The Federal Government has approved more measures to beef up security at the nation’s airports.
Among the measures, the government approved that aviation security personnel should henceforth bear arms and other relevant equipment in the course of their duties to shore up the safety of passengers and facilities at the country’s airports.
The government said the arming of guards and other security measures at the airports will take the style of similar aviation efforts put in place by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the United States of America (USA).
The Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, disclosed this at a press briefing on Wednesday after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He said that President Muhammadu Buhari approved the measure last week.
Sirika said the administration was taking aviation reforms beyond aesthetics to focus on safety, and that the Ministry of Interior has been involved to ensure its success.
According to him: “Our focus is not on the beautification of airports or having robust structures for aesthetic reasons. Our own focus is to ensure that we are safe and secure.
“What concerns me is how you depart point A and land in point B safely. These are things you don’t see. You will soon see tremendous improvement.
“We are very serious about aviation security. Just last week, the President approved that aviation security should bear arms. So, we are trying to make them take the form and shape of TSA of the U.S. 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 the President. They are partnering with us and other stakeholders to keep our airports secure. All these will be unveiled at the next (aviation) stakeholders’ meeting.”
He also revealed that ahead of the shutdown of the Abuja Airport in March, the FEC approved the completion of Kaduna Airport terminal building within six months, at a cost raised from over N500 million when it was awarded in 2011 to N1.1 billion now.
“This is just for the terminal buildings and not the runway”, noted Sirika, who explained that during rehabilitation of the terminal building, the contractor noticed some structural damages to the building itself and then increased the scope of work which necessitated the variation of the contract sum.
“The cost of variation is in excess of 15 percent; it had to go to the then President Goodluck Jonathan for anticipatory approval. That was approved and they went to BPP. So, we brought it to the Council today to ratify and of course taking into cognisance the exchange rate and inflation that has increased the cost of completion of the terminal building”, he stated.
The Minister assured the public that even as the terminal is being rehabilitated, it will not affect the operations of the Kaduna Airport because there are enough buildings to carry out the operations of the airport for the six weeks that the Abuja Airport will be closed for repairs.
He insisted that the Abuja Airport needed to be closed for safety reasons before the bad state leads to serious accidents, especially as the entire structure of the runway has failed.
“The runway was designed for 20 years to cater for not more than 100,000 people per annum; today, it is doing over 5 million persons per annum and has been there for 34 years. So, it is going for 14 years in excess of design”, he explained.
On the need for a second runway for the Abuja Airport, Sirika said: “We will have the second runway through concession”.
He stressed that government was doing its best to address the challenge of decaying aviation infrastructure, especially those of navigational and landing aids, declaring that “we have procured a lot of them and we will commence installation”.
He further gave his word that a national air carrier for the country would fly by the end of this year, although the process has been slow because of the need for thoroughness as government would have no more than three percent stake in it.
“We are going to have a national carrier. It is on course and because it is a PPP thing it has to follow all the due process. So, it is time- consuming but I hope very soon, before the end of the year we will have a very strong, viable national airline”, he added.
Meanwhile, the FEC also approved the procurement of some modern firefighting equipment and the training on them at a cost of N4.6 billion, scaled down from an initial cost of N5.1 billion.
The Minister of Interior, Abdurahman Danbazzau, disclosed to journalists that the last time equipment was procured for the Federal Fire Service was in 1996.
He said: “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.
“We also intend to partner with an entity in reference to training in fire services, particularly in oil and gas sector. We are also going to partner with the state government. Just about four weeks ago, we had a national council on fire service meeting in Kano and we came up with a communique for us to standardise fire service delivery all over the country.”