Mixed optimism as FG approves arms for aviation security staff

Stakeholders have subtly agreed with the federal government’s plan to transform aviation security personnel of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) by licensing them to bear arms to complement other agencies in combating security threats at the airports. IME AKPAN reports

Threat to civil aviation
Civil aviation has been a visible target for acts of violence and terrorism but the events of September 11, 2001 terror attacks on Wall Trade Centre (WTC) in the United States represent by far the biggest and most shocking realisation to date of the ever-evolving threat of terror attacks against aviation.
After the incident, the regulatory framework in the field of aviation security has expanded considerably worldwide, whether nationally, or via international cooperation/agreements, or through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the related Universal Security Audit Programme (USAP).
In the wake of the attacks, states have taken certain steps, including total pat down, provision of body scanners at airports, prohibition of certain items onboard aircraft, among others to address evolving and sophisticated threats.

Nigeria joins the fray
Lately, the Nigerian government went back to the drawing board and dusted off the 1993 decree which makes provision for aviation security (AVSEC) personnel of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to bear arms to enable them combat any security breach at any of the airports.
The Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika said at the 2018 AVSEC Retreat held in Katsina that arms-bearing AVSEC personnel would complement other agencies in the event of security threat. He said discussion was at its final stage for approval saying it will further strengthen the integrity of the airports in view of the growing threats to the aviation industry.
“The federal government approved for AVSEC to bear arms which is a notable achievement in this administration’s effort at improving the general safety of its citizenry and passengers passing through our airports,” he said.
He further said arming AVSEC will ensure proper policing of the aviation sector stressing that it was part of efforts by the federal government to give the country dividends of democracy.
He said rebranding AVSEC staff was important in building brand identity and creating a recognisable corporate identity for officers with the aim of making them much more professional and customer friendly to meet up with the initiative of the Ease of Doing Business.

Stakeholders react
Reacting to the issue, the chief executive officer of Centurion Securities, Group Capt. John Ojikutu said arming AVSEC staff might result in crisis of operational conflicts more among security agencies at the airports as all of them carry arms under different command and control.
He called for caution before implementing the new directive stressing that stating that all the government security agencies must be put under one command and control if they must work at the airports to avoid any form of working at cross purposes by excising AVSEC from FAAN.
“With the new directive for FAAN AVSEC, we may be beginning to have crisis of operational conflict more among the government security agencies at the airports; all of them carrying arms under different command and control of the police, military, customs, immigration, Department of State Services (DSS) Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and now, FAAN AVSEC,” he said.
He said the Transportation Security Association (TSA) which Nigeria is trying copy is under homeland security which coordinates their affairs.
“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 setup and an 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.
“According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), only AVSEC personnel are recognized 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.
“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 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 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,” he said.
A former director of AVSEC at FAAN, Mr. Wendell Ogunedo welcomed the move saying it is long overdue.
He said with the upsurge of insecurity, arming AVSEC staff would further strengthen security at airports in the country.
He said there is need to commend the present administration for its political will to implement a law that has been in place for over two decades.
“This is the time AVSEC men will earn their respect among other security personnel at the airports. Over the years, security operatives under the ambit of the FAAN, the agency managing all the country’s airports, had been subject of humiliation by other armed security operatives. Now those agencies will see them in a different light; they will see them as colleagues in the enforcement of security at our various gateways across the country. The move will also permanently remove inter-agency rivalry, sometimes leading to full blown open clashes,” he said.
Ogunedo who sees attaches prestige to the issue also said prior to the move to implement the law only AVSEC, of all the security agencies at the airports, were not armed.
“It is commendable that at last FAAN management itself has repented to arm AVSEC. With the arming of AVSEC personnel our airports will be better secured. AVSEC is responsible for securing entire airport: the airside, landside, cargo, terminal building, aircraft, aeronautical and non-aeronautical facilities,” he added.
But another retired AVSEC officer, Babs Akinola sees the implementation of the proposal as dangerous and advised the federal government to approach it with caution.
“AVSEC men carrying arms? That will be dangerous. Instead of giving them (AVSEC) arms, let them carry stun gun instead of real fire arms. Stun gun will disable the arrested person temporarily.
“See what some of our policemen are doing with fire arms; accidental discharge maybe a regular occurrence. Some of the aviation security men are not trainable, no amount of money you expend on them to re-shape their thinking and they cannot grasp new ideas,” he said.
The general secretary of National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Mr. Olayinka Abioye agreed that the Act establishing FAAN makes provision for AVSEC to bear arms.
However, he said while it had taken long to fulfill that aspect of the law “we must not forget that before any security agent bears arm they must undergo the prerequisite training and medical/mental tests, psychological test and so on so that those who pass such tests can be licensed to bear arms.
“The rest of them, as the need arises may be permitted to carry any other non-lethal articles of defence. At the moment, some of our AVSEC need a reorientation and our support…but by carrying arms they should not equate themselves with soldiers whose fundamental training is to kill enemies during war.”

Last word
Even as there is a subtle general consensus on the matter, analysts advise government to implement the policy with great care to avoid a situation in which a lily-livered AVSEC officer with a gun begins to see himself as a generalissimo.

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