Assessing Nigerian airports’ security architecture

Since the ICAO security audit helps member states identify critical weaknesses in their aviation security and oversight systems, and also guides them in developing targeted action plans to correct the deficiencies, it is of utmost importance to appraise Nigeria’s recent success at the just concluded test, WOLE SHADARE writes

Threat to aviation

The threat to civil aviation from acts of unlawful interference is real and constantly evolving. ICAO’s Universal Security Audit Programme (USAP), established in 2002 after the 9/11 attacks, is recognised as one of the most effective instruments for enhancing aviation security worldwide.

The USAP has proven to be a powerful catalyst for all stakeholders of the international community to collaborate in achieving the common goal of a globally secure aviation network. Aviation security is always in the front row among all the other concerns that matter in civil aviation.

No wonder that aviation is one of the safest modes of transport. ICAO places a high premium on security status in aviation by providing standards that member countries should adhere to.

It periodically assesses and monitors countries’ compliance with aviation security and insists on closing noticeable gaps that must have been seen during the period of audit.

Relief

Consequently, Nigeria and Nigerians may have heaved a sigh of relief following feelers from the global aviation regulatory body, the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) that the country was successful at the just concluded two-week security audit of the nation’s aviation and airport safety architecture.

The ICAO team led by Callum Vine, who broke the news of Nigeria’s success after the audit at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) head office in Abuja, said: “Nigeria scored very well in most of the key indicators,” and praised the country for having very robust policies and agencies with clear mandates on airport security.

He also acknowledged the speed with which the personnel dealt with identified deficiencies without complaints.

He further explained that the full report of the audit would be made available to Nigeria by ICAO within 60 days, after which there will be 30 days for the country to make comments.

Vine also added that after this, the country would be expected to file its plan to meet compliance with the organisation. Other members of the four-man ICAO team are James Mabala, Tebogo Mphela and Alagie Jeng.

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Excitement

An excited Director of Public Affairs and Consumer Protection of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mrs. Obiageli Orah, pointed out that the objective of the USAP-CMA was to promote global aviation security through continuous auditing and monitoring of member states’ aviation security performance, to enhance their aviation security compliance and oversight capabilities, by regularly and continuously obtaining and analysing data on member states’ aviation security performance, including the level of implementation of the critical elements of an aviation security oversight system and the degree of compliance with the Standards of Annex 17 — Security and the relevant security-related Standards of Annex 9 — Facilitation, as well as associated procedures, guidance material, and security-related practices.

Recall that two of Nigeria’s biggest airports, the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport were used for the rigorous security tests to ascertain the country’s level of aviation security. All security implementation verification was carried out at the two aerodromes.

The USAP CMA ran for two weeks and ended on March 22, 2024, and covered areas such as Inflight Security (IFS), Passenger and Baggage Security (PAX), Acts of Unlawful Interference (AUI), Facilitation (FAL), Legislation (LEG), Training (TRG), Quality Control Function (QCF), Operations (OPS) and Cargo, Mail and Catering (CGO).

Murtala Muhammed Airport terminal

Eyes on the ball

The country is revelling in this success after the disappointment of the ‘failure’ to scale the ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme as the country represented by the NCAA tried in its oversight function of the sector but failed to score the least pass mark of 75 per cent in ICAO audits with many opening gaps that the agency is working tirelessly to close within the stipulated time as it has started a corrective action plan to remedy the situation.

Nigeria had for the first time since the audit of the aviation industry began over 16 years ago failed to scale the ICAO USOAP hurdles.

It was clear that Nigeria would find it very difficult to score a very high grade as so many factors including internal sabotage within the system, and ego between some of the agencies’ heads who do not see eye to eye conspired to damage the country’s rating.

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The only agency that saved the country from further reduction in the grade marks was the Nigerian Safety Investigative Bureau (NSIB) led by the hardworking and visionary Akin Olateru, an aircraft engineer.

A 71 per cent score is generally considered a failure in aviation while 75 per cent is regarded as a pass mark in a compassionate and life-dependent system. Based on that, Nigeria was considered to have failed and needed to work harder to close the yawning gaps noticed and identified by the auditors.

This performance jolted the nation and by extension the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Mr. Festus Keyamo, and his team. He did everything possible to forestall a repeat of the recent ICAO safety audit.

Changing the narrative

Heads rolled as virtually all the chief executive officers of all the aviation agencies were relieved of their posts. New ones were appointed.

Keyamo, at the induction and signing of a performance bond by the recently appointed chief executive officers of the various aviation agencies in Abuja in January, said: “Inter-agency rivalry amongst the Chief Executive Officers and lack of coordination cost the nation so much.

“The problem has always been that there are inter-agencies problems and rivalry because, at times, the NCAA DG said I don’t speak to the MD of FAAN because he needs FAAN to put some things in place before ICAO comes and the MD of FAAN says you cannot give directives. This went on for months until ICAO arrived and of course, we could not do well and had the type of score that we had.”

“When I came in, I said this cannot go on and I said, come and have your meetings with me. If NCAA comes up with anything, I will ask the MD of NAMA, FAAN to go and put it in place now. There will no longer be inter-agency rivalry so that we can move up on the rating by ICAO audit. The last time, South Africa scored 92 per cent and we scored 70 per cent. We cannot allow that to happen. There will be meetings and the Permanent Secretary will be coordinating them. The date of the meeting should be communicated to you. The CEOs should get a focal person to work with us on the audit,” he added.

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To forestall a repeat poor performance, the Minister set up a security oversight committee to be chaired by him to close the gaps in safety and security audit as Nigeria works to pass the just concluded audit. In Nigeria, aviation security has been continuously improved as demonstrated by the scores the country has been getting from security audits.

Airport security culture

Globally, the campaign for airport security culture has been massive following the records of several incidents in the past.

So, ICAO declared 2021 as the year of security culture globally. Despite the global campaign to promote a positive security culture, the threats against safe air transport continue to evolve.

As a concept, airport security culture emphasises human responsibility to ensure a secure airport environment. The airport environment requires a security measure that protects lives and properties and prevents untoward events leading to loss and damage.

To effectively achieve the goal of wholesome security at airports requires appropriate attitudes, behaviour, ideas, and customs referred to as culture among all stakeholders.

Following the mandate of ICAO to promote a positive security culture, Nigeria embarked on massive investment in security infrastructure and personnel training and employment in 2022 to curb airport security incidents. Despite the investment and training, so many security breaches were recorded in 2022.

It supports the claim of ACI that, at the moment, there are lots of areas in airport security where infrastructure and technologies cannot replace humans. It implies that humans must complement technological infrastructure to combat airport security threats.

Last line

As a concept, airport security culture emphasises human responsibility to ensure a secure airport environment. The airport environment requires a security measure that protects lives and properties and prevents untoward events leading to loss and damage.

Wole Shadare

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