Despite Tightened Security, Illicit Goods Floods Lagos Airport Cargo Terminal - THISDAY
BY Chinedu Eze
Despite the close monitoring, tightened scrutiny and investigations to boost security around the airport, the cargo terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, is still a veritable route for the smuggling of drugs, weapons and other illegal goods, THISDAY checks have revealed.
However, airport officials and insiders who work at the cargo terminal have commended the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for their efforts at stemming the tide, insisting that illicit goods still have free passage through the terminal.
On Tuesday, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) announced that it intercepted military and police hardware along with hard drugs, including 162 cartons of banned Tramadol hydrochloride 225 and 250mg at the cargo section of the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos.
The Customs Area Controller of the Muritala Muhammed Airport Command (MMAC), Compt. Sambo Dangaladima, said the items were intercepted at the Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO).
Giving a breakdown, Dangaladima said, 309 pieces of Military helmets; 106 pieces of Military Armless Jackets; 352 pieces of ballistic body armoured pads and 119 pieces of Police Badges were intercepted.
Other contrabands intercepted were five pieces of bulletproof jackets; 33 pieces of body side ballistic pads and 105 pieces of ballistic chest plates, he added.
THISDAY spoke to the Managing Director of SAHCO, Mr. Basil Agboarumi, who commended the activities of NDLEA and Customs and stated that the federal government agencies were fully in charge of examination of cargo that leave Nigeria or arrive the country through their facility.
He said SAHCO as a company had its own security apparatus whose officials report to the federal government agencies if there is an incident or suspicion of cargo.
So Customs are fully in charge of cargo and carry NDLEA along, and if there are hiccups in the process, SAHCO should not be held responsible. He exonerated SAHCO and the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Plc, two of the biggest handling companies in Nigeria.
“We have our own internal security, we have scanners and Close Circuit Television (CCTV) and we monitor everything that go on in our premises. It is the duty of the agencies to arrest anyone suspected to have engaged on illicit deals. We don’t have the right to open anybody’s cargo. So we relate effectively with the officials of these two agencies. We have our bonded warehouse, which they are in charge. You cannot access the warehouse without Customs officials. Our role is to corporate with these agencies,” Agboarumi said.
He also said the NDLEA and Customs have the right to inspect goods, but it is the duty of SAHCO to provide the equipment and facilities to facilitate movement of these goods.
“All these agencies are located within the environment of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). SAHCO and NAHCO are gateways for goods in the aviation industry. Our clients make use of the gateway but the federal government agencies make sure that the right things are done and that banned products are not brought into the country. We have Aviation Security (AVSEC). Our security personnel are well trained and they go through various certifications. We also have external security officials who have obtained licence from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Our security personnel do not have the power to open anybody’s cargo. Our warehouse has full CCTV coverage and I commend NDLEA because they are doing well. They have the support of the US and the UK. They celebrate them because of the efficient job they do, ”he said.
He added that the duty of the federal government agencies is to track, identify and investigate and they cooperate with the handling companies. Agboarumi also stated that a lot of activities took place and that the agencies were doing their job but it is not every time that the public would hear about their exploits.
“If arrests are not being made it does not means that nothing is happening. We cooperate with them to ensure that nobody hides anything. We should also be praised for putting the right things in place. We work as partners. Customs are the custodians of the bonded warehouse. They search each cargo to ascertain what revenue that goes to government. They have scanners to do comprehensive examination and they share information with NDLEA. If there are drugs and other related prohibited goods they hand over the goods and suspect to NDLEA,” Agboarumi said.
A senior official in NAHCO told THISDAY that if there were any security breach in terms of bringing illicit cargo that Customs should be held responsible because the agency is fully in charge; that the handling companies are facilitators.
“You cannot open or close the bonded warehouse the presence of Customs officials. There are assigned Customs officers that are in charge. If there are two keys to the warehouse, they have one and we have one. When we resume in the morning we go together to open the warehouse and it is the same thing at the close of work. We cannot close it without them. It is their business to make sure that prohibited goods are not brought into the country,” the official said.
He said that FAAN does not have control over territorial borders; that Customs is in charge because “they know what is allowed and what is not allowed.
“So the ultimate security checks are under Customs,” he said.
Informed sources at the terminal told THISDAY that if such illicit goods and drugs were not finding their way out of the airport, the importers would have stopped importing through the airport.
“This thing is simple. If you ban foreign rice in Nigeria and you enter Balogun market in Lagos and you still see foreign rice you will know that those whose job is to ensure that foreign rice does not enter the country have compromised their job,” he said.