• Saturday, June 22, 2024
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Airport managers deploy ‘thugs’ to harass users over traffic rules

Airport managers deploy ‘thugs’ to harass users over traffic rules

In recent times, air passengers and airport users have faced various forms of intimidation, harassment, and extortions from thugs deployed by airport concessionaires in a bid to implement traffic rules, passengers tell BusinessDay.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN) concessioned certain roles such as airport road traffic management and towing vehicles to private ventures that deploy personnel that often harass and intimidate passengers who they find guilty of contravening traffic rules.

Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL), the operator of Murtala Muhammed Airport Two (MMA2), Lagos, have in recent times deployed concessionaires that have meted out various forms of treatments to vehicle owners who pick up their loved ones at the arrival side of the terminal.

Passengers who are often not aware of the new rules at the airport terminal where they would normally have picked up passengers have in recent times had their vehicle tyres clamped by this personnel, who insist offenders pay a certain amount of money or have their vehicles impounded.

However, the concessioners denied the claims saying their staff abide by the rules set by FAAN and regularly undergo training to effectively carry out their duties.

Stakeholders argue that in developed countries, vehicles are allowed some free time to pick up arriving passengers in a bid to ease the travel experience for passengers but in Nigeria, this is not the case.

Theophilus Akatugba, an international media practitioner in a recent video that has gone viral narrated his ordeal at MMA2.

Akatugba said Lagos airport users have continued to lament over consistent harassment and exploitations by vehicle towing operators at the Lagos airport environs.

According to him, having paid to park in the car park provided by MMA2 to wait for his guest on Saturday, he decided to go and pick up the guest in front of the terminal when the guest arrived.

He had sighted his guest when he quickly opened the door to pick him up, only to immediately notice some personnel sliding into his car a few seconds after and quickly clamped his tyres because they said people were not allowed to pick up passengers there.

“They said the area was only for drop off, not to pick up passengers. I asked them to pardon us as we didn’t know the rules as we had been picking up passengers there before. They said that it is a recent rule and insisted that N32,800 be paid to a company called ‘Don Right Enterprise.’

“I paid with POS and I gave them my ATM card and I applied for my pin. My account was debited and all of a sudden, they said it was declined, and that the money didn’t arrive in their account. They said they would have to impound my car unless I give them another money. I had to pay them another N32,800 and until now, I have not received the first N32,800,” Akatugba said.

He said this is part of the reason Nigeria is not a preferred tourist destination.

However, in response to Akatugba’s claims, Oluwatosin Onalaja, head of corporate communications, Bi-Courtney stated that it is a well-advertised position in the media, and there are signages within the drop-off zone that you do not pick up passengers in the area.

Onalaja said the man contravened clearly displayed regulations.

“If we allow passengers to be picked up at the drop-off zone, it will create serious traffic and probably a stampede at the terminal. Our actions are in the best interest of the travelling public. It should also be noted that the No Pick-Up law was effected at the MMA2 terminal in July 2021. It is not a new law.

“As admitted by the complainant, the implementation of the policy is concessioned out to a company. This company is not owned by Wale Babalakin,” Onalaja added.

Read also: Senate urges probe of Abuja, Kano Airports concession

Akeem Nawoola, manager, Don Right, the concessionaire engaged by Bi-Courtney to manage traffic at the terminal told BusinessDay that the staff of Don Right company is not in the habit of harassing passengers or airport users as alleged by Akatugba.

Nawoola said Akatugba was told not to pick up the passenger at the airport area but he claimed the said passenger is a high-ranking person in the society.

He said all pleas and explanations to Akatugba not to pick up the passenger at the prohibited area fell on deaf ears and as soon as he picked up the passenger, his vehicle tyres were clamped.

He said when he made the payment using his POS, the payment was declined but the payment he made using the transfer app went through. He said Akatugba was advised to check with his bank for a refund of the payment that did not go through with the POS machine.

Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst, told BusinessDay that the use of touts to enforce rules at the airport started with FAAN which set this as a parameter for what can be used to raise revenue.

“Road traffic personnel are meant to manage free flow of vehicles in the airport but making this an avenue to raise revenue is what has brought the issue of touts coming in. I think this can be better managed by MMA2 and FAAN.

“At the airport environment, you can hardly park and make phone calls which are what is acceptable in society. When you park to make a phone call, your car is immediately towed.

“There must be a human face in the management of parking and traffic issues around the airport vicinity. FAAN and MMA2 need to come together and raise the bar. What we see now are people dressed like touts who forcefully want to enforce the law. This can discourage travellers,” Ohunayo said.

He advised FAAN and Bi-Courtney to work out the pickup policies in all the terminals. He said the signage is very poor and most passengers don’t see them.

“You see passengers going to MMA2 when their flight is at GAT. If passengers have luggage and the car that brings them has gone, how do you move if you don’t have access to vehicles to park and pick you up? Then, they will be left in the hands of touts who are all over the airports waiting to get money from stranded passengers. Terminals should bring out signages showing flights that are departing from respective terminals,” he added.

BusinessDay’s checks show that operators used by companies assigned by FAAN to manage traffic at the airport hide at strategic places in the airport environment waiting for victims, who are completely oblivious of where not to park or drop off travellers since there are in some cases no visible sign showing restricted areas for parking or waiting.

The same punishment is meted out to those whose vehicles break down at the airport.

The victims are immediately surrounded by people who are dressed as thugs and their vehicles are immediately towed to a secluded area at the airport where they are forced to pay as much as N50,000 for what is termed ‘wrong parking.’

Findings show that at least one out of five airport users who drive daily fall prey as many have narrated their ordeal in the hands of these two operators, hinting that vehicle towing has become an avenue for unlawfully spinning out money from airport users.

Infractions committed by the towing agents include not properly kitting; use of dilapidated vehicles that appear as abandoned vehicles and appearing as hoodlums, not befitting of an airport environment.

Some of the vehicles used to carry out these operations do not have tracking numbers, owning agency contact details, or logos that properly distinguish one towing vehicle from another.

Michika Yusuf, owner of Michika Enterprises Ltd, one of the concessionaires FAAN engaged to handle airport traffic told BusinessDay that it is only a mad person that will impound the vehicle of someone who has not contravene traffic rules.

“FAAN concessioned this project to three companies; one is in charge of the international airport environment, one at General Aviation Terminal and another at NAHCO. We have been going on several trainings organised by the FAAN legal department on how to best carry out our duties.

“People have seen improvements with what we are doing. We have had complaints that some personnel collects money from passengers on the road but when the passengers insist they don’t have money, they bring them to the office. We have warned them against this kind of attitude,” Yusuf said.

He explained that the bus stops around the airport are meant for people to alight and the drivers are expected to leave immediately.

“If people park along the road, it will cause obstruction. If you must wait to pick up anyone, you must go and wait for the person at the airport car park. You can’t leave your house and come to the airport without knowing where you are going. We have about three car parks at the airport.

Instead of people paying N300 to stay at the car parks, they prefer to park on the road and cause traffic,” he said.

Toni Ukachukwu, publisher/CEO of Aviators Africa said that concessioning in Nigeria has a monstrous face, adding that once it is done and money collected upfront, the concessionaire employs monsters for a thuggish drive to make their money back with authority backing, hence the lack of a human face.

“Our airports have become a place of extortions, unfriendliness, begging at all levels of the value chain.

“I once arrived on a flight at mm2 with an influential person in Nigeria who was on the same flight. His car tyres were clamped as the driver was waiting to pick him up. Immediately he came out upon arrival, he told them to take the thing off and they did. He then drove off,” he said.

Alex Nwuba, CEO of Ghana-based Smile Aviation and former CEO of Nigerian-based Associated Airlines said the airport traffic enforcements are always one-sided without human face.

“A stranger from China who reads no English arrives to pick up his relative and sees a sign, no pickup. He obviously can’t read the sign but sees a space, whose rule did he break? Wherever you build a toll, you must also build an alternate route, the pursuit of money cannot lead to irrational policies.

“As part of the agreement, FAAN mandates all parking concessionaires that charge must provide free time. Do concessionaires abide by the agreement?

“Ride-share services are not allowed to pick up, but gouging airport taxis are given preferential treatment, why? To exploit consumers?”, Nwuba stated.

Ibrahim Mshelia, owner of West Link Airlines Nigeria and Mish Aviation Flying School said civil aviation, which in Nigeria is the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, is the only authority that has a statutory role of oversight and regulations.

Mshelia said FAAN is a service provider that belongs to the government and should not be policing itself and harassing people.

He said there should be no special treatment to any service provider, adding that the NCAA can put all these to an end if they are allowed to do their work.