With the fleeing of Boko Haram insurgents from Sambisa forest, 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 N1 billion.
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).
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.
He said: “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 Public-Private Project (PPP) 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.”
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.
Sirika, 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.”
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.
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.
He said: “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.”
Meanwhile, British Airways cabin crew has decided to embark on a 48-hour strike from January 10, 2017. The strike is as a result of an ongoing pay dispute.
The decision to embark on a strike came after union members voted by 7 to 1 to reject a pay offer from the airline.