Hundreds of protesting airport workers on Monday blocked the road leading to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, over the brutal beating of an official of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Muhammadu Shuaibu, by four officers of the Nigerian Air Force.
The protesters marched from the FAAN headquarters to the departure wing of the airport where they booed and jeered the air force officers on duty.
A clash was averted by the leaders of the group, as the workers shouted angry comments at some senior air force officers who came to talk to the group.
PUNCH Metro had reported that Shuaibu, a protocol officer in FAAN, was beaten to a coma by four officers of the air force stationed at the airport.
The victim told our correspondent he was appealing for the release of the number plate of his friend’s vehicle ─ which was removed by the officers ─ when he was hit from the back by one of the men, before others joined.
The Command Public Relations Officer, Logistics Command, NAF, Joel Abioye, had said Shuaibu struggled with the officers and it was in the process that he sustained injuries to his nostrils.
But the placard-carrying protesters on Monday said they had been enduring harassment by officers of the air force, adding that they would no longer take it.
Some of their placards read, “Never again should air force officers brutalise FAAN workers”, “Allow aviation security to handle airport security”, “Air force officers are touts in uniforms”, “Travelling passengers are ATMs to the air force”, and “Sack air force commandant now”, among others.
The General Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees, Olayinka Abioye, decried the torture of Shuaibu, adding that the Nigerian Air Force should be moved from airports.
He said, “A hard-working official of FAAN, Muhammadu Shuaibu, was brutalised by four air force officers and nothing has been done. We are aware that the air force has constituted itself into a syndicate, removing number plates of vehicles and reselling them to their owners.
“We are saying it loud and clear that we will no longer tolerate their presence in any Nigerian airport because they have no business being here.
“The aviation security is competent enough to handle the security in all Nigerian airports and if at all any support is needed, the barbaric nature of certain elements in the air force has shown that they cannot operate here.”
The General Secretary of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, Ocheme Aba, said the group had received several petitions of brutality against its members by officers of the air force, adding that efforts to get redress had been abortive.
He said, “We tried to involve the Nigeria Police to seek redress, but unfortunately, they appear to be helpless.
“We are doing this to end this impunity. We also call on the Federal Government and the aviation authority to review the security arrangement at airports.”
The National President of Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria and Financial Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, Okeowo Benjamin, gave the air force a 21-day ultimatum to get out of the airports.
He said, “All over the world, the airport environment is a serene environment, where responsible people do their businesses. Anybody that does not act as a responsible citizen, either in uniform or not, is not allowed at the airport.
“We cannot turn our airports into motor parks. The air force has no business here; we must be treated with dignity. Any attempt by anybody to treat our workers like touts will be resisted.
“All military personnel should be withdrawn from airports and those involved in the brutality at MMIA should be brought to book. If this is not done, it means that the government is saying the law of the jungle operates in the airport and this we will not allow.
“If they don’t do the right thing, we will withdraw our services.
“If within 21 days we do not get any response, we shall allow the air force men to run the airport.”
The Public Relations Officer of the FAAN, Mr. Yakubu Dati, said the agency was working with the air force authorities to get to the roots of the case, adding that it believed justice would be done.
“We have been talking to the NAF and they have assured us that they have started investigations to fish out the culprits for punishment,” he said.