‘Post COVID-19 Palliatives for Businesses Inevitable’

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Chief Operating Officer of the domestic airline, Obi Mbanuzuo

Chinedu Eze

To enable business organisations retain their workforce and to stimulate economic activities, the federal government must adopt strategic ways to provide palliatives to these businesses through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The Chief Operating Officer of Dana Air, Obi Mbanuzuo, stated this to THISDAY in Lagos. He explained that this would be the only way airlines would save jobs and not push teeming youths into the unemployment market, which is already saturated.

He observed that airlines in scheduled commercial operation and general aviation employ over 4000 workers, which may shade about 50 per cent of the workforce in order to survive; unless government provides palliatives through soft loans, grants and waivers.
Mbanuzuo said it was not likely that any airline would become bankrupt if government supports the carriers, just as it would support other businesses in order to kick-start the economy after the devastation of coronavirus.

“If the economy shuts down there is no alternative for the workforce in the aviation industry. It is not like the airlines will not fly so they can go and work in the ports, for example, so there is not alternative.

“Really, what we are looking for is what other Nigerians are looking for. We are still appealing to the government to provide palliative for the entire population of the country because what affects the country affects us.

“Everybody is sitting at home hungry now. You don’t know whether the person works for an airline or works for a bus company, everybody is hungry.

“As it is right now, the airline cannot afford to pay anything apart from what they have paid already. We paid March salaries and that was what we could do; unless the government makes something available,” he said.

Mbaduzuo, noted that this is a global challenge, saying every country was tackling it in its own way to kick-start their economies.
According to him, the United States and the United Kingdom have already started providing bailout for their airlines and other businesses.

“Nigeria might not have that kind of financial clout right now but it is possible that there might be some indigenous ways that we can try and help the public at large.

“Of course, when the public is helped then our own workforce is also helped, they are one and the same, there is no difference; you cannot separate them.
“But it will be a difficult thing for everybody. I am talking to you right now and I am the COO of an airline and it is difficult for me actually. I am sitting at home thinking of how things will go. But by the end of this month, I have my fingers crossed and I am hoping that the NCDC (National Centre for Disease Control) and the people who are looking at this situation from the health perspective are doing things right, and we still encourage everybody to just follow the directive so that this doesn’t extend too much past this month of April,” he said.

Mbanuzuo, dismissed the fears that Nigerian airlines may go under on resumption of operations, saying that airlines have drastically reduced their cost and needed injection of funds in form of grant or bail out to secure operational funds and continue with business.
“My question is what is this assumption that airlines will go under based on? This is because I am only seeing this from personal experience. We have reduced our cost to the barest minimum. What is going to drive me bankrupt now that I am not flying when I am hardly paying out anything?

“Yes, some airlines might find it difficult, even before the shutdown, which is why I said we would need some kind of assistance to restart. When you restart, those that are shaky and cannot find their feet might then finally go bankrupt at that point like you said.

“But right now, at Dana Airways, we have six aircraft parked, even though they are parked, our engineers are still working on them. Some of the aircraft are preserved; so once in a while they come in to start the engines, look at the systems, rotate the tyres and wheels and all that.

“But apart from the minimum cost that we are paying out, the other cost to the agencies for now are not going on. And, of course, they are not demanding anything right now. they are all kind of shutdown,” Mbaduzuo added.