PTF debunks fraud allegation trailing the COVID-19 repeat tests

  • refunds multiple payment by passenger 

Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 pandemic has debunked fraud allegations and other forms of sharp practices trailing the COVID-19 repeat tests being carried out on passengers who arrived in Nigeria on international flights.

It has however blamed the challenges faced by passengers on technology teething problems, stressing that 85 percent of the over 27,000 passengers that used the portal for payment and repeat testing did so seamlessly.

The national coordinator of the COVID-19 task force, Dr. Aliyu Sani, made the disclosure at the briefing on Tuesday.

He justified the repeat COVID-19 test being conducted on international travellers after seven days of their arrival to the country.

According to him, that a significant number of 80 out of the 2,403 tests carried out when the exercise began turned out to be positive.

He said this was despite the fact that the travelers who tested positive arrived in the country with a negative PCR test.

 “Of the 2,403 passengers that were tested in Lagos when we started the exercise, 80 were positive, meanwhile they had negative COVID-19 PCR test,” he said.

Explaining the choice of the seventh day for the time to carry out the test on the arriving passengers, Aliyu said it would have been impossible to pick up as much as 80 positive cases if the tests were done at the point of arrival of the passengers at the airport.

He said the repeat test would have been unnecessary if the country had “a system of enforcement of isolation such that everybody coming into the country self-isolates effectively for two weeks”.

Some passengers, particularly Nigerians, who arrived in the country since the resumption of international flights alleged outright stealing, extortion and fraud perpetrated by government officials who supervise the enforcement of the COVID-19 guidelines at the Lagos and Abuja international airports.

One of them,  Ndubuisi Ekwulonu, a Nigerian whose video went viral, narrated his experience on Berekete Family, a reality radio program on Human Rights Radio 101.1 FM, last week Thursday, since he arrived on September 10th.

He said he was defrauded by government officials as the money he paid for the COVID-19 repeat tests were not recorded in the official account of the government.

Ekwulonu said he paid N42,700 for the test but his name did not appear in the list of returnees who made payment, as indicated on a government portal.

He had to repeat the payment in order to obtain a negative COVID-19 repeat test result, a requirement for boarding aircraft to leave the country, as he is to return to Sweden on Saturday.

But, according to him, he was informed that the second payment was not captured in the system.

Ekwulonu, who broke down in tears while narrating his ordeal, said he has spent almost N90,000 on multiple payments for the COVID-19 repeat test since he arrived in Nigeria on September 10.

Aliyu while speaking on the issue said: “We are aware of a particular case of a traveller who had been charged multiple times for his PCR test on arrival to Nigeria from Sweden. 

“The online platform failed to record his payment for the retest in Nigeria due to technical difficulties. As soon as the PTF was aware of this unfortunate experience, we immediately began investigating to resolve the issue. I’m happy to state that the person has been refunded the extra money he paid, in fact it as repaid on the same day that we got the information that evening and the process is now been fine-tuned to prevent such occurrences. 

“We do sympathize with the frustration travellers have to go through when the system malfunctions or when they experience these challenges but throughout the world, nowadays if you’re travelling you have to fill in additional information on IT systems belonging to countries and you have to submit them as a prerequisite for travelling. 

“And Nigeria is no different we really need to move away from Paper copies. We need to have electronic systems that would allow us to go back and check when things go wrong, when people have positive COVID-19 results in-country having come in with a negative result or where they fill in a health questionnaire and we need to review to find out whether did they ordered they not have symptoms when they arrived.

“We cannot continue handling their copies because it’s very difficult based on the number of passengers we have. We get between 5 to 7000 passengers when open coming into the country everyday and the amount of paperwork generated is huge. It’s impossible to be able to investigate and find out what has gone wrong in the event of importation of covid infection into Nigeria using the current paperwork format  it will not work.”

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