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Nigerians decry passenger extortion at airports

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The relentless extortion of travellers by immigration and other security officials at major airports the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja among others have been recently been condemned by many Nigerians on a popular radio programme.

Participants at an anti-corruption radio programme in Abuja heaped the blame on systemic corruption, faulty recruitment, and poor remuneration of the extortionists.

An investigative report published recently by Daily Trust had fingered operatives of the Nigeria Immigration Services (NIS) and other security agencies in the gale of corrupt practices with the searchlight on the two most prominent airports in the country.

In an an anti-corruption radio programme, Public Conscience on Wednesday in Abuja, Daily Trust’s journalist, Usman Balarabe said findings show that Lagos and Abuja airports are major hubs for extorting air travellers.

According to Balarabe, immigration officers apply different schemes to extort money from unsuspecting air passengers, and adding that the investigation was borne out of the outcry of people and the need to end the menace of criminality at airports.

He said: “There is something they (Immigration officers) call divided passport techniques. Immigration officials usually use the technique at various airports, especially international airports, to extort passengers who are first-time travellers or people who have no record of travelling overseas.

“When travelling, regardless of whether you have your visa, passport and everything, having known that it is your first time travelling, they will frustrate you in such a way that they will force you into parting with a sum of money because you will be afraid since it is your first time travelling”.

Balarabe insisted that the Federal Government can cure the prevalence of sharp practices at airports by ensuring adequate consequences for actions, getting recruitment of personnel that work at airports right and better remunerations.

“The security agencies should put mechanisms in place to ensure that anyone caught engaging in such menace should be dealt with immediately. Also, the government needs to sanitize recruitment processes and increase the welfare or remuneration of staff”, he said.

A public good advocate, Prince Kevin Fyneface said that security agencies working at airports are not new in extorting, noting that the government continues to find it challenging to stop extortion going on at airports due to poor reward system in public service, corrupt recruitment process and poor remuneration.

To fix the problem of bribery and other forms of corruption at airports, Fyneface stressed that Nigeria must focus on purely merit-based recruitment, advising that Nigeria should emulate Western countries where personality clarity profiling is used to assess job applicants before recruitment.

“Get people who are truly qualified for those positions. Not everybody is designed to work in immigration. Yes, we have the quota system that we must look out for, but the quota system must be based on merit.

“We have to look at remuneration. The average police and immigration officer earns far less than they work. You cannot be generating so much money, and you’re not giving them the right remuneration”, Fyneface warned.

Callers into the programme decried extortion and other ill-treatment at airports.

A caller from Abuja, who identified himself as Tochukwu, shared his experience: “If you’re not ready to part with your money to the immigration officials, that’s when they begin to unnecessarily, rigorously search you to frustrate you to hurry you to give them money. It’s ugly to be treated as a foreigner in your own country”.

According to the Daily Trust report, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria is aware of the ongoing extortions at the nation’s airports and has vowed to stop anyone found guilty from working in any airport again. The Nigeria Immigration Service, through its Public Relations Officer, said the service has been taking disciplinary actions over extortion allegations, stressing that “the service will not wait until allegations against any of its officials are proven before taking preliminary actions on such officers”.

Public Conscience is a syndicated weekly anti-corruption radio programme produced by the Progressive Impact Organization for Community Development to draw government and citizens’ attention to corruption and integrity issues in Nigeria.

The programme has the support of the MacArthur Foundation.

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