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How loose security at airports aids arms, drugs influx into Nigeria

There is worry among experts and stakeholders over lack of coordination, rivalry and absence of a central command and control structure at Nigeria’s international airports,…

There is worry among experts and stakeholders over lack of coordination, rivalry and absence of a central command and control structure at Nigeria’s international airports, Daily Trust on Sunday can report.

This, they say, poses threat to the security architecture of the country and exposes the personnel to compromise while giving leverage to people with nefarious activities around the airports.

Tongues have continued to wag over the recent revelation of collusion between some officials of the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the Police in the aftermath of the recent arrest of the suspended Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari.

Kyari is presently in the NDLEA net over alleged leadership of a drug cartel operating from Brazil. He was said to have been receiving the contrabands in collusion with a narcotics official at the Enugu Airport.

The revelation has however exposed the seeming lack of coordination among security agencies operating at the international airports in the country, thereby exposing the loopholes in the security management system of the airports.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that there are multiple layers of security at all the Nigeria’s international airports apart from the Aviation Security (AVSEC) personnel recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Virtually all the paramilitary agencies and the Armed Forces are at the airport.

The agencies include the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS); the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS); the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA); the Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Services (NAQS); the Port Health, the Nigerian Airforce; the Nigeria Police Force; the State Security Service (SSS); the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), among others.  

Murtala Mohammed International Airport
Murtala Mohammed International Airport


This is in addition to the full complement of aviation agencies comprising officials of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA); the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN); the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), as well as airline officials interfacing with passengers at the airport.

While the immigration service is in charge of passengers’ inbound and outbound screening, the Customs is statutorily responsible for collecting tariffs and managing the flow of goods. The NDLEA on its part focuses on “eliminating the growing, processing, manufacturing, selling, exporting, and trafficking of hard drugs.” Similarly, the NAQS is saddled with the responsibility of preventing the spread of diseases in plants, animals and other agricultural products. The Port Health also prevents the spread of disease in humans and ensures passengers’ compliance with the approved vaccination procedure.

With the multiple layers of security at the airports, there have been several incidents of inter-agency rivalry and superiority battle among the agencies without a clear-cut command and control structure thereby exposing the country to danger.

One of the instances of the rivalry was manifested recently with the clash between the FAAN and the Customs over alleged security breach by the latter.

Our correspondent reports that this was not the first time a paramilitary agency would clash with FAAN AVSEC officials in line of duty. In 2015, immigration officials clashed with FAAN AVSEC thereby disrupting flight operations.

Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that there are several unreported clashes between FAAN AVSEC and one paramilitary or military agency or the other. The rivalry and disharmony are visible while all agencies at the international airports are working at cross-purposes, only answerable to their superior officers in Abuja.

The structure is such that one agency cannot challenge another agency and each agency believes it is superior to the other.

But the ICAO regulations which Nigeria is a signatory to placed the responsibility for airport security on aviation security personnel employed by the airport authority which is the landlord and issues on-duty-cards to officials of all the security agencies, airlines and other critical staff operating at the airport. The Annex 17 is succinct in reeling out the Standard and Recommended Practices (SARP) for international aviation security.

Moreover, without being armed, other paramilitary agencies have tended to intimidate and harass AVSEC on duty thereby creating bad blood and sustaining the age-long rivalry among them.

“This kind of structure is prone to compromise because there is no proper coordination on who is doing who at the airport and an unscrupulous immigration or Customs official can explore the loophole to carry out untoward activities,” said an aviation analyst.

Similarly, Group Capt. John Ojikutu, rtd, a former Commandant of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, said insider threat poses the greatest threat to airport security in the absence of a single commanding authority. He said the solution lies in having one line of control and command by an autonomous agency.

This is why experts and stakeholders are calling for the adoption of the US model of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) where one single agency is responsible for the security of airports.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the TSA employees are responsible for the security and protection of all travellers, and prevent dangerous materials and people from entering transportation hubs including the airport, railways, subways, among others.

Unlike in Nigeria where a passenger on arriving in the country moves from Immigration desk to the Customs, to Quarantine, to Port Health, among others, the TSA is responsible for the protection of travellers while it hands over any suspected case to the appropriate agency.

A security expert, Mr. Ayo Obilana, said though the TSA is not in charge of security in totality in the US, it is the central commanding and coordinating body.

According to him, since Nigeria is a signatory to the ICAO convention which recognises AVSEC as the only body to provide security at an international airport, the Presidency has to wade in to stop the incessant attacks on AVSEC and empower them to operate autonomously, coordinating airport security nationwide.

He reiterated that the move to have a central command and control structure must be spearheaded by the Presidency just like Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo sometimes in 2017 dismantled security dash tables at the major international airports.

Also speaking, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, Ambrose Aisabor, said without cohesion among the security agencies, there cannot be an end to insecurity even around the airports.

He said, “The thing is that because there is no focus in the country, that is why you are seeing this inter-agency rivalry. If you go to other climes, you will see that all the agencies at the airport have their own specific role they are playing. If you go to Atlanta in the US, you will see Customs, Homeland Security. It is difficult for you to even see the Police. There are various agencies working, doing their own duty at the airport.” 

Worry about Enugu Airport

Over the years, there have been concerns over the rise in drug trafficking at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport. Currently, the airport has Ethiopian Airlines as the only foreign carrier operating at the airport. But unlike the Murtala Muhammad Airport in Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport where there appears to be so much attention with a full complement of anti-narcotics official, some analysts say Enugu Airport has become an easy route for drug dealers trying to hide from the eagle eyes of the NDLEA or Customs officials.

A source at the airport however told our correspondent that the NDLEA had beamed its searchlight on Enugu Airport in recent times over the discovery that several drug deals were being struck in connivance with officials operating at the airport.

It was in the same Enugu Airport that several drug cartels were uncovered by the NDLEA which has necessitated the agency beaming a searchlight on the airport.

Spokesman of the NDLEA, Mr. Femi Babafemi in a chat with Daily Trust on Sunday however said technological equipment is being deployed to beef up screening at that airport. He said, “There has also been deployment of manpower, change of leadership at the command and beyond that, we also discovered that, that airport has only Ethiopian Airlines.

“The agency also last year working on this intelligence wrote to Ethiopian Airlines and warned them that we are likely to impound their aircraft if they don’t do what they are supposed to do at their point of departure before bringing anything into Nigeria. They wrote back and expressed their commitment and for that period, they did their homework and there has been some lull. But as things are unfolding again, we have to go back to the wordings of our initial letter to them.” 

Reps moves to centralise airport security

Worried by the multiple layers of security at the airport, the House of Representatives in conjunction with the Presidential Adviser on Ease of Doing Business have commenced moves to centralise airport security administration.

The House of Representatives said the campaign for one security apparatus followed the outcome of the meeting with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, House Committee on Aviation, Committee Chairman on Health, that of Agriculture Services and other relevant Committees’ Chairmen, as well as the leaderships of all the agencies operating at the airports and the Special Adviser to the President on the Ease of Doing Business, Dr Jumoke Oduwole.

While these efforts are ongoing, Aviation professionals under the aegis of Aviation Roundtable and Safety Initiative, through its President, Dr. Gabriel Olowo, described the move as a welcome development. He said multiple checks at the airports is antithetical to the ease of doing business initiative of the Federal Government.

Olowo who is also the President of Sabre Travel Solutions, Central and Western Africa, said: “The Gbajabiamila’s House of Representatives is thinking of giving Nigeria something close to TSA. That is sharing security information and just having one security checkpoint at the airports. That is cheering news for me and the entire body of ART is throwing its weight totally behind this.”

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