Interview 

Encounter : OJIKUTU TASKS FAAN ON SECURITY AT AIRPORTS (2)

The other day, we had incidents of stowaway on a particular airline twice in a row without adequate measures put in place to avoid a recurrence. In a sane environment there are security procedures to be followed in respect of the airline, the particular aircraft involved and the airport where the incident occurs. In the event of any stowaway all passengers are meant to disembark and the luggage offloaded for a fresh security check beginning with the aircraft. Also there will be a review of the security at the airport to see whether there are lapses at the access gates and the perimeter wall fence. There was no such security programme in place in the case of the recorded stowaway incidents.

Also, see what happened in the case of the Dana Airlines crash at Iju/Ishaga area of Lagos about three years ago. What we heard was that the aircraft had problem 17 minutes into the flight and what the rule says is that the pilot could have returned to the airport from where it took off; in this case the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. The American pilot, we learnt, had taken his leave and was to fly out that night to his country from Lagos; therefore instead of returning to Abuja he headed for the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos.

There are procedures; everyone has right to life and therefore you are not allowed to carry people and kill them just like that.

AVIATIONLINE: There was the incident of FAAN officials being beaten up while on duty. In recent times we have recorded two incidents; one in the hands of Nigerian Air Force (NAF) personnel and the other in the hands of Customs officials. How can we avoid a repeat?

OJIKUTU: It will always happen. I repeat, such incidents will continue to happen until we are ready to do the right thing.

At every airport there should be a central or unified security control under a commander. It is counter- productive to share security at the airport or any place at all. There was this thesis at the George Washington University on this. The United States of America realised it before the 9/11 episode in 2001. There was a committee under that country’s one-time Vice-President, Al-Gore on airport security. The USA was having the same problem we are having now: that of the presence of multiple security outfits at the airports with all of them working independently of one another. This was between 1996 and 1998. The Customs, Immigration, Air Force, the Drug Intelligence Agency, the Police, etc, all operated at the airport. It was the Al-Gore Committee’s Report that led to the creation of the Transport Security Agency (TSA). We need to fashion our airport security after that of the USA before we can resolve frequent clashes among airport officials.

TSA was not in existence until after the 9/11 episode.

The Nigerian Aviation Security Programme (NASP) puts FAAN as the coordinator of all security agencies at the airport. As far as I am concerned, this is a tall order. Airport or aviation security is a function of the national security. Government cannot share it among the agencies as it is presently done. It will create chaos. It is abnormal to expect the NAF personnel to take instructions from FAAN.

Statutorily, FAAN is just a landlord at the airport and their duty is purely administrative and has nothing to do with security. To make FAAN perform security duties the government created a lot of bye-laws which are not practicable. Each of the security outfits at the airport:  NAF, Police, Customs, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Quarantine Services, Port Health and even the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) are under their different commands and authorities. Each of them will want to claim superiority. Aviation Security (AVSEC) is a recent creation; its personnel don’t even carry arms.

Either we like it or not, an airport is a national defence asset and therefore security cannot be divided among the various security operatives. Another thing we should realise is that every airport is a border post o some sort and its security should not be taken for granted.

TSA is a border security outfit in the USA and unless we follow this pattern there will continue to be problems.

Annex 17 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regulations says something about this. It recommends that every member state should establish what it calls a National Aviation Security Committee (NASC). Where you have it, it cannot be responsible to civil aviation alone; rather should be responsible to the National Security Council. In an environment where we have government security agencies, it is out of place for AVSEC to be in charge.

Let me make this clear: my success as Airport Commandant was due essentially to the fact that I was a NAF official during a military regime. That gave me the advantage to maintain a total and firm control on the place. During the military era, you remember, the armed forces exercised authority over virtually everybody. This made things easy for me to do whatever I wanted to do; but I was not beating everybody all over the place.

What ICAO recommends…I don’t know now whether it is a recommendation or a standard practice; because there is a difference between standard practice and recommendation. It is stated in its Annex 17 that a National Aviation Security Committee (NASC) or a similar arrangement be put in place for the purpose of coordinating security activities within departments, agencies and other organisations of the state. Airports, aircraft operators and all other organisations will be responsible for its implementation.

Related posts