Stakeholders in Nigeria’s aviation sector have applauded the Federal Government’s decision to grant approval for civilian security personnel employed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to bear arms as part of new measures to boost safety and security across the nation’s airports.
The FAAN Aviation Security officials (popularly known as AVSEC) over the years were barred from the use of firearms and their duties restricted to conducting surveillance on Nigerian airports as well as physical checks on passengers and baggage transiting through the airports.
Instead, to contain criminal acts that required the use of firearms at the airports, a relationship was sealed between FAAN and the Nigeria Police that allowed the later to deploy arms carrying personnel to quell, arrest and prosecute such culprits.
Those opposed to having AVSEC bear arms just like the counterparts in other parts of the world like the United States Transport Security Distraction (TSA) hinge their stance on the need to demilitarize the airports.
They pointed to the presence of the arms carrying establishments like the Police, Civil Defence Corps, Customs, Immigrations, NDLEA, and Department of State Security (DSS) at the airport and noted that also arming civilian security staff of FAAN could trigger arms conflict at the airport.
Why arming AVSEC
However, the recent rise in incidences of criminality like vandalism of airport facilities, physical assaults on airline and airport staff by unruly passengers; invasion of tarmacs and runways by unauthorized persons to burgle moving or stationery aircraft; herders encroaching into runways with their cattle to disrupt flights landing and taking off; as well as warnings of potential attacks on Nigerian airports by terrorists had led to calls by stakeholders for AVSEC staff to bear arms more necessary in recent years.
Proponents of AVSEC bearing arms pointed to the fact that there are sensitive sections of Nigerian airports where statutorily arms bearing personnel like the Police, DSS, Customs, and Immigration are not allowed to access with or without their arms, but yet AVSEC staff have unhindered access to such areas.
Arresting criminals that are also violent by non-armed AVSEC staff in such places usually proves an herculian task.
Asides, those who insist on AVSEC bearing arms also noted the incessant harassment, intimidation, and molestation of these civilian security personnel by arms carrying members of the armed forces and other para-military establishments like the Customs whenever they are challenged by AVSEC for breaching civil aviation regulations at the airports.
It, therefore, makes a lot of sense to get AVSEC armed with security dogs, batons, handcuff, and light weapons to defend themselves against criminals and persons who assault them in the course of discharging their statutory duties.
According to Olayinka Abioye of Nigerian Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), there was nothing wrong with arming AVSEC as the Act establishing FAAN provides that its security shall bear arms at the airports.
Reprieve for those who had over the years sought for the arming of AVSEC, however, came at the 5th Aviation stakeholders’ forum held in Abuja recently as Minister for State for Aviation Minister, Mr. Hadi Sirika, announced that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had granted their wishes.
Sirika said within the next three months (possibly before March 2019) AVSEC would begin to carry arms as part of their duty to protect passengers and other airport users.
He said the officers would however first embark on training on the use of firearms and other gadgets that would go along with weapons.
“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,” said Sirika.
“They will get new uniforms, sniper dogs and wear new looks, safety and security is the primary concern of this administration, therefore, we are not leaving any stone unturned,” he added.
The Aviation Round table (ART) in a statement by its spokesman, Mr. Olumide Ohunayo applauded the Federal Government approval of providing firearms to AVSEC officials saying it would go a long way in enhancing the country’s National Civil Aviation Security Program (NCASP).
“In the 90s we delegated and rotated the heads of security agencies serving in the airports to supervise and control night operations which is akin to the United States TSA model,” said Ohunayo. “Security threats have evolved we as a nation are challenged to find the nexus and best fit security architecture as our security challenges cannot be the same with other nations,” he added.
The ART however wants the government to review the existing security organogram at the airport to ensure an harmonious relationship between an arms carrying AVSEC with other military and para-military agencies at the airports.
Said Ohunayo, “consequent to this approval for AVSEC to bear arms, we strongly advise a review of the airport security architecture to cover elements of the various security agencies which will now form the new organogram.
This will eliminate inter agency rivalry, foster cooperation, provide common platform to asses measure of effectiveness, process operational effectiveness and after action plans.”
According to him, the primary objective of AVSEC is the protection and safety of passengers, crew, ground personnel, aircraft and facilities serving civil aviation against act of unlawful interference in sterile areas of airport. Ohunayo, however noted that the participation of other security agencies are inevitable in the airport security network.
“The ART as a body will advise that selected men to bear arms be properly trained and tested in rudiment areas of arms handling, standard armoury and trained armourer for safe keeping of ammunitions while necessary procedure for issuance, retrieval and accountability of expended rounds if necessary be put in place,” he added.
FAAN must also undertake public enlightenment and awareness programme so that the flying public and other airport users are conscious that AVSEC now bear arms and that one could be shot or injured challenging, resisting arrest or provoking them while in discharging heir duties.