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How NIS Operatives Extort Travellers At Airports

Operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) and their counterparts in the Nigeria Immigration Services (NIS) have been fingered in the gale of extortions air travellers are subjected to at airports, a Daily Trust investigation has revealed.

Through open-source investigation and the help of social media tracking metrics, Daily Trust identified and contacted victims of airport extortion who shared their experiences.

Extortion of air travellers at airports is a corrupt practice entrenched within the security agencies in many countries, including Nigeria’s airports, of which operatives of the DSS, NIS, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), among others, are being accused.

Some of these security operatives, who are posted at various units to check-in, clear and scrutinise passengers’ passports, visas, luggage and other cargo shipment, are at the heart of alleged extortion scandals of air travellers; an action, that continues to compromise the ethical guidelines, security and safety standards of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

According to the 2022 Air Transportation Report by the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria recorded 8.7 million domestic and international arrivals and departures through its airports in 2021.

Despite this figure, travellers say corruption is prevalent at the country’s airport, in spite of government’s threats of sanctions.

In 2021, the federal government threatened to sanction security agencies, including heads of military and paramilitary organisations at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Nigeria’s biggest and one of Africa’s top five busiest airports, over widespread allegations of extortion.

This has not addressed the problem as air travellers who spoke with our correspondent recounted various methods of extortion by security agents.

Travellers recount ordeals 

“I got my dream job with an Australian company, but when working tools were sent to me by air, the DSS officials at the DHL unit of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, asked me to pay N100,000 or forfeit the tools to the Nigerian government,” said Mr. Samuel Ojo, a Lagos-based Nigerian who works in the financial services industry.

“We bargained for a long time, following which they extorted me N20,000 for a job I hadn’t even started,” he said.

Ojo said even after all the necessary checks on the consignment, and sharing requested documents with the officials, they threatened to seize the items if he refused to pay.

“They requested some documents, including an employment contract letter, a handwritten letter from the company, receipts of the items sent; as well as the identity cards of the sender and mine. I provided them with all the documents,” he said.

He said he was shocked by the attitude of the security agents, after explaining to them that the gadgets belonged to the company and that he was bound by his contract agreement to return them at the end of his contract.

He said they eventually settled on N20,000 which he told them he had the cash to pay.

Unlike Ojo, who was allegedly extorted at the courier unit of the Lagos airport in November, 2022, Hajiya Amina Ali was, on her part, allegedly extorted by officials of the NIS at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

“I was told I had no record of travelling abroad and needed evidence to obtain a permit to travel out of the country as a first-time traveller,” she said, narrating how some immigration officers attempted to sabotage her trip to Germany in 2022.

“I was confused, because that was my first international trip, and I had my visa and passport. But he insisted that I have to pay $100 to the immigration officer for a small sheet of paper that said “Okay to board’ which he signed,” she said

The ‘virgin passport’ technique

Amina, was extorted for carrying a ‘virgin passport;’ a new passport with no record of a trip.

Unlike in many other countries, Daily Trust gathered that the ‘virgin passport,’ technique is practised among officials of the NIS to delay and extort first time overseas travellers.

Afraid the delay could cause her to miss her flight, Amina said even though she was carrying her passport and visa, she was blackmailed into paying $100 for a ‘travel permit.”

FAAN confirms extortion allegations

The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN) said it is aware of the ongoing extortions at the nation’s airports and stressed that whoever is found guilty will not work at any airport again.

Daily Trust reports that in November 2021 and March 2022, FAAN apprehended and suspended some officials of the aviation security and customer services departments over cases of extortion.

The authority also withdrew the On-Duty-Card (ODC) of two officials of the NIS at the Lagos Airport over the extortion of a 14-year-old girl.

However, while reacting to allegations of continued extortions involving security agencies at Nigeria’s airports, FAAN spokeswoman, Faithful Hope-Ivbaze, said security agencies are independent of FAAN even though they operate within its space.

She referred this reporter to the mass sacking of officials at the airport because of such practises.

“We will continue to ensure that such persons are removed from the airport,” she said, adding that the authority had announced that anyone found guilty will not return to any of the country’s airports.

“These are part of the measures we are taking to ensure that all of these people are caught,” she said.

She stressed that the image of Nigeria was at stake due to such corrupt practises, and as such, FAAN will continue to seek the truth for the benefit of all.

8 NIS officers sacked, 88 facing disciplinary measures

A document containing the summary of junior staff disciplinary proceedings of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), held from June 2021 to date, which was obtained by Daily Trust, showed that the Orderly Trial Room Committee (ORTC) had tried 36 erring personnel of the service, while 11 are still pending.

The statistical analysis of all the trials that involved junior staff, over indiscipline behaviours comprising of extortion allegations showed four were dismissed, 14 were demoted, and another four discharged and acquitted.

It also showed that two were posted out to another location, while 11 were issued warning letters, and one sent on compulsory retirement.

However, speaking with our correspondent, the service PRO, Mr. Tony Akuneme, said the NIS recently sacked eight immigration officers over extortion allegations while about 88 others are currently facing various levels of investigation over different cases of indiscipline and misbehaviour, including extortion.

He stressed that the service will not wait until allegations against any of its officials are proven before taking preliminary actions on such officer.

“About a month ago, eight immigration officers were sacked for these kinds of things. Some officers were recalled from the airport because of allegations of extortion,” he said.

Our operatives not involved – DSS

Reacting, the spokesman of the DSS, Mr Peter Afunanya, said the allegations were not factual, stressing that DSS personnel are disciplined

“These are not factual. In November 2022 one Pelumi Olajengbesi accused the DSS personnel of engaging in unprofessional conduct at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos.

“The service, in a press release, swiftly denied that and challenged him to come forward with evidence and further details. He never did till now.

“Kindly note that the DSS personnel are assiduous and disciplined. They work under rules. When and if there is a breach or suspected breach of ethics, it is thoroughly investigated and addressed accordingly,” he said.

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