It is cheering news that, at last, Aviation Security, AVSEC, the security arm of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the managing agency of airports in the country, will carry arms. This is happening about 25 years after the law to effect this was promulgated by the then military administration. There is no better time to implement this law than now especially as global terrorism is on the upscale with the terrorists bearing latest technology weapons, sometimes unknown in this clime. Records of crimes in our police posts and courts across the country in recent times reveal that criminality is on the rise in our society in terms of both the number of incidents and sophistry. Face to face with this fact and coupled with global terrorism, it is only rational that the security operatives who will face these criminals who daily criss cross nations’ capitals via air transportation, being the fastest means to connect destinations, are armed with modern weapons.  That the powers that be have chosen to take the gauntlet and implement a decision taken since 1993 will go a long way to give a bite to the activities of the operatives primarily saddled with the responsibility of maintaining security at our airports across the country. During the years of foot-dragging, AVSEC remained the scorn of both the criminals and their counterparts based at the airports as they wear the cloak of a paper tiger that cannot bite, and therefore, are harmless. It should be noted that personnel of other security agencies at our airports, for example, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), the Nigeria Air Force (NAF), the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), among others, carry arms thus rendering the AVSEC men inferior. Stakeholders in the aviation sector have severally pointed out at different fora that this was out of variance with internationally best practices in aviation as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) stipulates that only AVSEC that should be the sole outfit that should man security at the airports across the country.

One time FAAN’s Director of Security Services, Mr. Wendell Ogunedo told Aviationline in Lagos that it will be good if the decision is implemented this time around. According to him, this law has been on the burner since 1993. He revealed that three moves were made in the recent past to implement the law but unfortunately certain powers within and outside the agency made sure the arming of AVSEC did not see the light of day.

“Once, certain elements within FAAN itself who felt that AVSEC personnel, once they bear arms, would be superior to other cadres of staff within the agency, blocked the decision. At another time certain police authorities, for fear of a likely withdrawal of their personnel from airport security once AVSEC is armed, worked against the idea,” he disclosed.

In his opinion, if AVSEC is finally armed, it would balance power among security officials stationed at the airport as it is the only agency which its personnel are not armed. “AVSEC is the official security outfit recognised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to take charge of security at all airports across the federation as it obtains at all facilities owned by member states. As long as AVSEC is not armed security would be undermined at our airports as the officials would merely be shoved aside by criminals when questioned by them. Also when armed, it will put an end to the era of discountenancing AVSEC by other security officials at the airport. You remember the spate of assault meted on our personnel in the past by armed personnel of other agencies at the airport. Once AVSEC is armed this will not happen again. Until I see the AVSEC personnel with the arms I will take the decision with a pinch of salt. I hope the recent decision is not just to raise hope in the agency. I could remember, when the present administration came into power, the Minister of State Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, made moves to see that AVSEC personnel are armed in line with ICAO regulations and what is in vogue in civilised countries. This, I believe, is because the Minister is himself an aviator and he knows the rules of the game. His effort is what I think is yielding dividends now. The credit of seeing that aviation in the country comes at par with that of other countries in the ICAO league will go to the present administration for daring to tread in terrains feared by previous administrations.”

While applauding the move to arm AVSEC, Ogunedo cautions that though arming AVSEC is as important as ensuring that the arms are not misused. “{This is where I will recommend adequate training for the personnel before the full implementation of the decision. We are all living with the high spate of firearms mishandling by other armed security outfits especially in what is generally known as administration of jungle justice, also known as ‘accidental discharge’. The airport showcases the country as it is the gateway into the country by foreigners especially those visiting for the first time either for business or tourism. If the passengers are mishandled it will give the country a bad image. In this wise I advise that FAAN authorities should give the best training to AVSEC personnel in weapons handling and ensuring that those involved are psychologically balanced. Along this line, the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, had indicated that government will be cautious in the implementation of the law that allows AVSEC to bear arms like every other security outfit based at the airport. According to him, an inter-ministerial committee, with members drawn from the Ministry of Aviation and the Interior Ministry, among others, will be saddled with the responsibility of designing the type of training for the AVSEC personnel to avoid the pitfalls in the handling of weapons by other security agencies in the country. He explained that this has become necessary considering the sensitive nature of airport security especially as airports remain major gateway to the country.

Speaking in the same vein, former General Manager (Security), FAAN, Mr. Ayo Obilana, commended the federal government for taking this giant stride towards putting Nigeria among the world’s leading nations with zero tolerance for terrorism.

Mr. Obilana, who is now a private security practitioner and ICAO certified security expert, has this to say:

“It is a great development. This means that FAAN will no longer depend on other armed agencies to secure the airports in the country. You will agree with me that this move is long overdue as the idea of arming AVSEC has long become an Act of Parliament but it is now just being implemented because there had been some power play by certain individuals and organisations which I will say are ‘bigger’ than FAAN.  It has since been discovered that such individuals and organisations were merely fanning the embers of their own selfish interests. If the law is eventually implemented the present administration will go down as dynamic especially as it has taken this giant leap forwards in the development of aviation in the country because it is now that we can say that airport security procedures are fully in tune with ICAO regulations.”

While speaking with Aviationline on the issue, Mr. Babs Akinola described the move to arm the aviation security outfit as dangerous, recommending to government to make available to AVSEC mere stun guns instead of firearms.  Mr. Akinola, a retired AVSEC personnel: Hear him: “see what our policemen are doing with firearms. We have on our hands regular occurrence of accidental discharge. I’ve been in the system and I am aware some of the aviation security men are not trainable. There is no amount of money you can commit into reshaping their thinking; they cannot grasp new ideas.” A stun gun, according to him, will merely disable an arrested person temporarily.

Apart from suggesting the use of stun guns by the aviation security personnel, Akinola also profers that government should review the law establishing FAAN to allow it prosecute cases as against the present situation whereby crimes committed at the airports are referred to the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) for adjudication.

It will be recalled that the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, disclosed at this year’s AVSEC Retreat held in Katsina, that aviation security personnel of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, will soon be licensed to carry arms at airports across the country in order to complement other agencies in security threat.

According to the Minister, who spoke through the Rector, Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, NCAT, Zaria, Captain Mohammed Abdulsalami, discussion was at its final stage for approval expected to further strengthen the integrity of the airports in view of the growing threats to the aviation industry worldwide.

He noted that the federal government’s approval for AVSEC to bear arms is a notable achievement in this administration’s effort at improving the general safety of its citizenry and passengers passing through our airports in what he called ”a rebranding of AVSEC” as part of efforts by the President Buhari administration to give the country dividends of democracy.

He said rebranding of AVSEC was important in the 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 Executive Order which emphasises ease of doing business.

Sirika said most countries have shown keen interest in the country’s growing and expanding aviation industry stressing that aviation security was seen as a pivotal tool to sustaining safety in all the airports which remained a model to the integrity of the nation.

The Minister noted that the United Nations decision to establish two aviation security training colleges in the country assist not only in the war against terrorism but to provide a special class of professionally trained AVSEC unit through the training of 30 selected aviation security master trainers who will in turn train others.