Rising Extortion at Airports


Chinedu Eze

There are two major experiences passengers on international flights witness at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos. Firstly, is that there is usual delay by the Aviation Security (AVSEC) of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). This is because not all the X-ray machines work at any point in time, even at peak hours.

Eye-witness account stated that at the E-wing of the terminal, two X-ray machines work out of the five installed, but one is usually dedicated to flight crew and First and Business Class, while the other is for all passengers. Then three others will be idle; either broken down or there are inadequate personnel to man them.

It is also the same experience at the D wing of the terminal. The X-ray machines are never put to use at the same time. So, there would be throngs of passengers queuing for a long time, standing and waiting, including children. Sometimes passengers wait for over one hour, just to be screened to board his or her flight. What is really aching about this experience is that the situation has been there for years. The X-ray machines are never fully utilised.

The second experience a passenger witnesses at both the international and domestic terminals is the soliciting for money by AVSEC personnel. Even with the cacophony caused by inadequate X-ray machines, the AVSEC personnel still have time to ask for money from the weary passengers who have spent time waiting to pass through the security machines.

This writer also witnessed similar incident at the Murtala Muhammed Airport 2, the domestic terminal, known as MMA2, on July 11, 2019, when a passenger was screened by AVSEC and during patting of his body the security personnel touched the passenger’s pockets and noticed a lump of what obviously was money. He solicited for money and the passenger did not say anything. The AVSEC personnel pressed on, the passenger did not reply. The female AVSEC personnel supervising movement of luggage on the screening machine took the cue and also requested for money from the passenger who never replied but kept smiling.

Later, the passenger spoke to THISDAY and said if he had introduced himself to them they would have shivered and expressed shame at their attitude.

“What is annoying about this is that they are paid very well. FAAN pays them well and I know that they are comfortable, so it is because of greed that they do this. Despite all the warning and threats, they have continued to embarrass the agency and the federal government,” the passenger, who is a senior aviation agency official said.

Industry aviation experts have said that security is porous at any airport where security personnel extort or solicit for money from passengers. In such scenario they said, it is easy to have insider threat because terrorists, for example, can buy over security personnel and “use him for their obnoxious purposes.”

On the delay of passenger facilitation, the CEO of Centurion Securities and member of Aviation Round Table (ART), Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), urged FAAN to increase the number of passenger access control points from two to four; increase the number of screening points with machines for passengers and carry-on bags and thirdly, increase the number of personnel at each screening points to the minimum standard of five.
“These may not be possible now for lack of space at the old terminal until the new terminal is opened by the end of the year, hopefully. The average screening time for a passenger 15/20 seconds; it probably takes thrice or more of the present period,” Ojikutu said.

On the consequence of soliciting and extorting money from passengers, by Aviation Security, Ojikutu said it was very dangerous for the overall safety of the airports and passengers.

“It does much more danger than its negative effect on efficiency; it could compromise security and not necessarily the airport security but national security.

“Airport is not only a critical economic asset; its security is a function of the national security. As an asset of economic importance to the nation, airports are generally in the lists of important targets of terrorists.”

THISDAY investigations revealed that extortion and soliciting for money do not happen at one airport, but in all the airports. Some AVSEC officials in charge of passenger screening are engaged in it. A passenger told THISDAY he was always embarrassed whenever “those security people ask me for money.”

“Are they not afraid that they could be sacked? Do they know the different people that pass here every day? There is no problem if a passenger decided to give them money, but for them to be soliciting for me, telling me ‘Happy Weekend’, ‘Your people are here o’, embarrasses me,” the passenger said.