Concern Grows over FG’s Plan to Arm Aviation Security

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Chinedu Eze

The announcement made by the federal government on Monday that Aviation Security (AVSEC) of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) would be allowed to carry arms, has elicited reactions from industry security experts.

Many of the stakeholders have expressed fear that some AVSEC officials may misuse the weapon by and that would be tragic for the industry.

Some of the experts, who spoke with THISDAY posited that the airport environment would become militarised, as personnel from the Nigeria Air Force and the Nigeria police who are part of the security apparatus at the airport carry guns.

According to ICAO Annex 17, which deals with airport security, only AVSEC personnel are recognised in civil aviation regulation, although such regulations are usually domesticated by individual countries to suit their circumstances.

Chief Executive Officer of AVSCON Limited, Chief Adebayo Babatude told THISDAY that his company had earlier recommended that Aviation Security should not be under the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) for it to perfume its duties efficiently at the airports, noting that under such arrangement, AVSEC personnel could be considered whether they could be armed or not.

He recalled: “If you go back to the restructuring of airport security architecture, which our company, AVSCON handled for the federal government in 2005, part of the recommendations were, the separation of Aviation security from the Airports Operations Department of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, the creation of an autonomous agency to operate like the TSA (Transport Security Administration) of the USA.

“Our reasons included that one, the growing global practice of private sector involvement in airport management; two, the need for government to continue to perform its role of securing the international aviation and the travelling public even after the devolution of the facilities to the private sector and three, events of 9/11 which today remains a watershed for international aviation and the various standards and international best practices that have been issued by ICAO and subscribed to under the Geneva convention. All these point to a more robust aviation security in terms of funding, organisation and intelligence, bearing in mind the importance of efficient passenger facilitation under a heightened security environment.”

Speaking in the same vein, the Managing Director of Centurion Security, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd) said arming AVSEC officials may give rise to possible crisis of operational conflicts among the government security agencies at the airports as all of them carry arms under different command and control.

”The issue of FAAN AVSEC carrying arms needs serious evaluation of the operational command and control of the various government security agencies at the nation’s airports. There is already inherent danger in the present setups and increase in the danger with the approval for FAAN AVSEC to carry arms.”

“This is not what ICAO Annex 17 envisaged for member states to establish a national aviation security committee as against the establishment of national civil aviation security committee which we have established by the National Civil Aviation Act 2006.”

He said in accordance to ICAO recommendations, only AVSEC personnel are recognised in civil aviation and in Nigeria there are other security operatives, who render auxiliary services at the airport but were not trained in civil aviation security.

“With the new directive for FAAN AVSEC, we may begin to have crisis of operational conflicts more among the government security agencies at the airports; all of them carrying arms under different command and control of: police, military, Customs, Immigration, DSS (Department of State Security), NCDSC (Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corp), NDLEA (National Drug Law Enforcement Agency) and now, FAAN AVSEC.”

“Aviation security is a function of national security. The TSA which we are trying to copy is under the Department of Homeland and Border Security, not under the Department of Transportation or the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in the USA. The TSA has all the elements of aviation and border security including the police under its command and control at the airports, seaports and land borders. The Department of Homeland and Border Security is the equivalent of our Ministry of Internal or Home Affairs,” Ojikutu added.