Inbound Passengers to Lagos Face Challenges over Hiccups in Payment for PCR Test - THISDAY
JANUARY 07, 2022
BY Chinedu Eze
Many inbound passengers designated to arrive Nigeria through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, are stranded in different parts of the world because they cannot successfully pay for their PCR test through the platform provided by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), THISDAY investigation has revealed.
It was learnt that for several weeks travellers have faced hiccups, but beyond apology, the companies providing payment platforms for NCDC, Flutterwave and Paystack have not done anything to improve their system.
Many travellers who were victims of the payment system said their grouse was that nothing was being done to improve the payment system, which means, “travellers will continue to go through this trauma.”
In the travel protocol released by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19, arriving travellers were directed to make payments without which airlines would not allow them to travel to Nigeria.
The PSC circular stated, “Following successful payment, Travelers should download the Permit to Travel Certificate/ QR Code using the “Get Permit to Travel” button visible at the top right corner of the portal, save and print the form for presentation at the point of boarding. The Permit to Travel Certificate/ QR code will have a “PAID” label if payment is successful and “UNPAID” label if payment had not gone through yet or is unsuccessful. Any passenger with an “UNPAID’ label will not be allowed to travel. A copy of the Permit to Travel Certificate/QR Code will also be sent to the email address provided by the traveller.”
The circular also stated that prior to boarding for Nigeria, travellers must present two documents at their point of departure to be allowed to board.
One of the documents is negative COVID-19 PCR test done within two days (48hours) of departure.
“Airlines have been directed not to board Travellers with non-PCR COVID-19 tests (such as antigen or antibody tests), a positive COVID-19 PCR test result, or tests performed beyond 48 hours of boarding, “it added.
The second requirement is Permit to Travel Certificate/QR Code-generated from the Nigeria International Travel Portal on completion of a health questionnaire, uploading of a negative COVID-19 PCR result and schedule of PCR tests on Days 2 and 7 on arrival in Nigeria.
The circular emphasised that travellers failing to show a Permit to Travel Certificate (which confirms payment)/QR Code would not be allowed to board.
Travel expert and organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko, who was victims of the NCDC payment portal when he was travelling from Turkey to Nigeria, narrated his experience.
Uko said he made payment to the platform but it refused to accept his payment adding that he would have been stranded in Istanbul if interventions did not come, “a kind of intervention that might not come for ordinary travellers who do not have access and connections with airlines and aviation agencies.”
“The platform refused to accept my payment. My family tried paying and it kept declining payment, asking them to set up another payment option. A tour operator in Abuja tried paying for me and it declined payment. We opened a new registration but once it is the same passport number it will ask you to pay; then it declines the payment.
“Now, I am stuck in a foreign land with no means of boarding a flight back home. So I kicked in my network. I contacted the airline managers that I was going to fly and they got to work. I contacted NCAA (Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority). They asked the airline to write a mail on my behalf. The airline obliged. All through the night NCAA and the airline were able to get me a waiver to fly. The waiver put a caveat threatening the airline with sanctions if I failed to complete the process.
If not for my relationship no airline will be willing to agree to such a responsibility,” he narrated.
Uko wondered why the payment platform was unstable and noted that in this day and age, “where Nigeria is listed as one of the fastest instant payment countries in the world my travel plans were messed up by NITP (Nigeria International Travel Portal) payment portal. Do you know the consequences of missing a connecting flight during Christmas Season?”
He disclosed that Flutterwave, which provided the platform with which he made the failed payment later sent apology saying, “We sincerely apologise for the delay you have experienced. This is certainly not the kind of experience we want for you.
“Kindly be informed that Flutterwave is a payment processor that provides services for various merchants across Africa and globally. The referred transaction was processed successfully to the merchant, however, we engaged the merchant (NCDC) on your behalf for further resolution. We’ll like to apologise once again for the delay in getting back to you and for any inconvenience caused.”
Another passenger also narrated his experience, “Oh I had a terrible experience with the portal that cost me N1.2 million. The portal kept debiting me and no QR Code was coming. Qatar (Airways) refused to board me and I eventually missed the flight.
“It was such a terrible experience. I didn’t even have access to network to call friends in high places. It was as if the universe connived to show me ‘shege’ that night. Anyways, I got back and made trouble with Lagos State Biobank & Qatar. Qatar only sent a long apology email citing the clause from Nigerian government to fine them if they carry any passenger without QR code.
“Lagos State Biobank sent an apology email and refunded all the COVID-19 payments debited but that didn’t compensate for the emotional trauma I went through nor the funds I lost on date change andhotel in the process. Sad to know things are still the same.”
When THISDAY contacted NCAA, the agency stated that it does not have powers when it comes to COVID-19 protocol, noting that it is the Presidential Steering Committee that is responsible.
“PSC only issues statements through NCAA because the airlines only recongise NCAA and such statements are circulated through NOTAM (Notice to Airmen). So in aviation, we are just the mouthpiece of PSC,” an official of the agency said.