Wed. Sep 27th, 2023

•As experts task FG to review travel protocol, exorbitant fees.

Ngozi James

Sarah Ciroma (not real name), a Nigerian who arrived from Kenya recently, has lamented how her international passport was seized at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja after authorities mandated her to do another Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test despite presenting a negative COVID test from Kenya. She has added to the growing number of voices calling for an investigation into the extortion and unwholesome practices by relevant officials at the entry and exit points of the country with regards to the COVID-19 tests and vaccination.

Ciroma decried that even after paying N39,500 for the test,  it was not conducted. She explained that before leaving for Kenya she had conducted a test,  and upon arriving in Kenya, the authorities in the country did not require another test. But said the case was different when she returned to Nigeria.

“I am fully vaccinated, with evidence of card presented. I complied with the travel protocols and I presented negative PCR from Nigeria and Kenya. I was allowed to travel on presentation of a negative PCR which costs N39, 500. I did some tests in Kenya and presented them on arrival. 

“They insisted I pay for another PCR on arrival and choose a convenient place to do the test.  The question is if Kenya accepted ours on arrival and Nigeria accepted Kenya’s one on arrival, why are they insisting on another one? Again if they are concerned about the citizens, why would they accept my money and let me out without conducting the test?” she queried. She added that apart from multiple and repeat tests, “Nigeria’s COVID-19 test is one of the most expensive in the world”.

Ciroma worried that the repeat tests that travellers arriving in Nigeria are mandated to take are only an avenue to enrich the pockets of individuals and government officials,  stressing that the government is not interested in whether the passenger conducts the test or not; but forces travellers to pay huge sums by seizing or threatening to seize their passports. 

” I am a victim of forced travel document seizure by the officials to extort money from me. I think the government should look into these fraudulent activities,” she further lamented. 

Ciroma is one of the many travellers including foreigners who have had an unpleasant experience with regards to the COVID-19 test, several others have also alleged extortion by government officials. 

The Nigerian government initially mandates travellers to Nigeria to carry out a COVID-19 test at least 96 hours before entering the country, and the result of the test is to be updated to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s Nigeria International Travel Portal. 

But, since the resumption of international flights in Nigeria on September 5 2020, passengers who present negative PCR test results before boarding aircraft travelling to Nigeria, are also being made to pay for COVID-19 PCR repeat tests that would be carried out on them when they arrive in the country. 

Travellers are required to make use of the travel portal, pay for the repeat test in any private lab of their choice and proceed to do the test.

But many passengers, particularly Nigerians, who arrived in the country since the resumption of international flights are recounting tales of outright extortion and fraud perpetrated by government officials who supervise the enforcement of the COVID-19 guidelines at the Lagos and Abuja international airports. 

Also, different amounts are reportedly being collected from passengers as payment for the repeat tests, going by the testimonies of some returnees who appeared on a radio program in Abuja 

Narrating the experience of one of his brothers who recently travelled to Nigeria from Turkey, one Ohiare, a Nigerian who phoned into the Berekete Family program from his base in Turkey had said “One of my brothers travelled to Nigeria last week. Before leaving Turkey he did COVID -19 test and it is free here you get the result two days or a day before you travel and when you get to Nigeria you tender the result. 

“But when my brother tendered his result at the Lagos airport in Nigeria they asked him to pay N51,900 for another test in Nigeria. When he paid the money somebody came and told him that ‘if you don’t want to do the repeat test yourself, we can send somebody to do it for you. If you agree they will now tell you that somebody will go to the hospital where you are supposed to do the test to represent you.” 

Commenting on the matter, Adaobi Obyechi, a public health expert opined that mandating travellers to run another test after showing a negative PCR test from their destination should only be required of travellers who are not fully vaccinated or vaccinated at all. 

She noted that the guidelines which were instituted in 2020 were done due to the rising cases and fatalities as well as severe waves of the pandemic. According to her, since vaccination was rolled out worldwide, several nations have adjusted and are adjusting their travel guidelines. 

According to her, “the Nigerian government needs to review the travel protocol, mandating vaccinated travellers to carry out another PCR test even after presenting a negative test at a cost not necessary, ” she said. 

Reacting, the Nigeria Centre Disease Control (NCDC) said the COVID-19 pandemic has affected countries differently and health authorities have instituted safety protocols based on their unique situation. 

An official at the centre said, “Unfortunately for her (Ciroma), the test is still required as part of Nigeria’s travel protocol and it is instituted by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19; defaulters may be penalized if caught (e.g seizure of passports). Her payment is for the PCR test so she should follow up and ensure it’s done.”

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