Fred reflects on incidences of extortion at our ports of entry that shows how corruption has refused to go away.

Two incidents recently renewed public attention to the endemic corruption and extortion by agencies of government deployed at entry points into the country.

Firstly, the customs lady at the Muritala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos, who demanded N5,000 from a passenger carrying foodstuffs.

Secondly, the professor from the US who was extorted at Seme border, arrested by the police in FESTAC, and was at the verge of being taken away until a crowd intervened and the policemen ran away rather shamelessly.

Of the two incidents, which were widely shared on social media, the airport aspect has received the attention of the Nigerian Customs Services (NCS) and “is being investigated.” While we await the outcome of the investigation, let us ponder and examine the issues.

The passenger at the airport was lucky to get away. The professor at the Seme border was also lucky to get away after being extorted by the numerous checkpoints that litter that stretch of the road between Nigeria and its francophone neighbours. His problem was having USD and carrying an expired Nigerian passport. Despite that, the government had approved that those with expired passports can return and renew them before departing. But our corrupt officials will have none of that. They are the law.

Nigerians routinely report that many travellers allegedly lose their property or their lives to thieving security agents. God save you if you’re found in possession of foreign currencies, especially the USD, Euro, or the GBP. Even if nothing illegal is found on you, they must find something illegal according to their dictates.

At our airports, the first point of contact with the outside world, what goes on there is shameful. Anybody who has used our airports will attest to the shameful conduct of our officials. These range from blatant begging to outright extortion. It is at the discretion of the officers to determine what you should carry and what you should come in with.

For instance, I came in from London in August last year and was stopped and briefly detained by a young lady in her 30s. My offence was that I had four seedless oranges I was licking before boarding the flight. The moment she saw them, she declared like a judge, “You know you’re not supposed to bring them in?” Bring in four seedless oranges? What shamed me the more was that her supervisor, who was watching nearby, rather than call her to order, warned me to cooperate, or he’d order them to search me “extensively.” At that point, I dared him to do so. I went on a lecture of sorts and told them how disappointed I was at their conduct each time I came back to the country. I challenged them to show me a law that forbade me from “bringing FOUR SEEDLESS ORANGES into the country.” At that point, it dawned on them that ‘dis one no be mugu. ‘ So, they went on an abuse tirade. I returned the abuses and left unscathed.

Many people have had similar experiences in the hands of these officers. Many people get extorted daily. I recall an incident at Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. Four traders from the Onitsha Main Market missed their flight because they refused to yield to extortion. They watched as their flight departed. The officers cared less.

The shameful conduct of these officers rubbishes the good works of the few who genuinely do their jobs in accordance with our extant laws. It is also part of the endemic corruption ravaging our nation. Everywhere you turn, somebody is demanding and receiving gratification before doing his or her job. From the civil servants to journalists down to lecturers and to gate men. Everybody is in a rat race to extort. The police and those at these entry points come in contact with people daily. So, their malfeasance is often reported more. But corruption goes on and on daily on all fronts, including in churches. We are indeed a corrupt people.

But since our focus is on the two incidents, can we ask why there are many security posts on our entry points? Why must citizens returning to their fatherland be subjected to such horrendous experiences by their own security officials? Why do we have so many officers at the airports? Can’t the number be pruned? Can’t there be mystery shoppers to check the shameful and corrupt conduct of these officers? Why must passengers be made to submit their travel documents to two officers at the airport before being cleared to enter their country? Who among the agencies are statutorily authorised to screen passengers? I saw FAAN officials in Enugu searching passengers’ luggage. Is this right?

It is not enough to investigate the lady caught demanding N5,000 and make a scapegoat of her. So many of them line up the routes, and they all extort. This lady was unfortunate because she was stupid. If she had collected the N1,000 offered by the passenger, this wouldn’t have come to light, and the extortion goes on and on.

If we want to stamp out this shameful conduct at our airports and borders, something more drastic needs to be done. Investigating this customs lady and punishing her won’t stop the extortion at our airports. She is in the league with others, including her supervisors. Her colleagues in the spirit of esprit de corps would come to her defence and contribute money for her. If she gets sacked, that removes just one corrupt officer. Since she was exposed, the extortion had not ceased.

It goes on and on.

Fred Chukwuelobe, fnipr


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