Port Harcourt — Staff at Nigerian airports are seeing red with VIPs who have no regard for COVID-19 protocols. On July 11, the immediate past governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari allegedly flouted the COVID-19 protocol and assaulted an official of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, insisting he was a VIP and should be excused. FAAN found the situation serious enough to issue a public alert: “He (Yari) refused to adhere to the protocols and procedures put in place by the Federal Government through the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 by forcefully pushing away an officer of the Environment Department when he insisted that his luggage must be disinfected. The former governor said the officer should have known he is a VIP.” Three days later, there was another drama at the Port Harcourt International Airport when FAAN called out Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri of Adamawa State for the same offence. It said: “Governor Fintiri, who arrived Port Harcourt International Airport on 14th July 2020 with eight others, flagrantly refused to observe the airport security and public health protocols as directed by the Federal Government through the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 by refusing to have his temperature checked, or being sanitised by the health officials. His whole entourage of eight did exactly as he did. The team that came to receive them drove right through the barricades up to the terminal building, ignoring traffic and aviation security instructions.”
You guessed right. Both Yari and Fintiri have denied the allegations, saying they were very obedient to the protocols (and I might add, very exemplary) at the airports. Yari said he “DID NOT” (emphasis his) assault any airport official, and “followed all the COVID-19 protocols set by FAAN.” Fintiri, for his part said he had his temperature and those of his aides checked, but only objected to filling his form, insisting “his protocol officer should do that for him.” As accounts at the two airports descended to a “He said, they said” scenario, Nigerians took umbrage at the implications of the breaches in Kano and Port Harcourt. A former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode said that, if he were still in office, he would ban the two VIPs from using airports, a view supported by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, Smart Adeyemi. Then I watched the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika on TV saying the Federal Government would investigate the incidents and censure Yari and Fintiri if they were guilty or apologise to them if the contrary turned out to be the case.
Translation: This case is closed and nothing will happen! I have passed through the airports at Kano and Port Harcourt and I know they don’t lack CCTV cameras even when there may not be water in the toilets. If the Minister wants to send a clear and powerful message on obeying COVID-19 protocols at airports, this is a golden opportunity that he must not miss. It took time for the Federal Government to resume domestic flights because of the well-founded fear the virus spreads quickly through the coming and goings at airports. The Government has been so careful that it staggered the reopening of airports and has yet to allow international flights into Nigeria. Why then does the Minister need to set up a panel, wait for their report before setting up another panel to write a white paper which will then be considered and reviewed before being tabled for deliberations. Knowing the bigwig and big witch syndrome in Nigeria, FAAN would have required uncommon boldness to dare to publicly call out a serving Governor. They were not only pushed to the wall, they fell through the wall! Why should the Minister waste precious time in the face of this evidence? I have been opportune to watch our bigwigs in action on local and international flights. They are the epitome of lawlessness. They don’t submit to screening or wait to take their turn. On overseas flights, they behave well momentarily because who knows them there? But once inside Nigeria, their aides flout all rules and meet them in areas reserved for passengers. Sometimes, I have seen FAAN staff toss their ID cards on the floor to please them because of the crumbs that may fall out from the VIP babarigas.
I have never met the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Sirika but I like him as someone who appears to fly a straight course (pardon the pun.) An American trained pilot, the Katsina State indigene is not a small boy in Nigerian politics. He has been in the House of Representatives and Senate. In 2017, he won my heart (and perhaps other Nigerians) when he swore to resign if the rehabilitation of the runway of the Abuja Airport fell through the completion time. True to his word, the runway was closed on March 8, 2017 and completed at the planned date of April 19, 2017. So I like him, but I don’t like that his straight-talking and action-man image is about to crash. Let Sen. Sirika prove me and other skeptics wrong by sanctioning these VIPs now. This will help defrock our provincial bigwigs.