by NIYI JACOBS
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) faces an uphill battle as it grapples with the relentless and damaging issue of touts plaguing the country’s airports, raising concerns about Nigeria’s global image.
Despite multiple attempts to eliminate touting and its associated illicit activities, FAAN’s efforts have yielded little success, leaving a stain on the nation’s reputation.
Both unsuspecting air travellers and airport users have fallen victim to these touts, suffering financial losses and acquiring forged documents at discounted rates.
Last year in January, FAAN apprehended 90 individuals engaged in touting and other nefarious conduct at the Lagos and Abuja airports.
Shockingly, among the arrested were employees from a handling company, cleaning services, and other airport workers.
Investigations reveal that touts at Nigerian airports fall into three distinct categories: outside touts, retired staff touts, and airport staff touts.
The outside touts gain unauthorized access to the airports through relationships with certain personnel, while retired staff exploit their previous roles to engage in unlawful activities within the airport premises, retaining old Identification Cards and On-Duty Cards (ODCs).
These retirees once served in government agencies such as FAAN, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), airlines, catering services, and ground handling companies.
Wearing their uniforms, they cunningly deceive air travelers into believing they are genuine airport workers.
Intriguingly, the third group comprises existing staff members from various agencies, airlines, and organizations who exploit their positions to swindle or assist air travelers.
Some even access restricted areas with valid ID cards and ODCs, exploiting their authority.
Collaborating closely with approved airport staff, all three classes of touts perpetuate their criminal activities in a chain-like operation.
The lucrative nature of touting is a significant driving force behind its persistence.
Our sources suggest that touts earn an average of N5,000 daily, while some adept individuals can pocket up to N10,000 in a single day, depending on their connections and activities.
These touts offer an array of unauthorized services, from procuring fake and genuine air tickets to facilitating boarding processes and obtaining travel documents like the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP), commonly known as yellow cards.
For a price, they also help passengers with disembarkation, acting as unregulated cab operators, among other services.
In their quest for additional earnings, touts often impose extra charges on travellers who avail themselves of their assistance.
This exploitative behavior has led to instances of unsuspecting passengers receiving unapproved and potentially harmful documents.
Stakeholders within the Nigerian aviation industry express deep concern over the menace of touts and their adverse effects on air travellers’ experiences.
Grp. Capt John Ojikutu, CEO of Centurion Securities Limited and former Commandant of Nigeria Air (NAF) at the Lagos Airport, emphasizes that tackling touting requires proactive action from the Airport Security Committee, comprising all airport agencies and organizations.
He said: “Every airport has a security committee, but how often are they doing their jobs along that line? That is an internal problem.
“External problem is the location of the airport; the airport is located within the uncontrolled urban area. You go to the right, you are at Mafoluku, Akowonjo, Oshodi, Egbeda and you see Ikeja on the left side of the airport. There is no demarcation to indicate the airport premises.
“That is where we need to adopt the minimal distance in Document 8973 in safeguarding the airport lands.
There is a minimum distance between the airport perimeter fence and the airport itself. We have seen on numerous occasions where intruders scale the fence to the airport.”
Mr Olumide Ohunayo, Director of Research at Zenith Travels Limited, points out that touting negatively impacts airport facilitation processes, discouraging air travel.
He advocates for the automation of airport facilities and a comprehensive review of FAAN’s On-Duty-Card issuance procedures as potential remedies.
“As you discourage travel, you begin to increase insecurity within the airports because the touts are there, there are no jobs, then, they will be looking for jobs to do and that is one of the things that contributed to the stealing of the runway lighting.
“Again, the poor and very unfriendly facilities process within the airport itself has increased touting because oftentimes, people don’t want to go through the rigorous process of boarding screenings at our airports. They will rather look for somebody who can do all these, just pay the people and walk through the counters.
“We must continue to automate the systems that every agency or organisation are using at the airport to reduce touting and the process of issuing the ODC by FAAN should be reviewed.”
Aviation consultant Capt. Peter Adenihun calls for stringent background checks on airport workers and heightened vigilance to keep touts at bay.
Additionally, he urges the government and airport authorities to foster a more business-friendly and efficient airport environment.
“You just go to most of our airports, the situation is terrible. Meanwhile, the airports are supposed to be odour-free.
These are the things we are talking about putting the round peg in a round hole.“We need round pegs in round holes.
If we have a minister who is a professional and we have the directors, the General Managers and CEOs of all the six aviation agencies that are equally professionals and even the minister him/herself, why should we have challenges in the industry? But, in a situation where you have non-aviation professionals heading critical places in the industry, we cannot perform any magic,” he said.
As FAAN grapples with the challenge of eradicating touts, Nigeria’s airports and its international image remain at stake.
A collaborative effort from all stakeholders is essential to ensure the safety and security of travellers while upholding Nigeria’s reputation on the global stage.