aviation

Air Travellers Spent N40bn on Covid-19 Test in Nine Months

August 17, 2021

.AuGF fails to release audit on disease funds’ utilisation Chinedu Eze in Lagos and James Emejo in Abuja

Inbound passengers who travelled into the country through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, were estimated to have spent about a total of N40.212 billion as payments for Covid-19 test on arrival, from September 2020 to June, 2021, investigation by THISDAY has revealed.

However, the much-anticipated release of the maiden interim audit report on the COVID-19 intervention funds has now been shrouded in uncertainty, about 10 months after it was supposed to be ready, THISDAY’s findings also showed.

International air travel resumed on September 5, 2020, at the Lagos and Abuja airports after the lockdown occasioned by the pandemic.

According to data obtained by THISDAY, 575,175 passengers arrived Nigeria through the MMIA, Lagos, while 286, 324 arrived through the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja between September 2020 and June, 2021.
Arriving passengers to the Lagos airport pay about N50, 400 for Covid-19 test, while those arriving at the Abuja airport pay about N39, 200, hence the N40.212 spent during the period.

The payments are compulsorily collected on arrival from passengers to test for the virus, which they are expected to do after seven days of quarantine.

According to COVID-19 protocol from the Presidential Steering Committee, passenger on arrival are expected to proceed on mandatory seven days self-isolation/quarantine in their selected in-country destination.

Also, the passengers are expected to show-up at the laboratory/sample collection centers on the seventh day of arrival and pay the applicable fees for the COVID-19 PCR test. Samples will be taken, and a COVID-19 PCR test done.

Also the Nigeria International Travel Portal of the NCDC states that the cost of COVID-19 PCR test varies across private laboratories.

“Currently, it ranges between N36, 000 to N50, 400 naira on the payment portal. Please note that all payments go directly to the private laboratories and not to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control or Port Health Services, Federal Ministry of Health,” it stated.

Speaking recently on why the federal government insists on compulsory test for arriving passengers, the NCDC had said PCR testing for COVID-19 was important in order to protect the Nigerian populace.

“The fragility of our health system means that we must collectively take responsibility to reduce the spread of the disease,” the agency had explained.

But THISDAY investigations revealed that after collecting the money on arrival many of the passengers are not followed up.

A passenger who arrived from Brazil recently told THISDAY that after he paid the fee on arrival, he was neither sent an SMS message nor called upon, until when wanted to travel back to Brazil before he went for the test.

On the other hand, another passenger narrated how he was stopped from travelling because he didn’t do the test as prescribed after he arrived Nigeria.

Also, another passenger told THISDAY how he arrived Nigeria and was directed to quarantine but he did not do that and was stopped by NCDC officials from leaving the country.

Managing Director of Finchglow Travels and former President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Bankole Bernard, said, “To a very large extent the Covid-19 protocol we put in place is quite commendable. But my question is this, Why must travellers pay through their nose?

“If United States of America can say COVID-19 test is free, why should you make your citizens pay that huge sum? I think it is unfair. I think it is something the government can look into.

“We should stop thinking that air travel is luxury. It is no longer luxury but necessity. Let us start to look at it that way. Let us start to look at travel as an essential service and not one luxury thing. I mean nobody is flying private jets.

“We are talking about going from point A to Point B, using a commercial flight. So the COVID-19 test protocol they put in place is good, but I believe that the cost can come down.

“I think the cost needs to come down. There is no need putting the cost at over N40, 000. In Abuja it is cheaper. Are we saying the government is in the business of making money from its own people?” he queried.

In a related development, the much-anticipated release of the maiden interim audit report on the COVID-19 intervention funds has now been shrouded in uncertainty, about 10 months after it was supposed to be ready, according to THISDAY findings.

In October 2020, the erstwhile Auditor General for the Federation (AuGF), Mr. Anthony Ayine had assured that the audit would be released before the end of the month. But he left office on October 25 without unveiling the report.

The fact that he had promised to release the report a week from the day he publicly announced it will be released, indicated that the study was almost completed if not ready.

The COVID-19 fund audit was supposed to assess the utilisation of funds released to manage the pandemic starting from the period the Presidential Task Force (PTF) was established up till June 30.

Subsequently, the report was supposed to be published quarterly, meaning that at least three editions ought to have been released by now.

Ayine had also declined to provide insights into the report, citing administrative protocol of first submitting its findings to the National Assembly before divulging its content public.

However, more than a year after the audit was announced, the report appeared to have been politicized, according to sources.

Also, over eight months into the appointment of the current AuGF, Mr. Adolphus Aghughu into office by President Muhammadu Buhari, nothing has been heard about the COVID-19 audit report.

THISDAY couldn’t ascertain whether the report had actually been submitted to the National Assembly as earlier indicated by the former AuGF.

A source who spoke under conditions of anonymity said given the controversies surrounding the utilisation of the funds released by the federal government to cushion the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report may have been embargoed by those in authorities.

Also, there are allegations that part of the intervention fund were siphoned by those who administered it.
Ayine had said his office had the mandate to evaluate the usage of all public funds advanced for specific purposes -and to determine whether these were deployed for the purposes meant for.

He had also said auditors had a clear responsibility to present timely, accurate and reader-friendly reports that speak directly to key issues affecting the public purse.

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