Not a few believed that solving Nigeria’s aviation problem is not rocket science and one that is very achievable. Like magic, sanity seems to be returning to Nigeria’s premier airport, the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, courtesy Acting President Yemi Osinbajo’s executive orders, which tend to seek ways to ease difficulty in doing business in the country.
First was resolving the chaotic and not too straight forward issuance of visa on arrival for foreigners coming into the country.
But the most welcoming of the actions taken by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and other agencies is the removal of the irritating checks ‘bribe’ tables at MMIA. Just last weekend, the agency removed the physical check tables at the departure hall of the terminal and also desks belonging to Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Many of the security personnel at the airport use the excuse to physically check passengers’ luggage to extort money from them.
For many years, long tables were strategically positioned beside check-in counters. All the security officials take turn to check same luggage, thereby creating delays for airlines to check-in passengers and also leading to several hours of unnecessary delay.
In other climes, it takes less than 20 minutes to check-in and go through screening. In Nigeria, it could take as long as three hours or more. The manual screening by the uniformed is not only archaic but no longer in tandem with global practice.
The most annoying part of it is that intending passengers’ luggage are screened as they enter the terminal through screening machines. Despite the deceit that they do manual screening to detect drugs, drug carriers are still nabbed because manual screening leaves a lot of loopholes to traffickers to exploit to their advantage.
Since the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, airports in the UK have used computed tomography (CT) scanners, similar to those used in hospitals, to generate a three-dimensional image of baggage checked in by passengers. CT machines were also introduced for international and domestic flights in the US after 9/11.
But the minivan-sized machines, costing about $1.5 million are too expensive to use for in-flight luggage, which instead passes through x-ray machines. Bags with unidentifiable objects are checked by hand.
Because the x-ray images are two-dimensional, staff often have difficulty even locating the object, so searches take longer. In some places, passengers are checked using low-tech and labour-intensive methods. All passengers walk through metal detectors, and about one in 10 undergo random checks using hand-held detectors of explosives.