KIDNAPPING CRISIS: FG FRUSTRATES STATES’ PLANS TO DEPLOY DRONES
Efforts by some state governments to obtain necessary safety and security clearances to launch Remotely Piloted Aircraft (drones) to tackle insecurity in their domains appear to be failing, no thanks to the strict conditions stipulated by Federal Government agencies responsible for granting the approvals.
This is happening amid serious security challenges in various states across the country.
No state government, agency, organisation or individual is allowed to launch an RPA (drone) for any reason without obtaining approval from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, the agency regulating safety and security in the country’s airspace, and the Office of the National Security Adviser.
SUNDAY PUNCH checks show that some states have been in the process of getting safety and security clearances from the NCAA and the ONSA for almost two years now.
Currently, some of the states that have made moves to deploy drones to tackle bandits, kidnappers, and killer herdsmen are Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Kaduna and Anambra.
Among other things, the drones are meant to monitor and record the activities and hideouts of criminals, including bandits, kidnappers and killer herdsmen.
Officials of the NCAA and the ONSA, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to comment on security matters, said Lagos State had been on the process for about two years.
Osun State, which began the process under ex-Governor Rauf Aregbesola, has yet to get the necessary clearance to launch the drones, according to the officials.
According to the officials, Kaduna State also moved to get the necessary clearance to deploy drones following killings in the state about four years ago but has yet to obtain the final approvals from the NCAA and the ONSA. However, there are indications that the state has obtained End User Certificate from the ONSA.
It was also learnt that the Anambra State government suspended its move to get such a clearance after changing its strategy on security.
“The ONSA is very careful. They don’t want to just give approvals to state governments that will later abuse the privilege. Again, the ONSA office is reluctant because security agencies are under the Federal Government and as such, giving approvals to state governments to deploy drones is something that has to be done with necessary checks.
“Also, there is the need to carry out proper safety and security profiling on the security firms that will help the state governments to deploy the drones. So, it is a very detailed and important issue,” a top official privy to details of the state governments’ applications said.
Further findings revealed that many of the state governments had yet to train drone pilots who would fly the RPAs in line with the NCAA safety requirements, while security firms which would partner some of the states to train drone pilots had yet to get approvals from the NCAA.
“It is a long process. Before the states can be given RPA operating licence by the NCAA to launch drones, they need to come with End User Certificate from the NSA Office to the NCAA Office. We have since asked them to go and get that. Some of them have been in the process for about two years. Safety and security issues are involved in drone deployment and these must be cleared,” a top official at the Ministry of Aviation, who is privy to the development, told SUNDAY PUNCH.
Strict scrutiny for drone deployment is standard practice – Aviation ministry, NCAA
When contacted, the Ministry of Aviation and the NCAA said that drone deployment required strict scrutiny, noting that it was the standard practice to ensure necessary safety clearances were done.
The Deputy Director, Press and Public Affairs, Aviation ministry, James Odaudu, said it was important to thoroughly scrutinise the move as it had to do with safety and security issues.
Odaudu also said the NCAA was the body mandated by the ministry to certify the use of drones in civil airspace.
He said, “Of course, the deployment of drones for purposes of securing any location is a security matter, which is why security agencies would be involved.
“Also, I would say it is standard practice to thoroughly scrutinise the move because it is one that would have an impact on national security, whether positive or negative. Although personally, I’ve not been informed about the requests by states on drones’ deployment and don’t know about it now.”
He added, “However, it is the NCAA that is mandated to certify the use of drones and there is a need to be cleared by the authority, as well as get the required clearance from other security agencies as may be required.”
The General Manager, Public Affairs, NCAA, Mr Sam Adurogboye, said the regulatory agency was working together with ONSA on issues relating to the deployment of drones.
“The NCAA is working in conjunction with NSA Office on the issue of drones. However, the ultimate security clearance is handled in the NSA Office. It is pertinent to point out that due diligence is done in view of the security implication,” he said.
No effort’ll be spared to tackle insecurity – Ondo, Osun, others
Meanwhile, some state governments have given various reasons why they have been working towards the deployment of drones. Some of the states, however, declined to give specific details, citing security reasons.
A source in the Osun State government told SUNDAY PUNCH that the state had acquired drones before Aregbesola’s tenure expired but had not been able to deploy them because it had yet to get the approval from the ONSA.
The source said, “We have acquired drones now but we cannot deploy them. The drones can take pictures, can identify objects, and can take grandeur aerial maps apart from other uses. This requires a lot of security imprimaturs but we can’t say anything official now.
“Approval has to be given by the Ministry of Defence in conjunction with the NSA before we can deploy them. They have to be cleared before we can use them. The drones were acquired by the past administration of Governor Rauf Aregbesola.”
The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State, Adeniyi Adesina, said the state would continue to work with appropriate agencies of the Federal Government to ensure safety.
He said, “The Osun State government is working with appropriate agencies and departments of the Federal Government to get things (drones’ deployment) done.”
Also, Ondo State Commissioner for Information, Mr Donald Ojogo, said the state government would not spare any efforts in tackling insecurity.
He, however, said the state would not disclose the moves it was making regarding deployment of drones and other things for security reasons.
When asked what was delaying the state’s efforts to get approvals to deploy drones, Ojogo said, “No effort required to tackle the menace of insecurity will be spared by the Ondo State government. However, the planned security architecture of the South-West states cannot be disclosed at the moment. We appreciate your concern and eagerness to know what Ondo State, in particular, is currently doing to tackle insecurity.”
When contacted for comments on the matter, the Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Mr Samuel Aruwan, declined to make comments, citing security reasons.
He said whatever he said about the security of the state would compromise the efforts of the government in tackling crime in the state.
“The question is clearly undermining and compromising the security of our citizens and we cannot compromise their security on the pages of newspapers. No comment.”
The Deputy Chief Press Secretary to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, Mr. Gboyega Akosile, when contacted, said he would get back to our correspondent on plan by the state to get approvals to deploy drone in the state.
However, as of the time of filing this report, he has yet to do so.
The Anambra State government on Friday said it had discontinued its plan to use the drone for criminal surveillance. In its place, the state government said it occasionally hired police helicopter for aerial battle against criminals.
The state government had last December procured a drone for air surveillance of crimes in the state.
The state had then said, “The drone would be used to monitor the movement of individuals and even cattle. It will provide reports constantly to appropriate agencies for prompt action,” the state said.
But speaking with SUNDAY PUNCH on Friday, the Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, C-Don Adinuba, said the state had discontinued the move, citing two reasons.
He said, “One, the battery of the drone does not sustain it for a long time in the air and secondly it does not capture a good human image while airborne.”
Adinuba said the state had resorted to hiring police helicopters occasionally for aerial surveillance.
Ondo, Osun, Lagos, Kaduna and Anambra are among the dozens of states battling insecurity in the country.
Following the reoccurrence of crisis in Kaduna State, Governor Nasir el-Rufai, had vowed to put an end to the killings. The development, it was learnt, led to the state to take various security measures
Ondo has remained a major corridor where killer herdsmen have been operating. Aside from the killing of Mrs Funke Olakunri, the daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, recently, several people had been kidnapped by suspected Fulani herdsmen in the past.
End-User Certificates must be screened by DSS before approval – ONSA
The Office of the National Security Adviser has stated that all End-User Certificate requests or applications are subject to screening by the Department of State Services before approval or otherwise.
The ONSA noted that state governments wishing to import equipment to support security agencies must go through the agency to get approval.
The ONSA stated these in its “Guidelines for application for EUCs” published on its website.
When our correspondent contacted the ONSA office in Abuja, a source said the office had no spokesperson and all information could be obtained from its website.
“I am not aware that state governments made any application, but if they follow the guidelines, which are stated on the EUC website, their requests will be treated accordingly,” he said.
The ONSA on its End-User Certificate website highlighted “five easy steps” to apply for the certificate.
It said, “One, read the guidelines on supporting documents required for the EUC application. Two, create an account by filling the sign-up form. You will be notified via an electronic mail and a short message service immediately if your account is approved or disapproved.
“Three, apply for the EUC by logging onto the portal and providing the relevant information as required. Four, wait for a notification for approval or disapproval of your application. Five, collect your EUC at the Office of the National Security Adviser. EUC applications are free of charge at every stage.
“All EUC requests and applications are subject to screening by the Department of State Services before approval or otherwise. State governments wishing to import equipment to support security agencies must go through that agency to make such application.”
SUNDAY PUNCH observed from the website that the categories of the equipment listed as requiring the EUC included; military hardware, chemicals, explosives and explosive devices, fireworks, arms and ammunition, remotely piloted aircraft and lawful intercept equipment.
ONSA is right to grill state govts – Experts
The President of the African Council on Narcotics, Mr Rekpene Bassey, said state governments might not be able to put the drones to effective use because they did not have control over the security forces in their respective states.
He said, “Drones can be classified under structural measures and they are as useful as the humans. If you do not have an adequate and capable human factor, the capability of drones is limited. Those states that intend to use these drones in question would also need to have ground forces to back up the intelligence surveillance at their disposal.
A security analyst, Mr Chigozie Ubani, said given the level of insecurity in the country, intelligence gathering should be decentralised so that states, working with the Federal Government, could gather intelligence through aerial surveillance.
Meanwhile, a Fellow, International Institute of Professional Security, Mr Jackson Ojo, said some security equipment could be bugged by their manufacturers, saying that was why the NSA or the President, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, should check where the equipment would be procured from and give approval before purchase.
Police go after illegal drone operators
As part of efforts to ensure security in the country, the police have decided to go after illegal drone operators.
According to Force spokesman, DCP Frank Mba, they have been going after individuals who operate drones illegally and in unauthorised areas like airports, security zones and other restricted areas.
Mba added, “We don’t need anyone to tell us to do our job, we have been going after illegal drone operators. Drones are not permitted near high security zones like the airport or military formations and other places. You are not even permitted to fly a drone over someone’s residence, that is a clear privacy breach.”
This came just as police are holding talks with the Federal Government and vendors on the acquisition and deployment of high-tech drones in parts of the country.
Our correspondent learnt that the use of technology was part of the three-pronged strategy of the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, including intelligence-led policing and community police.
A top security source stated that the government was considering the costs and other technical issues before giving the nod for the acquisition of highly sophisticated drones for security operations.
“You need to look at many things, including funding. Very good drones are quite expensive, they have multiple functions and they don’t come cheap. We are having a whole lot of discussions at government to government level and between government and vendors.”
The source further said, “The new police approach to crime fighting is predicated on intelligence, community policing and technology; The police Air wing, ICT department and intelligence unit will manage and coordinate deployment of drones, after everything has been finalised.”
Mba declined to comment on the planned acquisition and deployment of drones by the police.