as it assured travelers of an ongoing efforts “to close the gap that aided this incident.”
While exonerating itself of any negligence, FAAN did not spare the head of Aviation Security at the Akure Airport as he was immediately suspended for the national embarrassment the runway incursion caused.
As embarrassing as the latest incident is, the issue has further gone to portray the country’s aviation sector as the one that has found itself deep in the murky waters of politics and societal ills such as open grazing problem.
Or how can one describe a situation where an airport runway specifically regarded as a restricted area strictly set aside for aircraft take off and landing in line with international aviation standards suddenly turn to an open grazing field for cows.
In other words, owing to the Akure incident, it has become sure that the aviation sector has directly or indirectly been caught up in the web of the ongoing controversial open grazing debacle.
While one can still accommodate the arguments in some quarters for the need to consider the idea of the open grazing policy to tackle the ongoing herdsmen/farmers clash, how does one explain the presence of cows on the runway?
Does it mean that the herders do not realise the sensitivity of an airport, or if they did not, couldn’t they even realise the fact that they are endangering the lives of passengers onboard such aircraft with the presence of their cows or whatever at such restricted areas.
The embarrassment brought upon the nation by the latest incident became more worrisome with the reaction of the Nigeria Police Force on the incident which declared that the herdsmen who allowed their cattle to stray onto and graze on airport runways in the country could not be arrested.
The police boss who was quoted to have said that the herdsmen could only be arrested in states where the anti-open grazing law was effective, said: “It’s only in states where the anti-open grazing law is in place that herdsmen can be arrested for allowing their cattle to graze on airport runways. Apart from those states, we have not been told to start arresting herdsmen.
“But we have already alerted our men at the airports to ensure such incident does not occur again. The state police commands have also been carried along and everyone is on the alert. We can’t have a situation whereby cows would be straying onto and grazing on airport runways because it is embarrassing. Everyone is now on the alert and it’s going to be prevented.”
Agreed that the incident has become more worrisome for the fact that at Akure Airport, herdsmen cannot be held liable for the simple fact that the anti open grazing law was not effective in Ondo State, but what if the incursion had resulted in a serious accident; would the police still have spoken in the same manner?
Now that it has been made public why the herdsmen cannot be sanctioned, the time has come for the Federal Government and even the Ondo State government to adequately support FAAN in the area of funding to enable it further secure the airport vicinity from illegal incursion.
The need to assist FAAN in securing the Akure Airport and other similar ones under threats became imperative in view of the danger such negligence may pose to flight safety for it will be a disaster if cows are allowed to stray freely to any airport unchecked under the guise that anti open grazing law is not binding on such airport environment to the extent that loss of lives is involved.