Stakeholders Insist Extortion, Soliciting for Cash Compromise Airport Security

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Chinedu Eze

Industry stakeholders and many airport users have condemned what has now become a tradition at the airports, where security operatives and other workers solicit or extort money from travellers.

The stakeholders said it is a damage to the image of the country, noting that it casts Nigeria as a poverty-stricken nation. They stressed that when going through the airports of poor countries in Africa, one is rarely confronted by beggars in whatever guise.

To make matters worse, aviation security experts insisted that soliciting for money from travellers compromise security because it encourages insider threat, such that airport officials are engaged by criminals and terrorists to gain access to the airport premises and may cause maximum damage to attract the highest level of publicity and attention.

Aviation security expert and CEO of Centurion Security Services, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) said it was dangerous for security operatives at the airports to be involved in soliciting or engaged in extortion of money from passengers.

Ojikutu warned that if there was no regular and proper profiling of security operatives, the airports would be exposed to insider threat and this would lead to gravy consequences.

“Who could be doing the begging or extortion at the airport? It is many of the airport workers, but it is more dangerous if the airport security officers are involved.

“Contract workers, mostly airports cleaners and aircraft loaders are known to engage in it. If there are no critical background checks on them before deployment to critical security controlled areas and their emolument are lower than others, they serve as the available hands that could be used by terrorist groups and therefore potential insider threats to whatever security systems that may be in place at the airport,” he said.

Regular travellers to international destinations know that security operatives at the nation’s airport solicit and sometimes extort money through threat from passengers.

A passenger who travelled out of the country on February 3, 2020, told THISDAY that soliciting for money starts from the entrance to the screening area, from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) aviation security (AVSEC) officials that check boarding pass and passport to the Immigration and mufti-wearing security operatives who examine and document travellers’ identities along with Immigration officials.

“When you are travelling the two AVSEC officials that sit together before you enter the D or E wings of the central search area will first smile at you and subtly request what you have for them.

“Then you go to the real screening of your passport and submission of the form you filled, those in civilian clothes, who I understand are members of the secret service, will seriously look at your papers; then when you are set to go, they will ask you what you have for them.

“Then after passing through the x-ray machine, the AVSEC personnel frisking you is at the same time asking you for money. Sometimes he will purposely touch your pockets and ask you what is inside, you will tell him it is money; then he will ask you pointedly to give him some money.

“So, the whole security apparatus is weakened because they are beggars and as security personnel, they will not be able to do their job in case of any infringement, if they have collected money from you,” the passenger told THISDAY.

Former General Secretary of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Mr. Olayinka Abioye said, “There is a big difference between what a passenger willingly gives out to any airport staff as a tip for whatever reason.

“Unfortunately, we have a very ugly situation in our hands when certain members of staff cleverly, stylishly, cunningly and or boldly requests or demands for money, without which services they are supposed to render and which they are paid for, becomes a favour.

“This is rampart and must be condemned and urgent solutions be proffered. It is a disgrace to our being a giant and big brother.”