– by Temidayo Akinsuyi, Lagos
THERE was pandemonium at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport on Wednesday evening as travelers arriving Nigeria from the United Kingdom protested demand by officials of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that they pay N51,950 in to a private account for COVID-19 PCR test.
Daily Independent gathered that the passengers who arrived Nigeria from British Airways, Qatar and Lufthansa flights almost paralysed activities at the airport after officials could not provide a logical response to their question on why they should pay money belonging to the Federal Government into an individual account.
According to COVID-19 protocol from the Presidential Steering Committee and the NCDC, passengers who are travelling to Nigeria from any country must carry out a COVID-19 PCR test and test negative within 72 hours to the day of travel. Travelers must register on the Nigeria International Travel Portal (NITP) for a repeat PCR test to be carried out seven days after arrival.
The government also mandated that passengers arriving Lagos airport pay N50,400 for COVID-19 test, while the price varies for other states, including the FCT.
However, upon arrival at the Lagos airport, passengers who had difficulty in accessing the NCDC website to pay the fees were ordered to pay the sum of N51,950 in to a private account be longing to one Williams Oladipupo.
They were handed over a note that read, ‘1433844324, Access Bank, N51,950, Williams Oladipupo’. Those who did not have naira were asked to pay in foreign currency. They were debited 95 pounds each.
A young lady stationed at the desk already had the account number written on a sheet of paper. After confirming payment, she will then write down the name of the passenger, email, telephone number, passport number, nationality and preferred laboratory where they want the test to be conducted.
Trouble started when one of the passengers, a Nigerian, who claimed he had lived most of his life in the UK, demanded to know why monies belonging to the Federal Government should be paid into a private account. The young lady could not offer any explanation. She said she was only acting on the instruction given to her.
The response of the lady infuriated the passenger, who raised his voice, saying it is illegal for monies belonging to the Federal Government to be paid to into an individual account. He insisted he won’t pay the money and doesn’t care if the Federal Government seizes his passport.
Other passengers, who had earlier paid and those who were yet to pay, joined the man in asking why they were assigned to different laboratories but were asked to pay in to the same private account. It took the efforts of the security operatives at the airport to calm the riotous situation.
According to her, it is only in Nigeria that a mandatory fee demanded by the Federal Government is being paid into a private account.
“What manner of country is this? This country is not just working. Anyone saying that this country is working has not stepped his feet out of Nigeria or he is benefiting from the corrupt system.
“You can imagine what is happening here. How can you ask citizens to pay monies requested by the government into an individual account? Who authorised it? Is the Federal Government aware of this? This is Lagos State, is Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu aware? Until we learn to speak out and demand that the proper thing is done, this country will not move forward.
“The directive was for in bound passengers to Lagos to pay N50,400 but they are demanding N51,950. Who gets the extra N1,550. Imagine the number of passengers arriving Lagos every day. The EFCC should please look into this”.
Also speaking, another passenger, who said she was heading to Ibadan in Oyo State but was delayed at the airport for almost two hours because of the fee, said she was made to pay with 95 pounds which is far higher than the original amount (N50,400) she was supposed to pay.
“My worry now is, will I still pay another money if I go to the laboratory? A friend of mine paid this money few days ago but she did not receive any mail or text calling her to come for test. She had to visit another laboratory on her own and paid so that her passport will not be confiscated or barred from traveling because she travels a lot for business”, she said.
When contacted, officials of NCDC and Ministry of Health declined to speak on the matter. They, however, directed our correspondent to the Lagos State government under whose jurisdiction the incident took place.
When contacted, Dr. Bamidele Mutiu, the Director, Lagos State Bio-Bank, promised to investigate the development and get back to our correspondent.
When he called back, Mutiu confirmed that Williams, the owner of the account the passengers were asked to pay into is one of their staff.
He said the provision was made when the passengers were having difficulty assessing the NCDC website and difficulty in making the payment.
He, however, said he has ordered a further investigation to ascertain whether what was paid into Williams account is the actual amount remitted to the Federal Government’s account.
He promised that the investigation will be transparent and the media will also be present to verify it.
Also speaking, Gbenga Omotosho, the Commissioner for Information, Lagos State, said the government will carry out a detailed investigation on the issue.