Travellers Lament Resurgence of Extortion by Security Operatives at MMIA

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Chinedu Eze

Travellers and other airport users have once more lamented the alleged brazen extortion going on by security operatives at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.

The passengers who complained about the development, said it seemed the illicit act has resurged after a noticeable lull in the last few months. They told THISDAY that the security operatives comprising the Nigeria Immigration Service, Quarantine officials, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) personnel and the Nigeria Police have devised ways to extort money from passengers from the entrance of the airport terminal through the screening areas, including arriving passengers who are allegedly heavily fined illegally for their cargo.

THISDAY findings revealed that in a little cubicle attached to the X-ray machine at the main entrance of the terminal, the security operatives stop passengers and demand their luggage, which they search and sometimes corner some of the passengers to extort money from them.

Also at the central screening areas, THISDAY gathered that officials of NDLEA and the Nigerian Immigration Service allegedly exploit the ignorance of some passengers by raising trump up charges of misconduct or not having the right documentation and freeing them to board their flights after they have parted with money.

An airline official who works at the airport disclosed in Lagos that the extortion has taken a new dimension, alleging that the officials are brazen and uncouth, “as if there is no authority guiding activities at the airport.”

“I have over the last three weeks drawn/ called attention of senior Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) AVSEC officials to the situation of blatant and institutionalised extortion; with receipts o, collection of illegal money from passengers travelling with agro products, plant quarantines officials issue receipts for varying amounts.

“Now they’re like hawks waiting on their prey, joined by SSS, police and Customs. There will be reckoning soon. Remember the BBC expose on MMIA in the late 80s that showed Customs and Immigration officers extorting passengers. Watch this space. I know a neighbour Customs officer who shot himself because he was caught on camera unbeknownst to him,” the source disclosed in the industry group WhatsApp handle on Wednesday.

Former Commandant of MMIA and currently the CEO of Centurion Securities, Group Captain John Ojikutu, while commenting on the situation, told THISDAY that extortion would remain at the border posts so long as there are multiple agencies with multilateral level of competing controls.

“The US TSA (Transportation Security Administration) at the border posts (land, sea and air) is a single control so also I saw in Rwanda whose Aviation Security personnel were trained by our own FAAN. Why it has become difficult to copy correctly seems to be in our ‘DNA’.

“As it is with the military and police, our internal security over twenty years in democratic dispensation, so it is in our airports. You can hardly hold any agency responsible if and whenever anything goes wrong anywhere. But this is not confirming that there is extortion in military and police. What I dare say is, where you have more than one agency, you would have multiple controls, which can never make security of the environment effective,” Ojikutu who is the secretary of Aviation Round Table, industry think-tank group, said.

Also the Chief Executive Officer of Selective Securities International Limited, Ayo Obilana told THISDAY that although he could not confirm the alleged extortion but proffered ways the illicit activities could be stopped.

Obilana, said there should be improved supervision of the activities of security operatives at the airport and that travellers should be sensitised on what they should not travel with and their right as travellers, so that they could resists exploitation by these operatives.

He also advised that the management of FAAN should convene a meeting of the airport security committee where the issue should be discussed and solution agreed on.

Obilana, added that Quarantine personnel should be made to publicise agro-based prohibited items and this should be displayed at the airport and remarked that Quarantine has no reason to be at the airport because it is not their responsibility to determine what agro item that should be taken out of the country but the country of destination, which has items that are not allowed in.