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Wednesday 21 April 2021

The Real Thieves In The Nigerian Airports

As a young apprentice of  years of experience in a foreign land, I journeyed home on December 2020, for my eventual service disengagement and settlement. I traveled in the company of a friend who also was finally settled by his boss on completion of his apprenticeship. We embarked on the trip with all the required authentic travel documents.

At Lungi International Airport in Freetown, Sierra Leone, we smoothly checked in for a flight. No illegality or embarrassing issue was encountered from the officials. We touched down at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana, where we had yet another unencumbered and accommodating check-in before being transferred to a Lagos, Nigeria-bound flight. On arrival at Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, there was this air of corruption, discomfort and thievery everywhere.

Many people were spotted at the airport, moving randomly to and fro within the arrival hall. I took a close look at them, noticing the desperation and impudence with which some touts and unemployable street marauders strove to extort and undo innocent travelers. Their job therein, is to dimentionally observe the people from two positions.

Firstly, the people (travelers), must be observed with the intent of fishing out from amongst them though unknowingly, the nervous. Secondly, these airport touts must be able to also spot out, the travelers through their physical assessments, those that have  appreciable amount of money on them. Any passenger found guilty of either of these, automatically becomes a victim. They trailed such potential victims down to the counter and the complicit officials will be signaled that a big "fish" has just arrived. This compromised airport officials will then initiate a  mastered process of money extortion from the unsuspecting victim(s).

I and my friend on our arrival at the Lagos International Airport, did our normal check-out. At the counter, I encountered a lady aiport official of Igbo extraction. She collected my Covid-19 pass slip and requested that I should pay her any amount of my choice as a tip off so that I could be let off. This is because behind the Covid-19 slip, it was written "UNPAID". All Covid results from air passengers from Sierra Leone had theirs written "UNPAID" and the reason for this, I never figured out. Eventually, it was getting dark and I just had to part with five hundred naira (N500) to ease my passage and that was it. I got outside the hall after everything and was waiting for my friend. When he finally joined me, he was really in tears. He narrated his ordeal to me, saying that one Yoruba lady he encountered at the counter, threatened to hand him over to one military officer for detention, for failing to pay up some monetary demands. Two hundred and fifty United States dollars ($250) was extorted from him later, before being left off the hook. Both of us actually made payments for the Covid-19 tests in Freetown, Sierra Leone, before embarking on the trip. A total sum of eight hundred thousand leones (800,000 le), which is approximately eighty United States dollars ($80) was paid with our samples duly collected.

When it was the date of my return back to Sierra Leone, I had to embark on the journey with two new young men for my boss. They were to take over my position as apprentices in our business. My scheduled flight take off was billed for 10:50am local time. We got to the airport by 7:30am for the usual check-in procedures but then, met the worst case scenario ever to be encountered in my entire life. Soon on arrival at the airport, we got stocked at the first entrance gate where Covid-19 results were essentially required. No known offense of ours could be identified because our Covid-19 test results were genuinely intact and they all proved that we were negative to the virus infection. I got choked up. Some other persons with valid Covid-19 results were also innocently detained. Diverse amounts of money were paid both in Nigeria and United States currencies. We clearly packed, waiting to be attended to because I bluntly objected to the complicity of bribery or extortion as demanded by the officials, up to the tune of one hundred and fifty US dollars ($150) each from the three of us. After having extorted people, these airport officials discovered that I was unyielding, they allowed me passage, but held the two young men traveling with me, back. I strongly stood against their oppression and by this time, it was already 10:00am before we were all let go.

We proceeded and on getting to the counter in the hall where our passports needed to be signed, 10:30am departure time had already reached. Our take off flight was billed for 10:50am. We were stocked again for the flimsy excuse that the two young fellows traveling with me, have not traveled before as revealed by their passports. I was also detained as mine was freshly renewed on it's expiration on arrival in Nigeria. The officials demanded that each of us (three all together), should pay one hundred dollars which really got me irritated. At 10:45am, they were not ready to let us off even with other pending procedural issues  ahead of us. Frankly speaking, we happened to be the last set of people that were to board that flight that were yet stranded in the checking-in processes. All other passengers had already commenced boarding while we were yet left behind, grappling with the disgusting corrupt system of Nigeria.

I initially had it hot with the corrupt officials for the illegalities being brazenly displayed with a threat to institute a legal action against them. I earnestly demanded to know whom their boss was and was taken to one shabby office that looked like a toilet. They explained to one Alhaji who they claimed to be their boss all that transpired between me and them. His response was that we should go to the Immigration Office at Festac town, Lagos, to sort ourselves out. I had determined to pursue this matter not minding the cancelation of my flight so that this monstrous enemy called corruption in Nigeria, could be confronted. It was the intervention of an Igbo airport official (a man), who solicited that I amicably resolve the matter with them, that salvaged the situation. He told me that the ugly antecedents are the norm. He humanely pleaded with me, dousing the tension which eventually resulted in my parting with additional twenty thousand naira (N20,000) to them. We were however fortunate that other officials allowed us smooth passages without searching us to forestall further delays. As God may have purposed, the flight was delayed in our favor for additional ten minutes which aided our boarding by 10:55am.

The above narration clearly shows my unhealthy encounter with the Nigerian corrupt airport officials that have been duping innocent passengers for over the years. My encounter with them is a frequent encounter as I shuttle between Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

* Corruption In Nigeria Has Become An Indestructible Monster

The principal word here is "Corruption" which is as old as Nigeria herself. It has irretractably sank deep into the very fabrics of the existence of the country. The British colonialists so structured it before the flag independence of 1960. The country was founded on corruption and injustice before the diverse indigenous people groups with sharply divergent value systems, were forcefully contrapted therein. The British bequeathed the culture of looting and extortion to their Nigerian successors and it has become glaringly clear that even in this 21st century, the country is not ready to progressively chart a course and move on. The old, crude and disgusting ways of life, are yet being tenaciously cleaved onto. Both the government (public) and private sectors blatantly treasure the anomaly. Why should a country that is so naturally endowed, be reeling in such messy waters? Why should the government officials who are supposedly the people's servants, turn around to unleash wickedness, unfairness and principles of inequality on them?

My experience can be adjudged minor when compared to many other unprintable treatments many other private individuals and firms in various sectors go through on successive basis. Muhammadu Buhari and his abysmally clueless and anti-people government that promised fighting corruption to a standstill and recovering all looted funds, have shamelessly joined the league of "Corrupt Men And Women Association Of Nigeria (CMWAN)". There is absolutely no sanity or respect for the rule of law. The so-called recovered loots have been brazenly relooted with reckless abandon.

How can a country like this positively advance when it's leadership is gravely retarded and clueless about nation building and development? Nigeria cannot progress better than the present. The ideal thing to do is for the International Community to decisively sign the relevant documents that will facilitate a dissolution, hence every indices of peace and progress issuing from the indigenous ethnic nationalities vehemently support such. Biafrans and Oduduwas amongst others, can effectively manage their economies and the well-being their peoples respectively with enormous ease.

Written by Ifeanyi Chibueze James and Sunday Okafor

Fact Finders/Media Analysts For Family Writers Press International

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