An investigation by SaharaReporters has revealed how a Nigerian syndicate involving immigration officials at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, and airport staff in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, work closely to frustrate travellers from Nigeria.
The syndicate, which mostly target first-time travellers from Nigeria, use fear and blackmail to hoodwink victims into parting ways with at least a $50 (about N29,000) bribe money before being allowed to fly to Addis Ababa from Lagos and to their final destinations.
Travellers, who fail to offer this amount of bribe even if their documents are in order, are allowed to fly out of Lagos to the Ethiopian capital but they are illegally held over there and eventually deported to Nigeria.
Findings by SaharaReporters revealed that dozens of Nigerians have fallen victim to this notorious cartel in the last one month alone, leaving many of them frustrated and unable to reach their intended destination despite having all travel documents complete and not breaching any immigration laws.
A handful of victims, who spoke with SaharaReporters, disclosed how they were threatened and eventually sent back to Nigeria from Addis Ababa on their way to Europe, America and Asia simply because they failed to offer bribes at Lagos airport on their way to their destination en route Ethiopia.
One victim, Mrs Clara Adoghe, who was heading to Toronto, Canada, three weeks ago, told SaharaReporters that despite offering an immigration official N5,000 handout at Lagos airport, the man insisted on collecting $50 before allowing her travel successfully.
According to her, the immigration officer threatened to ‘teach her a lesson’ for refusing to dance to his tune, adding that it was until she got to the Ethiopian capital that she understood what he meant.
“The immigration official in Lagos told me plainly that since I didn’t want to drop the $50 he requested, I was going to learn a hard lesson in Addis Ababa. He collected N5,000 from me and still issued that threat.
“Immediately we arrived in Ethiopia and was waiting to be screened at the airport, an official walked up to me and collected my passport before asking me to leave the queue.
“He later handed me over to a Nigerian man, who was very fluent in the Ethiopian language.
“The man told me that I had made a mistake in Lagos, that I should have ‘settled’ (paid illegal money) his colleague and avoided unnecessary trouble.
“I asked him to explain better and also tell me if my travel documents were incomplete or had any issues but he did not respond.
“I was thereafter taken to a part of the airport to wait while expecting their next move.
“It was while I was kept there that I realised what had actually happened, that I was being frustrated and denied my trip to Canada for refusing to give a $50 bribe in Lagos.
“I saw other first-time travellers from Nigeria who had a similar issue. I also realised that Nigerians like the Igbo man that interacted with me were conniving with Ethiopians to milk and frustrate travellers on a daily basis for no reason whatsoever.
“An airport official in Addis Ababa later told me that an error message was sent along with my travel details from Lagos and that I had to be sent back for it to be rectified in Nigeria.
“The immigration official in Lagos deliberately sent that error message because I refused to bribe him. That is their style of operation,” Adoghe said.
For the four days Adoghe was illegally held in Ethiopia, her husband had to send money from Benin City, the Edo State capital, to her for feeding and accommodation, which cost around $75 (about N43,000) daily.
Now back with her family in Benin, her husband, who also spoke with SaharaReporters on Monday, said none of his loved ones will ever travel using Ethiopia as a transit point.
“I lost over N700,000 in booking that ticket to Canada for her. The rogues at the Lagos airport in connivance with their partners in Ethiopia have ensured she missed that trip because of a $50 bribe.
“After investigation from an officer that works at the airport, we found out that because she didn’t give the immigration officer $50, that was why he sent the message to members of the cartel in Ethiopia to ensure that my wife was not allowed to fly to Canada.
“This is very sad and I think the Nigerian authorities should take up this matter immediately to save a lot of people from falling victim to the same situation.
“I am currently raising money to buy another flight ticket for her but definitely she or any person I know will never go through Ethiopia to connect any part of the world again,” the man identified as Joseph, said.
Two other Nigerian victims of this fraudulent practice, who spoke with SaharaReporters, said they were also subjected to inhuman treatment by Ethiopian airport officials for failing to give the cartel the $50 handout in Lagos as first-time travellers.
“There was no sensible explanation they gave for denying me the trip to New York, US.
“After being held in Addis Ababa for two days, I pleaded with them to let me go, that I was going to send them any amount they wanted when I got to the United States but they refused and sent me back to Nigeria on the third day.
“I have hired a lawyer to help me fight this injustice because they cannot make me waste money and a great opportunity to start a new life in the US,” Adeola Banjoko, an aggrieved victim, said.
The spokesperson for the Nigerian Immigration Service, Amos Okpu, told SaharaReporters that the agency frowned on any act of corruption among officials, adding that any personnel caught breaching the code of conduct will be punished severely.
He advised members of the public with evidence against immigration officials to send in petitions for appropriate sanctions to be meted out to offenders.
“The agency frowns on any act of corruption and those who breach this will face the heat,” he said.
An email sent to Ethiopian airport authorities over the issue on Monday had not been replied to as of the time of filing this report.
This is not the first time that corrupt airline and airport officials will be demanding bribes from first-time and even regular travellers from Nigeria, the latest incident merely adds to a swelling list in this regard.
Travellers affected by this scourge have repeatedly called on appropriate authorised to address this issue but the situation persists, sadly.
With various cartels currently prowling various airports, more Nigerians like Adoghe are likely to fall victim in the weeks ahead.