In reaction to multiple charges and official extortion at the nation’s ports of entry, the House of Representatives has begun moves to harmonise all security agencies into a single unit.
The model, which is the standard practice at modern airports globally, aims to neuter bureaucratic bottlenecks and malfeasance that connive to mock the Federal Government’s Ease of Doing Business initiative.
Already, aviation stakeholders have warmed up to the reform on free movement of persons and goods, describing it as overdue. The Guardian recently reported that perennial sundry charges that are levied at local and international airports nationwide placed Nigeria among the most expensive aviation countries in Africa.
In fact, foreign cargo airlines and local exporters are fast ditching the multi-billion-dollar worth of Nigeria’s agro-export end over stifling official bottlenecks at airports.
Besides the hurdles of importing into the country, more complicated roadblocks have been mounted by government agencies in the forms of extortions, harassments and over 16 multiple charges on export goods, causing international cargo airlines to prefer flying out of Nigeria empty.
The development caused Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, to summon a meeting of members of the House Committee on Aviation, Committee Chairman on Health, leaderships of all the agencies operating at airports and the Special Adviser to the President on the Ease of Doing Business, Dr. Jumoke Oduwole.
Conspicuously absent at the meeting held this week, however, were the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), whose officials have consistently got fingered as the worst culprits.
At the end of the session, The Guardian learnt that the Chairman, House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, other Committee Chairmen, and heads of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), were directed to come up with a Bill that would ensure a single security outfit similar to Transport Security Administration, (TSA) in the United States of America, within two weeks.
Gbajabiamila charged that the menace of touting and extortion at the airports must be tackled with more stringent measures, adding that the problems remained unabated because there were no severe consequences.
He recommended that travelling through the airports must be made as seamless as possible, noting that the level of stress and discomfort travellers go through must be eliminated.
Nnaji earlier sought the Federal Government’s intervention to assist FAAN in fixing ageing infrastructure at various airports, especially the busy Lagos and Abuja facilities.
Special Adviser to the President on Ease of Doing Business, Dr. Jumoke Oduwole, reckoned with Nnaji that the principality posture of government officials berates the Ease of Doing Business and antithetical to Foreign Direct Investment’s (FDI) drive of the Federal Government.
Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), a think-tank group of the local industry, has thrown its weight behind the centralisation of security screening checkpoints, describing the perennial multiple checks as “a disgrace to the country”.
President of the group, Gabriel Olowo, said if the current House of Representatives could enforce the reform, the image of Nigeria would improve greatly and make Ease of Doing Business achievable.
Olowo, who is also the President of Sabre Travel Solutions, Central and Western Africa, said it was necessary for the Federal Government to sanitise Nigerian airports.
He added that if the Transport Security Administration (TSA) of the United States could centralise security information, Nigeria should not be an exemption.
“The lawmakers are thinking of giving Nigeria something close to TSA. That is, sharing security information and just having one security checkpoint at the airports. That is cheering news for me and the entire body of ASRTI is throwing its weight behind this.
“Most of the time, when policy statements come out, implementation always becomes a big task. We have spoken at various times on this matter. Our Secretary General, Group Capt. John Ojikutu, has released a lot of documents on how this can be done several years ago.
“The Vice President Yemi Osinbajo came to the airport and issued a statement on this matter. These many checkpoints disappeared at a time. I don’t know whether the directive was gazetted or not. We have discussed many issues and matters, but implementation has always been our problem. If that will be our Christmas gift for 2021 for the sector, get it done and sanitise our airports,” he said.
According to Olowo, in the U.S. for instance, all the information about a passenger, including criminal records, corruption, drugs and others, are in one database and accessible to all security agents.
“Their screenings are in three stages only. Once the check-in is done, you have your boarding pass, you go to the security door and once that is done, you are in the screening area and then proceed. It is as simple as that. But here, all these many checkpoints at our airports, unnecessary compliments from officers and ‘what do you have for the boys?’ all give us a bad image as a country and should stop forthwith,” Olowo said.