Last week it was announced that Arik Air, one of Nigeria’s premier airlines was furloughing 90% of its staff and reducing salaries to save costs during the Covid-19 crisis. The Coronavirus pandemic was met with global panic and restrictions on all forms of travel as airlines, road vehicles and cruise ships became epicentres allowing super spreaders infect dozens of otherwise healthy people. The travel restrictions which were originally slated to last two weeks have extended into its third month, crippling the travel and tourism industries and leading to high profile stock dumps, including the one by billionaire industrialist, Warren Buffet. Businesses must adapt, and Nigerian airline carriers are ready, at the risk of human life, to resume operations, starting with International flights.
Reports from the Punch suggest that International Airlines with routes to Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt have already scheduled flights to Nigeria in June, completely ignoring the existing ban on international travel by the Nigerian government, a decision that was taken a little too late and has led to the spread of the virus in the country. It is the job of the Federal Ministry of Aviation to ensure that its rules are adhered to, and while thus far they have done a good job of enforcing restrictions, as the months progresses and the financial fortunes of travel carriers decline, we will see more pressure to either reduce or lift the ban altogether and we must be prepared to demand that if this will be done, it should be done safely. If we cannot achieve this, then we must brace for impact.
Nigeria has a significant community in the diaspora, a significant portion of them residing in the United States and the UK, two countries hard hit by the Coronavirus pandemic. The Ministry of health has demanded that anyone returning to the country pay for self quarantine measures and will only be allowed into the country if proof of payment for these services is produced. We must ensure that passengers on all international flights adhere to this directive and that they are monitored for symptoms before they are allowed to join the general population.
Fines should also be introduced for airlines who do not do their due diligence. This is the only way we can ensure accountability.