Airspace and aviation security in Nigeria: Matters arising by Mukhtar Ya’u Madobi



Another national embarrassment almost happened over the weekend. But alas, it wasn’t fated. Reports indicated that a group of bandit-terrorists, numbering about 200 swarmed the Kaduna International Airport located in Igabi Local Government Area of the State.

The incident led to disruption of activities, among which included the grounding of an Azman Air Lagos-bound aircraft, temporarily. In addition, a security officer attached to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) also lost his life.

It was learnt that the terrorists were on a revenge mission after some Nigerian military troops neutralized scores of them, and equally retrieved some rustled cattle in their possession.

However, this unfortunate development is coming after another security breach had occurred last year, when the same category of criminal elements–bandits–invaded the country’s highest defence and security training hub, the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, in Kaduna.

Aside killing some soldiers, reports claimed that the bandits also abducted a senior military officer.

Nevertheless, the level at which these non-state actors are resurging and unleashing violence at will, is something that needs to be treated with the adequate attention it deserves. Government and security agencies should live up to their expectation to surmount these lingering security challenges which are disturbing the peace of our nation.

It has been noted that an efficient transport system is part and parcel of national security as it entails the movement of people and goods from one place to another across the length and breadth of a particular geographical location. But in today’s Nigeria, it is disheartening to learn that people no longer travel comfortably with peace of mind due to uncertainties associated with our entire transport system.

For example, looking at the land transport system, the roads are in bad shapes caused by numerous potholes that can easily plunge a motorist into an accident. Apart from that, the roads are also not safe as bandits, kidnappers and armed robbers are always having a field day to at any time launch attacks on commuters, robbing them of their hard-earned properties, abducting or even killing them.

Even the trains are no longer safe as terrorists have since devised a means of exploding rail tracks, thereby forcefully bringing it to a halt so as to pave way for them to carry out their nefarious activities on passengers.

The recent bombing of Kaduna-Abuja rail track by bandits is one of the worst attacks to have happened to Nigerian transport system. Several passengers were killed, others got injured while scores of them were equally abducted and yet to be accounted for.

Similarly, Nigeria’s water ways are also dangerous, because they are swarmed by pirates who rob ships and sometimes abduct the entire crew only to release them upon payment of ransom. With the recent attack on the airport, it is right to deduct that the entire Nigerian transport system is compromised and has lost its calibre to serve the functions it is known to deliver.

The time is long overdue for Nigeria to rise to the challenge of safeguarding airspace and other transport sectors from the menace of criminal elements.

The importance of airspace and aviation security has been captured effectively in Nigeria’s National Security Strategy, (NNSS 2019), a document published by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Babagana Monguno, a retired Major General.

According to the document, “Efforts to secure the Nigerian airspace will be led by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in collaboration with other relevant agencies. Considering the vulnerability of the airspace, the NAF will employ preventive and protective measures to guard against airspace violations through enforcement of international and national air laws.

“In addition, the NAF will deploy its resources to ensure the integrity of Nigerian airspace is maintained at all times. This will include conduct of aerial surveys and delineation of security zones and liaison with appropriate agencies towards the completion of the Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria (TRACON) project to ensure effective monitoring and airspace security.

The primary stakeholders principally concerned with safety and security in the aviation sector include the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the NAF.

Others are the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Meteorological (NIMET) Agency and the State Security Service (SSS).

The role of these agencies is expected to be coordinated and enhanced in line with extant legislation and policy on Nigerian Aviation Security. They will also continue to comply with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards and recommended practices to guarantee the safety of our air space, its users and the security of airport facilities.

Nevertheless, another evolving phenomenon in airspace security is the preponderance of drones which constitute safety challenges such as air misses and mid-air collisions with manned aircraft and security challenges such as air space violation, penetration of prohibited airspaces, threat to VIP security, terrorism and espionage. Others are law enforcement challenges such as drug trafficking and proliferation, which are all inimical to national security.

“Thus, in order to mitigate the threat posed by drones, the NCAA, NAF and NAMA will continue to work in synergy with the Office of the National Security Adviser and other relevant agencies, to closely monitor, control and set safety and security standards to regulate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) operations within the country’s airspace and aviation industry.

In order to properly secure airspace and the aviation industry, government must ensure the continuous provision of modern and up-to-date equipment as well as the promotion of effective training and professionalism of various agencies handling different aspects of aviation security.

Additionally, Standard Operation Procedures must be developed to streamline the roles and responsibilities of the various agencies in order to optimize their performance and enhance the cohesion of their personnel.

Furthermore, it is imperative to ensure the development of common safety protocols and resilience to protect critical aviation information infrastructure against cyber-attacks to enhance aviation security.

With regard to the Kaduna attack, the security agents that countered the invasion should be commended. But it is clear that the security arrangement at the airport needs to be improved. Security presence should be strengthened to prevent a recurrence.

It is intriguing that the invaders all got away. The invasion should be thoroughly investigated.

The security agencies should see this unprecedented attack as a dangerous sign that some bandits may be seeking new pastures, meaning that they could attack other airports in the country.

Extra vigilance is necessary. This incident calls for a renewed war against banditry. For instance, the A-29 Super Tucano fighter jets that the country bought from the US for the war against terrorism were expected to be used against bandits also after their reclassification as terrorists.

It is a new dimension to the country’s security crisis, and should be addressed urgently and decisively. Bandits, or terrorists, must not be allowed to begin to imagine that they can operate anywhere and anyhow they like.

They must not be allowed to fly beyond the infamous level they have reached. Thus, it is strongly advocated that the military unleash their superior fighting power against these marauders using all the necessary logistics at their disposal in order to counter their heinous acts.

Because, if the issue remains unchecked or continues to be treated with levity, it is only a matter of time before it consumes us all.

Mukhtar is a Staff Writer with Emergency Digest

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