FAAN: Ridding the airports of touts

Disturbed by the bad reputation which touts give Nigerian airports, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has begun to rid the Lagos Airport of miscreants and address some other critical safety issues, reports IME AKPAN
The Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos serves as a major hub for the Nigerian air transport industry since it came on stream 39 years ago.
Located in Ikeja, the airport consists of an international and a domestic terminal, located about one kilometre from each other.
Of late, the Federal Airports Authority (FAAN), which manages the airport and 21 others (five international terminals, including MMIA) has come under tremendous pressure from stakeholders such as public, government and regulatory bodies to improve the image of its airports for better passenger experience, competitive edge and survival.
One area that has been the focus of stakeholders is touting, a phenomenon which has given airports and FAAN a bad reputation.
Realising the bad image that touts have given to airports the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo launched the Executive Order last year and stated unequivocally that those who do not have anything to do at airports should not be found there, especially at a critical time like this when there are security threats.
“There shall be no touting whatsoever by official or unofficial persons at any port in Nigeria. On duty staff shall be properly identified by uniform and official cards. Off duty staff shall stay away from the ports except with the express approval of the agency head.
“All non-official staff shall be removed from the secured areas of airports. No official of FAAN, immigration, security agency or ministry of foreign affairs or any other agency is to meet any non-designated dignitary at any secure areas of the airport. The official approved list of dignitaries that have been pre-approved to be received by protocol officers shall be made available to aviation security AVSEC and other relevant agencies ahead of their arrival at the airport.
“Any official caught soliciting or receiving bribes from passengers or other port users shall be subject to immediate removal from post and disciplinary as well as criminal proceedings in line with extant laws and regulations,” said Osinbajo.
Consequently, FAAN has taken the challenge to ensure a drastic reduction in touts and touting activities at MMIA and all the international gateways in the country by putting the necessary machinery in place to check the menace.
A visit to MMIA revealed that FAAN had strengthened security particularly on the road leading to the airport and around the new multi-storey car park and areas around it to ward off loafers.
The ubiquitous recharge card sellers and some suspicious characters who would always hang around to ‘help’ arriving and/or travelling passengers with their luggage or help them get taxi to their destinations had all disappeared.
In addition, women who used to lounge under parasols selling all sort of wares have been sent away while hustlers that would hang around the gate to the terminal building and departure hall to hawk passport pouches had been cleared.
At the hajj and cargo terminal of the airport, FAAN set up a task force to screen operations in a bid to curb illegal activities and eliminate touting.
It went a step further to restrict commercial activities at the terminal to 12 hours (7am-7pm) from the initial 24 hours period.
The Terminal Manager, Hajj and Cargo Terminal, Mr. Asizehi Musa said the essence of the task force was not to threaten any agency or operator, but to ensure sanity at the terminal, reduce touts and touting activities and make the nation’s airports in compliant with the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards.
To make the new initiative a success, Musa said FAAN would provide a patrol vehicle to monitor activities at the terminal and ensure that only those who have business to transact within the terminal are allowed in.
Musa assured that FAAN would cooperate with all stakeholders especially the cargo agents, Nigeria Customs Service, ground handling companies, Nigeria Police and other stakeholders within the terminal.
“For many years, the issue of access control has been on the front burner and it seems the FAAN is incapacitated, which is not true. But, we can’t allow things to continue like this. Access control is very important and necessary to the safety of all users.
Blueprint learnt that although security operatives may not be seen moving around the airport; every movement made within and around the airport is under surveillance.
It was gathered that as soon as any strange movement is noticed, the nearest security operative or patrol team is alerted and instructed on what to do without the knowledge of the suspect.
Speaking in an interview, the spokesman for Airport Command of the Nigeria Police Force, Mr. Joseph Alabi, said there had been a drastic reduction in the number of suspected criminals arrested, prosecuted and convicted at the facility in the last six months compared to what obtained in the past.
“The security measures put in place in the airport have kept criminals away from the airport environment. They are aware and sure that they would be arrested, prosecuted and jailed if they attempt to come in.
“There is a drastic reduction in the arrest, prosecution and conviction of criminals including touts who used to carry out their illegal businesses in the airport environment. When compared to what obtained in the same period last year, there is a great difference. We are happy about that. This is because security measures put in place are yielding positive results.
“Criminals are sensitive human beings; they know where their operations could flourish without getting into trouble. Since they don’t want to be caught in their criminal act; they run away from where they suspect that their operations would fail. And that is the situation in Lagos airport today,” he said.
For her part, FAAN’s general manager, public affairs, Mrs. Yakubu said the agency had been able to tackle the issue of touts at the airport stressing that “the airport is now free from touts.”
“If you go to the airport now it is very sterile. We have been able to handle the issue of the touts; you know we are working with the police. Nobody that has no business in the airport should get into the airport now. It is either you have a boarding pass or you have staff ID or a visitors’ card. If you don’t have any of these documents, you are not allowed into the airport. We are working with the police, when we arrest we hand them over to the police, for the police to take them to the court. It is not FAAN that releases them.
“Now they are being fined and they must pay a fee; they are made to pay a fee; some are even being remanded now and they know it is no longer business as usual. We now have sniffer dog in front of MMIA; anybody found milling around the airport without any business is arrested. I tell you, we have been able to deal with the issues of touts,” she said.
Yakubu also stated that the agency had taken steps to eliminate touts and touting activities at other 21 airports.
“It is not restricted to the Lagos Airport. Operation get rid of touts and touting activities is going on at all FAAN-managed airports,” she added.
At the air side, the agency has not left anything to chance to secure that critical area of the airport.
In 2010, thieves operating from the Shasha/Akowonjo axis took advantage of the porous nature of the airport and invaded the clearing area of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Co Plc where they stole 20 direct data capture (DDC) machines belonging to the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC).
An official of FAAN at MMIA who craved anonymity said infiltration from the airport host communities had been curtailed adding that MMIA and others were undergoing swift changes.
He said FAAN had spent millions of naira on the completion of the fencing of the airport’s operational area.
He explained that fencing of the operational area was aimed at confining authorised persons to the operational area and preventing unauthorised persons from going to that area. Besides, he said fencing of the operational area of the airport was an additional security measure and part of federal government’s approved project.
Recently too, FAAN began evacuation of disused aircraft from the airside, beginning from MMIA.
Yakubu said the exercise had been completed in Lagos while the team would move to the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kaduna Airport and others explaining that abandoned aircraft constitute danger to safety and smooth operation of airworthy aircraft.
She said the relocation became necessary so as to give more space for aircraft to land, take off and manoeuvre as expected during operations at the air side.

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