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Touts, thieves on nation’s gateway

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Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos

Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos

Bolade arrived at the airport with high hopes of flying to Abuja after a torrid day. She had just informed her family she would make it after all.Notwithstanding the horde of stranded passengers at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos, she shoved her way to the counter with a hand-written receipt, handed to an airline official.

“This name is not in our system madam,” the official said after few punches on the keyboard. “No, check well. I just bought the ticket now,” replied Bolade.She froze when the reply came as negative again. Bolade, 43, dashed out of the terminal, straight to the opposite car park in search of the agent that a while ago, offered to get her ticket of an airline that is sure to fly.

Having combed the lot for about 20 minutes and her target not in sight, she gave up the chase. It dawned on her she had been swindled of N42, 000. An already bad day had turned worse. It was one of those Saturday afternoons that virtually all-outbound flights were canceled in Lagos, due to aviation fuel scarcity.

The fate of Bolade best describes the experience of some passengers that had fallen into the hands of touts, disguising as travel agents or protocol officers in airports nationwide.With aviation fuel scarcity, forcing airlines to cut their operations by 50 per cent, touts have multiplied in folds to offer help to (sometimes defraud) passengers that are desperate to travel in airports like Lagos; Abuja and Port Harcourt.

In and around GAT, Lagos, for instance, touts would be noticed right from the airport road, pleasantly demanding passengers’ destination. Amidst the ensuing chaos in the terminal, due to flight delays and cancelations, they would come around with a promise of getting a ‘sure’ flight ticket on an airline that has already been declared full by counter officials.

While some of the touts would succeed in getting the ticket for as high as N35, 000 to N45, 000 on an Economy class (as against about N23, 000) depending on the passenger’s status and time of bargain, others that are outright thieves would simply disappear into thin air with the fares.

A Security consultant, Kazeem Egbeyemi, said touting in and around airports was not new to the country, though an aberration by international standards.According to Egbeyemi, “On the other side, touts are there because they work in alliance with the airlines; otherwise they would not be there.

“The presence of touts in our airports show the security laxity in our environment. I know that aviation is highly regulated up to the environment around the aircraft. What we have shows is how well we value the rules and our security, particularly at this time of global terrorism threats.”

Security official, who identified himself as Abel, told The Guardian that Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has prohibited touting and they have been unrelenting in enforcing the law, especially within the GAT.Abel recalled that the Lagos Airport Police Command recently arrested 32 persons for unlawful entry and touting at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.

He said the airport had to be secure to guarantee the safety of passengers, airline operators and other users.The offences of touting and loitering within the airport contravene the provisions of Section 3(a) (b) and (e) of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) Laws, 2005. The law prescribes six months imprisonment for an offender, on conviction.

Top official at FAAN added that the agency had over time been waging war against touting within the airport environment, but he blamed the air passengers and airlines for encouraging and patronising touts.

The official, who would not want to be mentioned, said FAAN had put in place lots of security personnel in plain clothing at strategic places, at the airports and challenged the airlines to monitor their staff against aiding touts.

He said, “Most of the touts still around our airports work with the ticketing officers of the airlines. Without them, touting will not thrive. But you’d also realise that their activities have drastically reduced. It is not as brazen as it used to be because those still operating know the implication of being caught.

“Again, passengers should also stop encouraging them. They should book ahead, get to the airport on time and do whatever they have to do legally. That is the way they do in other places and the reason you hardly see touts around their airports.”


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