Outbound travelers from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos have been complaining about delays caused by the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) personnel who obstruct their check-in process, while screening for agro commodities.
THISDAY investigations revealed that many travelers who have agricultural commodities like dry fish, vegetables, fruits, food condiments and others are delayed by the NAQS personnel who screen these foodstuffs, but in the process the passengers are delayed.
Some airport workers confirmed to THISDAY that some passengers had missed their flights due to such delays and because many passengers are ignorant that quarantine is part of the screening and check in process, they are not attuned to being screened by the NAQS personnel. Recently, passengers have kicked against payments demanded by NAQS for the services rendered to the passengers, which are part of the official charges.
Also, in-bound passengers are screened by NAQS and those with agriculture commodities that do not meet health requirements are seized by the agency. A passenger who returned from the Gambia recently told THISDAY how some of the fruits she brought from that country were seized by the Quarantine officials. She alleged that they would seize the goods and issue detention letter to the passenger and after they would destroy the commodities.
"But I accused them of seizing the farm produce, pretending to destroy them later but they keep them for themselves. I also know that you can pay them money and collect your own when they seize it. If you see how big some of the officials are you will agree with me that they are feeding fat on seized agricultural produce from passengers," the passenger alleged.
Some airport personnel who spoke to THISDAY at MMIA on Tuesday, blamed the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) for not sensitising travelers on the activities of NAQS personnel, noting that their activities seem to be an afterthought, because "many passengers do not think about them, only for the NAQS officials to delay them."
The Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service is a regulatory agency under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. NAQS is charged with preventing the introduction, establishment and propagation of animal and plant diseases. NAQS also provides quality assurance services to ensure provision of safe, sustainable agricultural and aquatic products for local and international markets.
In an interview with THISDAY, NAQS' Head of Media Communications and Strategies, Dr Chigozie Nwodo, said the agency is saddled with inspecting and certifying agro commodities coming and going out of the country to make sure that such commodities are free of diseases and pests.
"In doing that we recognise that this is business so we also do it in a way to ensure that it does not disrupt facilitation process because NAQS recognises that this is business," Nwodo explained.
He said NAQS facilitates international trade and it is one of the agencies promoting the federal government's Presidential Enabling Business Environmental Council (PEBEC).
"We facilitate international trade as far as agro commodities are concerned. We are at the forefront of the federal government export drive. So we have the mandate to encourage export of agro commodities," Nwodo said.
He told THISDAY that NAQS carries out pest risk analysis on commodities to ensure that they are safe for consumption and also to meet the standard for export to other countries, explaining that what they do at the airport is to ensure that diseased commodities are not taken out of the country in other to prevent banning Nigeria's farm produce by other nations.
Nwodo also explained that some pests are endemic and that is why NAQS ensures that commodities with pests are not taken out of the country.
"The analysis on commodities is to check whether there are pests, the risk such pests could pose on exporting countries. We encourage backward integration to ensure that international standards are met. When the commodities are certified after the analysis, it gives them the confidence that the commodities would meet the given global standards," the spokesman said.
On the allegation that the activities of NAQS at the international airports delay passenger facilitation, he said the agency officials carry out the screening process as quickly as possible but advised that passengers on international trips should come to the airport in time, adding that this was the reason why travelers are advised to come to the airport three hours before departure of their flight.
He, however, acknowledged that adequate provision has not been made for the proper screening of passengers, disclosing that the issue is being attended to currently at the highest level of government.