The federal government has approved that security personnel at the nation’s airports will now bear arms as a measure to improve the general security at the airports and guard against any possible terror attacks.
The government also assured that Nigeria will have a national carrier before the end of this year.
In a related development, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved the completion of Kaduna airport terminal building at the cost of N1billion.
Minister of state for aviation, Hadi Sirika, disclosed these to State House correspondents after the FEC meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa, Abuja.
Sirika asserted that the federal government is very serious about aviation security, saying that, just last week, the president approved that aviation security personnel should bear arms.
He explained that the new aviation security arrangement will take the form of the United States’ Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that has authority over the security of the travelling public in the United States. It was created as a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Chiefly concerned with air travel, the TSA employs screening officers in airports, armed Federal Air Marshals on planes, and mobile teams of dog handlers. The TSA was created as part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, sponsored by Don Young in the United States House of Representatives and Ernest Hollings in the Senate, passed by the 107th U.S. Congress, and signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 19, 2001. Originally part of the United States Department of Transportation, the TSA was moved to the Department of Homeland Security on March 9, 2003.
The TSA was created as a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Its first administrator, John Magaw, was nominated by President Bush on December 10, 2001, and confirmed by the Senate the following January. The agency’s proponents, including Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, argued that only a single federal agency would better protect air travel than the private companies who operated under contract to single airlines or groups of airlines that used a given terminal facility. The organisation was charged with developing policies to protect U.S. transportation, especially in airport security and the prevention of aircraft hijacking.
Sirika said: “So we are trying to make them take the form and shape of TSA of the US with K-9 dogs, handcuffs, the guards, the batons, light weapons, etc. The minister of interior is helping us in that regard, with the directive of Mr. President.
“They are partnering with us and other stakeholders to keep our airports secure. All these will be unveiled at the next stakeholders’ meeting.”
On the issue of national carrier, the minister said it will be wholly private sector-driven.
He contended that, with the exception of Ethiopian Airline, it had been proved that government does not do well with this kind of venture.
“When we came in, we were very clear on our targets and goals and what we set out to achieve. And we did say that Nigeria does not have a national airline. The national airline will be one that the government will have no hand in; normally it can have three per cent. It will be private sector-led, private sector-driven.
“We are going to have a national carrier; it is on course, and because it is a PPP (public-private project) thing, it has to go through IC and C, and it also has to follow all the due process. So it is time consuming, but I hope that, very soon, before the end of the year, we will have a very strong, viable national airline.
“For me, if any airline will have the capacity to deploy several aircraft with seamless operation, non-disruptive, provide the service, go the long haul, take advantage and give other international airlines a run for their money, we don’t need to get involved; it is because there is none,” he said.
The aviation minister recalled that the Nigerian Airways used to do all of this, but that in the wisdom of the then government, it liberalised the sector, adding that because of the absence of Nigeria’s capacity, most of these airlines came and left as fast as they came in.
He, however, gave the assurance that the government was addressing all of these concerns.
“We are going to establish this national carrier and it will give good service. This is the solution, because Nigeria has the market: we are 180 million (in population); we are sitting in West Africa, and in the West African market, we are 450 million (in population) and Nigeria is the major player.
“If you add the Central Africa, which is the central belt, we are 600 million people, which is equivalent to the US market and also equal to the European market,” he noted.
Sirika also revealed that FEC had approved the completion of the Kaduna terminal building for the sum of N1 billion. He noted that the contract for the project was awarded in 2011 and work commenced in 2012.
According to him, the variation of contract sum became necessary when during the rehabilitation of the terminal building, a contractor noticed some structural damage to the building itself and then increased the scope of work to be done.
He said: “The cost of variation is in excess of 15 per cent; it had to go to the then President Goodluck Jonathan for approval. That was approved and they went to BPP (Bureau of Public Procurement). So we brought it to Council today (yesterday) to ratify and, of course, taking into cognisance the exchange rate and inflation that have increased the cost of completion of the terminal building.
“Council has approved the completion of that terminal building and it will be completed in six months. The contractor has accepted to work within that six-month time.
“The cost is up from N500 million plus to N1.1 billion plus. This is just for the terminal buildings and not the runway.”
On how to manage the closure of Abuja airport and construction of Kaduna terminal, he said that there is another elaborate terminal robust enough to take the passengers for the duration of six weeks.
“It will not hinder it; it will not stop them also from working. It may be also a bonus if the contractor is able to run through and finish before March, but whether it is finished or not, it will not affect the operations because there are enough buildings to carry out the operations of the airport,” he said.
On whether VIP passengers will be landing in Abuja during the renovation work, he said, “The airport will be totally closed for six weeks. The construction and rehabilitation works is for six months. Within the six months, there is a window of six weeks that the airport will be closed.”
The aviation minister stated that the runway was designed to last for 20 years and cater for not more than 100,000 people per annum, but today it is 34 years old and catering for over five million people per annum.
“So it is going for 14 years in excess of design. It is not a joke; we are a government and a very sensitive one for that matter. We would not just cause hardship or distortions to the economy for the heck of it. It is a very serious matter and for a very good reason,” he said.
Meanwhile, the minister of interior, Abdulrahman Danbazzau, also disclosed yesterday that FEC approved the sum of N4 billion for the purchase of firefighting equipment.
He said the move was aimed at enabling the federal fire service work optimally at this time.
He said most of the fire service equipment in use in the country were procured between 1985 and 1996 and therefore obsolete.
“Today’s Federal Executive Council approved, the procurement of some firefighting equipment. This service, the last time equipment was procured was sometime in 1996, so the equipment in the inventory today we have those procured between 1985 and 1996 and since then there was no procurement.
“So, on assumption of duty, I went round their stations and I discovered, surprisingly, that there was a dearth of firefighting equipment.
“And with our experiences of fire incidences all over the country, we discovered that such a situation should no longer hold and, therefore, we reflected that in the 2016 budget, “ he said.
Dambazzau pointed out that the aim of equipping the fire service was to improve its capacity, including training and the welfare of personnel.
“This is just a start. Like I said, the last time it was procured was in 1996. We are also hoping that the 2017 budget will avail us the opportunity to procure more equipment for the Federal Fire Service.
“And, of course, the Fire Training School, I have visited there. I am making some efforts to also improve our existing facilities,” he said.
He added that the government intended to partner with any entity in relation to training in fire service, particularly in the oil and gas sector.
“In that way, we will be able to improve the capacity of the personnel to be able to carry out its services, knowing full well that the various states, too, have their individual fire services, and most of these fire incidences happen in most of those states, like Kano, Kebbi and Lagos.
“We are also going to partner with the state governments. Just about four weeks ago, we had a National Council on Fire Service meeting in Kano, and all the states were represented, both their commissioners and the directors of fire services.
“We came up with a communiqué. Part of the agreement was for us to standardise fire service delivery all over the country, rather than the situation whereby each stage will have its own standard. So we are moving ahead towards that, and also to be able to ensure that the necessary fire codes are observed by everybody,” he said.