As Nigeria grapples with the impact of the coronavirus on the economy, Cross River state governor, Sir Ben Ayade has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to lift the ban on domestic flights.
The governor spoke at the weekend while inspecting the ongoing asphalting of the dualized Odukpani -Calabar highway.
He argued that continual closure of Nigeria’s domestic airspace was impacting negatively on the aviation, hospitality and tourism sectors of the economy, warning that the adverse effects of another four weeks closure of the airspace could be catastrophic.
According to him, “the suspension of domestic flights has affected most hotels leading to their closure. It is so bad that most hotels including the 5-star hotels are shutting down because they cannot is even sustain the cost of diesel for their generating sets and as that happens, they start laying off workers. So you have a lot of workers, young people who used to work in the hotels and tourism industry out of jobs. And the big question is, how long can this continue?”
He said the closure of the country’s domestic airspace was also having negative spiral effect on small businesses and service providers, thus further worsening the economic situation of that category of Nigerians.
“The caterers who supply food to the hotels are all out of business. All the suppliers are out of business. So as we continue to lock the domestic airports for another four weeks, what we are going to have in terms of economic loss, what we are going to have in terms of social delinquency, the associated moral and social tension that will come with it will be just too huge for the country to bear”, he quipped.
He said that rather than ban domestic flights, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) should devise strict guidelines to enable the airlines sector to continue to operate without escalating the number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
“We can still be safe while allowing the internals of Nigeria to run. We can do so by allowing the domestic airlines to start flying. As they fly, NCDC should spell out certain conditions like making sure aircrafts are properly disinfected, ensuring temperature tests are carried out before passengers get on board and of course, ensuring that all passengers wear proper masks. The airlines can have their own masks that they can give to passengers.”
Continuing, the governor said: “So, for that short flight of one hour, everyone is protected and the hotels can pick up again, the suppliers can have their businesses back so that workers can go to work. For states like ours that depend so much on tourism, we are almost paralysed.
“Once visitors, travellers and tourists are not coming into Calabar, the hotels will have no patronage because people do not just leave their homes to go to a hotel to sleep for the fun of it, only once in a while may be. But again hotels need consistent patronage and that can only come when domestic flights are coming in and going out.”.
He appealed to the President “not to lock down the healthy but rather lock down the sick and allow the healthy to work.”