AIRPORT Manager Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Mrs. Victoria Shin-Aba has explained some of the challenges the airport authority faces with regards airside security, facilitation of passengers to the international terminal as well as the proposed cashless payment being introduced by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and others. In this interview she douses fear on the effectiveness of the cashless payment and general operations.
The Murtala Muhammed International Airport and other airports across the country will be adopting cashless transactions soon. What informed this development especially at the MMIA?
To create enabling environment for businesses in Nigeria, for people coming to do business in Nigeria. The airports especially the international airports as entry points into the country and that is why we try to make sure that everybody coming into the country to do business has an enabling environment in such a manner that they are not harassed, And that they don’t pay what they are not supposed to pay. We want them to pay in an easy and convenient way so that they do business easily. We have started with visa on arrival which is ok now. People coming to do business in Nigeria will just go to the immigration website fill the form and they will send something to them that will show the airline and on getting here, we have constructed a cubicle for innovation, it is very convenient and comfortable; we will use them to process the visa. Again the cashless operation is for convenience, comfort and to reduce interactions and money changing hands. And the basic thing is that no government official should handle cash. No cash transactions. They are now different modes of payments. We can do online transfer, POS. For FAAN, we are almost there and we are getting ready. FAAN has deployed POS to almost all our revenue points. When you come and want to do any business with FAAN, no FAAN staff will collect cash from you. It is either you do a transfer that goes straight to our remita accounts, that is TSA account or you pay through the POS that still goes straight to remita. Then in case you don’t have ATM and you can’t do transfer and you have cash; we now have some agents of remita because the money goes to remita. They will be strategically positioned to collect those cash. As they collect the cash, they issue receipt. In fact I had meeting with them yesterday. We have a committee at headquarters working on this cashless operations because it has to be in all the airports and not just only the international. We are ironing out the grey areas but no government official as at today in Nigeria starting from May must handle cash. If you don’t have an ATM that use the POS and you can’t do bank transfer, and maybe you cannot go to bank and pay and bring remita confirmation of payment. You can go to the bank if it is convenient; the most important thing is the convenience of the passengers. Then, to make sure that cash does not change hands between government officials and passengers or customers, that is the basis for the cashless operations and for convenience.
What about the sensitization?
We played it to the secretary but we need to make some changes. We have jingles in different Nigerian languages and banners too. The sensitization is still ongoing. There are the banners, they sent 16 to us from the headquarters. We will put them in strategic positions so that even when a customer is sitting with you, he or she is reading that they are not supposed to pay cash
cashless operation is starting May, don’t you think it is coming rather late for passengers because you would have done a lot of sensitization and awareness campaign before now?
We are having meetings with all the stakeholders and the secretary is coming to see the readiness of the agencies.
Since the process is to help passengers relax without having contact with people; can you just list some of these payments?
Some of them include: car park, cargo surcharge, casual operators, unscheduled flights, air cargo fee, cargo surcharge and access charge, not the main access charge because that has been concessioned. We so many operations that involve money changing hands both at local and international on the FAAN side. In Customs, everybody knows that people pay duties and dutiable goods; aside oil, Custom is the next revenue generating agency for FG. For Immigration, people now pay for visa on arrival, For Quarantine, they pay too for some tests. For NAMA, they pay and the 5 per cent for NCAA. So there are so many revenue that comes in direct at times at the airport. There are some that are not direct and there are some that are direct. For rent now, people don’t pay cash for rent. They go to the bank and pay.
What informed this decision?
It is just to curb corruption. When we need to exchange money, there is body language and so many things. Some people can shortchange payment and all those kind of things. That one should be eliminated. Then the government wants to let the general public know that whatever services they are paying for is going into government coffers. So you are not giving me cash and the issue of I don’t know where the money is going to will not be there any longer. They know that the money is going to the government. Then for the comfort of their travelling public, they don’t need to carry cash. If you are travelling from abroad and you have your ATM, you should be able to transact to your business and leave the airport. If you have internet banking, you can do it and move on.
This process is a laudable one by the FG. Do you think it will make FAAN to actually know how much they generate annually?
Definitely, it will help things. We know how much we generate and we know how much that comes in but we still know that you can’t eliminate some leakages. But with this now, that one will be taken care of because you can go to a point. If am not collecting cash for government and am coming to work, I think there is a limit of amount of money I should be carrying on my body. It will curb leakages and improve revenue at the end of the day.
How is the operations at MMIA?
It is ok and we are improving. At least, we are pressed too from where we started from with a serious bask lash and all those things have gone down. We are gradually addressing most of the issues. Unfortunately, those buses are not old, it’s just that they don’t have space. That is the basic problem we have with the buses, So maintaining them is not easy but we try as much as possible to keep them rolling. Actually my target is to have three buses because we have five. We want three buses working at any point in time. So that two will be running and one will just be there as a backup. So that when we have issue we pick that one. Unfortunately, people’s attitude are not just encouraging. The attitude of people to government property is just very bad and that is the basic thing. It is like a battle but we are winning it. When we realize that the noise are just too much, we had to move the car hire away from there and nearer here. That place is not meant for passengers now, so it is strictly for staff now. For passengers, we want to make sure we eliminate the stress they are passing through, that is why we brought the car hire near.
The turnaround time for the bus sometimes take too long. What are you doing about it?
It is because it is only one working. If we have two, in ten fifteen minutes they would return but when you have one working that is the problem. But we tried something and it is working. We had one converted from electronics to manual. You know they are all nozzle operated with diesel and diesel in this country is something else. The compartments are very sensitive; so they keep on getting destroyed. Then we said if we can convert them to manual like every other vehicle, so that we can manage it. We have done one and we are test running it. It has been on the road for one week now. By the time we are ok with that, we start with the other ones. Management is in support of this and it is one of the pilot thing we have done and by the grace of God, if it can work for like a month without issues, we change the others. First, it is cheaper to maintain for us and sourcing of parts will not be an issue.
Within the terminal building we have been able to up our game; the toilets are ok, we have fixed all that is needed to be done and we have tried to work with the cleaning contractors not to instruct passengers. Now, nobody sits in the toilet; what they do now is clean and leave. Not that you will go and stay there and be asking for something. We had meeting with them and the cleanliness is improving. Smell has come down considerably and extractors have been installed in most of the toilets that have those issues. It wasn’t as if the toilets were not being cleaned but because when they are not extracted, the odour will just blocked in. The extractors are now there and we don’t have issue with that any longer. Most of our facilities too, like the belts are improving. Though we do have one or two hitches once in a while but not as before because our contractors are on top of it. The only problem we have is the cooling.
What about the issue of touts?
If you notice it has really reduced. The car hire operators are not touts. But we still need to continue to talk to them. Honestly. We had a JTF on ground that arrest anybody seen loitering anyhow. If they are arrested, they are sent to the police straight. Most of the people you see around really have legitimate jobs to do but they are not doing it right. Decorum and discipline are the issue now. But continuously we speak to their heads. Though they have desks kept for them but you still see them milling around. We are however trying to discourage people to reduce their staff turnaround. When people come to the airport to work in any capacity, they don’t want to go back, that is the issue. That is why we always have issues at the entrance gate. The people are so many that they don’t have any business there. The security agencies are trying but they are just so many. However, we are trying to curtail it. In the real sense of it; these places are not restricted areas but because of our peculiarities, we have so many people so that at the end of the day we don’t have so many walk-about like passengers. Most of those you see are old staff, old cleaners, old agents, old airline and all that and because of the economic situation in the country, you still see them coming around. That is the issue; so we don’t really have issues pertaining the touts.
How far have you gone with addressing the issue of aircraft poaching?
It was a serious challenge. Whether it happened or not is not the issue now. There is that possibility and there are those gaps that could cause those things. Initially when it happened, we looked at the prevailing factors that could encourage such things like the stall, bushes around the runway, we brought them down. We went for massive bush clearing around the place. We set up a regular patrol, then escort on arrival and departure. So any aircraft departing, day or night must be escorted to the holding position. On arrival, by the turning where all the airlines use, we have a patrol team positioned there permanently. Because those are the areas we have issues and that is why we position them permanently. Since then, we have not been having issues with that. We tried CCTV, though we had a little hitch but we can still monitor the aircraft on CCTV when taxing. That is just a stop gap because headquarters is doing a holistic one that will cover the whole perimeter of the airside. Because we were under pressure we had to do that particular area which is helpful too. We are going to do another fence just around that area too. The government is trying because we have a perimeter fence and an inner fence and even now we want to do another third layer fence just to make sure that the place is secure. In the last two months we have not had any issue and I believe it shall be so.