Security at our airports has, over the years, remained a source of concern to both stakeholders and the general public alike. Increased rate of criminality across the globe in recent times is one of the reasons for this apprehension. Another reason is that security operatives primarily saddled with the responsibility, the Aviation Security unit of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, has been deficient in one area: they are bereft of adequate weapons to face the sophisticated ones borne by the criminals that abound at our gateways these days. The federal government, had in 1993 promulgated a decree, to enable AVSEC operatives bear arms for them to be able to combat frontally any security breach at any of our airports nationwide moreso as FAAN remains the agency responsible for managing airports on behalf of the federal government. The implementation of this law had remained in the cooler for over two decades until recently when the present administration decides to give teeth to the law. Any moment from now you will begin to see AVSEC men bearing arms like their counterparts in the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, the Nigeria Air Force, NAF, the Immigration personnel, the Nigerian Customs Department, among other security agencies base at our airports. Until the recent move to arm the AVSEC operatives, they had remained the only security outfit based at the airport that are not armed.
A retired AVSEC Director, Mr Wendell Ogunedo told Aviationline in Lagos that the move to arm AVSEC personnel is a welcome development which, he noted was long overdue. First and foremost, he said, it would go a long way to strengthen security at our airports across the country especially with the upsurge in terrorism, kidnapping and other acts of criminality capable of undermining aviation security.
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 Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the agency managing all the country’s airports, had been subject of humiliation by other armed security operatives. Now those agencies will now 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.”
Mr Ogunedo noted that prior to the move to implement the law only AVSEC of all the security agencies at the airport 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 responsible for securing entire airport: the airside, landside, cargo, terminal building, aircrafts, aeronautical and non-aeronautical facilities.”
In his own reaction, a retired aviation security officer, Babs Akinola has advised the federal government to tread gently in its plan to arm FAAN’s Aviation Security men at the nation’s airports.
“Aviation security men carrying arms? That will be dangerous. Instead of giving them (AVSEC), let them carry stun gun instead of real fire arms. Stun gun will disable the arrested person temporarily,” he said.
“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.”
Akinola suggests that what should be paramount is to look at the law that will empower FAAN’s officer to prosecute their cases. As it is now, they cannot, have to contact the police to prosecute suspects at the airports.
It would be recalled that on November 11, 2016, the Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, while presenting the Road Map to stakeholders, indicated that aviation security officers are to carry arms.
He said government has given approval, explaining that”we have gone to the Ministry of Interior where we develop inter-ministerial committee to look at the type of training to give to the aviation security.”
“The training will also look at how the AVSEC can recognise potential danger and how best to deploy their weapons. Some aviation security staff that do not want their names mentioned in print said this would protect them from constant harassment by other arms bearing security men at the airports particularly the Murtala Muhammed International Airport where some(FAAN’s AVSEC) men were always falling victims of battering.