Chinazor Megbolu |
A couple weeks ago, the media was agog with reports that some airport officials were allegedly demanding bribe from returnees after lockdown on air travel was eased.
Due to this allegation, the Federal Government through the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) initiated investigation into the cash demand allegation made against some officials of Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, by the returning passengers of evacuation flights.
FAAN had recently disclosed via its Twitter account and charged all passengers to resist and report any such demand on the spot to airports’ authorities, noting that all Covid-19 protocols put in place at the airports are free for passengers and does not attract any charges whatsoever.
In order to unravel the veracity of this allegation, our correspondent spoke with some returnees from different countries and airports in Nigeria.
During a phone call interview, Mr. Mohammed Yusuf, whose child was a beneficiary of a successful heart surgery in Sudan, courtesy of Kanu Heart Foundation (KHF), on their return after 6 months said: “There was no problem when we returned at the airport. The officials made us to undergo tests, having found out we were returnees from the KHF sponsored heart surgery trip abroad.
“We thank God that after the 14 days, the results came out and none of us was declared positive. We came in and there was no issue. We thank God for everything”
Another returnee from Sudan, Mrs. Oluwakemi Okeowo, whose child was also a beneficiary of KHF open heart surgery, debunked the bribery allegation.
According to her; “not at all. There was nothing of such like bribery demands from the airport officials. We were tested and made to fill forms as well as being given kits with which to test our temperatures every morning and night.
“Later, we were also asked to come for Covid-19 test and it was peaceably done including observing the normal protocols like; social distancing, putting on of facemasks and regular usage of hand sanitizers.
“We were even the ones begging them that we are from Lagos but we were told to observe the 14 days period.
“There was nothing of such from us, 8 families that returned from Sudan.
“If they wanted to collect bribe, they would have told us especially when we told them we are Lagos based residents but they never did. Instead, we were made to observe the 14 days isolation period”.
However, the National Coordinator, KHF, Pastor Onyebuchi Abia, had a contrary opinion.
“The officials do collect bribe if such person don’t want to wait for the 14 days quarantine period. It was a kind of; tip us and go home,” he said.
“If you don’t give money, they allow you to go through protocols but if you do, you will go by not subjecting you to the mandatory 14 days quarantine period.
“But they didn’t demand bribe from those returnees on the sponsorship of Kanu Heart Foundation due to the mutual relationship between KHF and the Federal Government.
” However, a friend called and told me his younger brother, who returned from abroad last month said he saw the airport officials returning passports to some people same day and asked them to go home and shut out others who couldn’t part with money to skip the 14 days quarantine period ” ,Abia said.
He maintained that the friend actually called to verify if such act was meted out to his entourage and he said no.
Two other men who returned from Dubai two weeks back and wanted to remain anonymous during a phone conversation said:
“There was no extra charges collected from us. They only took our passport, told us to come pick it up in two weeks time with our Covid-19 test result”
Another air traveller, Mr. Austine Nkeaka, believed that the allegation could be true having been a victim a couple of times at the Muritala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos.
He said that anytime he was traveling, the officials always ask him for a tip and refusal to offer them such tips attracts delay from them.
“Bribery is the order of the day . I always battle with them a lot traveling through Lagos airport.
“They always delay me for refusing to part with a dime and I will always threaten them that if I miss my flight, it will be another battle,” he said.
With the statements from respondents, it shows there are bad eggs or Judas in the midst of the airport officials.
If such bribery allegations is true, then it’s a betrayal of trust, which could one way or another spread the dreaded pandemic instead of curtailing it.
Even though the Federal Government has opened an Investigation into the matter, it remains to be seen if anything good can come out of it.
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