A fortnight ago, at the fifth stakeholders’ forum in Abuja, the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, reiterated his earlier promise to arm Aviation Security (AVSEC) at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), which is the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recognised security agency for the nation’s airports.
At the Forum, which took place this month, Sirika had said AVSEC would be armed in three months, which means that they would start carrying arms by early next year.
The minister adduced reasons why AVSEC should carry arms and made reference to incidents when passengers over powered security operatives to access sterile areas of the airports, known as airside, which is a prohibited area of the airport.
There are also occasions where dissatisfied passengers had beaten up airline officials, defying security rules and regulations and bringing chaos to the airport environment, which is against international security regulations.
Sirika, said AVSEC would carry arms like teasers, batons, sniffer dogs, guns and stressed that the president has given approval to arm the airport security operatives.
“We got the approval to train AVSEC officers to bear arms in the next three months like the Transport Security Administration (TSA) in the United States of America.
“They will get new uniforms, sniffer dogs and wear new looks, safety and security is the primary concern of this administration; therefore, we are not leaving any stone unturned”, he said.
The minister muted the idea of arming AVSEC in 2016 and since then, a lot of infractions had taken place including the invasion of the airside of the Sokoto airport by supporters of Senator Aliu Wammako and similar incident that happened at the Bauchi airport.
He had also recalled the incident in December 2016 when passengers of Turkish Airlines invaded the Abuja airport ramp to stop Turkish aircraft from taking off because the airline did not bring back their entire luggage with the flight.
Sirika noted, “Security infractions like what happened with Turkish Airlines has given further rise to this decision to arm AVSEC and Turkish Airline has not stopped this, they still come with a smaller aircraft and do not bring people’s luggage back.
“That is how the Abuja infraction took place, they didn’t return the luggage after day one, they returned a few and then they people got angry and frustrated and took laws into their hands and overpowered aviation security and entered the airside. However, that is one of the many security issues we are trying to stop as a deterrent.
“Also see what happened in Sokoto with former governor Wammako. So the passengers will be cautious too and not at any provocation they beat up security personnel to access the secure area which in itself is a crime.”
Many industry stakeholders have acknowledged the need to arm AVSEC and urged caution.
This includes the think-tank body in the industry, Aviation Round Table (ART).
Reacting to the minister’s announcement, aviation security expert and CEO of Centurion Securities, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd) said, “When I spoke with the aviation stakeholders on why caution needs to be taken on the government’s plans to arm FAAN AVSEC security personnel, I was not totally against it but against multiple liberalisation and decentralised control of arms carried by multilateral security agencies at our airports.
“Presently, there are more than six of them; we have the Customs, Immigration, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Police, Department of State Security (DSS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSDC), etc, at the airport all carrying arms and under different command and administrative control. Adding FAAN AVSEC to the list without administrative authority or control over any of them is to create a chaotic, uncontrolled arms environment.”
He said if government wishes that FAAN AVSEC must carry arms “as revealed by the minister, which I support, government should do the followings: excise AVSEC away from the control and management of FAAN and form a separate entity basically for airport (border) security; take and merge with the AVSEC entity, all elements of Customs, Immigration, NDLEA, Police, DSS, NCDSC, etc carrying arms and working in the airports and form a separate and independent entity with a unified command and control under the administration of the ministry.”
He added: “These suggestions are in line with the structure of the TSA of America which has the elements of all US government security agencies working at the airports under its command and control but itself under the administration of the Department of Homeland Security.
“Am very much aware that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Security Programmes (NCASP) delegates the responsibility of coordinating all government security agencies at our airports to FAAN, but this has not and cannot be achieved with the manner of deployment and redeployment of personnel of these agencies into and within the airports,” Ojikutu said.
He, however, noted that in addition, the annex 17 of ICAO and the NCASP suggest to, “me that aviation security is a function of the national security, hence the recommendation of the annex for the establishment of national aviation security committee where all government security agencies at the airport are members as different from national civil aviation security committee.”