Airport officials hide under COVID-19 protocols to extort passengers
Recent findings by BusinessDay have shown new strategies are being deployed by airport personnel, securities and customs to harass and exploit passengers who travel through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA).
BusinessDay found that from the entrance gate to the checkpoints, to customs and then the final boarding gates, there are more than two airport officials stationed at every point taking advantage of passengers transiting through the airport seeking their palms be greased or face unfair treatment and harassment.
They are subjected to unnecessary delays if they are unwilling to meet the demands of those officials.
While this may not seem to be a new development, the post-COVID-19 requirements since international travel resumed have given rise to incessant demands for bribes, while hiding under the guise of demanding all necessary and valid papers be presented.
Passengers have recounted experiences where they present their COVID-19 test results and airport officials tell them the documents are fake, therefore they would be unable to travel except if they give bribes from as much as N25,000 to N50,000. Passengers who are helpless and desperate not to miss their flights succumb.
On arrival, passengers allege that technical glitches make it impossible for them to make payments for the compulsory COVID-19 tests and they are forced to pay in foreign currencies, higher than the required sum by the government.
Passengers who sometimes manage to pay for the tests at the airport get to the centres for tests only to discover that their names are not on the list to do the tests, they say.
A black American woman who recently left Nigeria shared a trending video on social media on her ordeal at the Lagos airport, saying her experience made her sad and frustrated with the system.
“When I came into the airport, one of the first things I noticed is that the workers address you as if you are an opportunity for extra money. When you come in, there are set policies, procedures and papers that you need to have but a lot of time, they will lie about those papers.
“They will tell lies about the seven days COVID-19 tests, stating that you have to have it already paid for before you enter the country. As long as you have a major appointment, you can make the payments at the facility that you choose to have your tests. This was one of the lies used to get extra money out of me,” she said.
The lady said when she visited the portal, she made sure she had made an appointment for her seven-day COVID-19 test, which she did not pay for but felt she could pay for it when she gets to the facility.
She disclosed that after she presented the paper, which had a bar code in case there was need for verification, a young lady on seat asked her for a bribe in order to allow her to enter the country.
“Nobody is allowed to enter into the airport to help you with bags, help you check-in and help you understand the language, and the reason why they do this is for them to take advantage of you and the situation.
“I have heard of cases where people have to bribe their way in just to say goodbye to their loved ones, wives, families or children. They have to pay the person standing at the door just to come in to help,” she said.
Check points are another avenue to rip people off at the Lagos airport.
Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst and a consistent airport user, told BusinessDay that there are numerous problems that passengers are encountering, and he encountered one on Wednesday morning.
“You are not allowed to take liquid bottles with you on-board the aircraft, as you are asked to check it in. After checking your bags, you are asked to go and clear your bag at the spot where the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) security must have checked the bag, a development I have never seen in another country,” Ohunayo said.
He said while clearing the bag, he was asked to open it and to start explaining properties inside, and after some delays, he was asked to give them some money or he would face further delays.
“At every point in time, airport workers try to freeze passengers instead of making them happy. Passengers should please be allowed to come into the country and pay for COVID-19 tests in Nigeria and not at the airport. When they pay and get to the centres, their names are sometimes not there and they have to pay another one. There is something wrong with the process and it has not been corrected till now,” Ohunayo said.
Sindy Foster, principal managing partner, Avaero Capital Partners, said she personally had not experienced corruption at the airport, although they tried to delay her from catching a flight out.
Foster said visitors had experienced this and the worst was an American investor who shared an embarrassing experience with her.
“Insisting on a receipt for everything is the best way to avoid getting sucked into this type of cash grab corruption. The international image of Nigeria can’t really get much lower, particularly among the Diaspora. When you are already at the bottom, you should work on finding a way up.
“There is no real attempt to improve things here. Putting up posters where no one is changing their behaviour makes a mockery of the fight against extortion and corruption. It is disingenuous at the least,” she said.
However, Henrietta Yakubu, general manager, corporate communications, FAAN, told BusinessDay that FAAN was always accused of all the corrupt practices at the airport, but there were other officials at the airport that see to the checking in of passengers and the COVID-19 test process.
“FAAN is only in charge of screening passengers into the airport. Every other thing that happens after that is not FAAN’s responsibility. Port Health is in charge of COVID-19 procedures. Ground handlers facilitate check-in passengers. So, we can’t be held responsible for everything that happens at the airport,” Yakubu said.