COVID-19: Expert Advises FG against Flight Restrictions, Lockdown

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By Chinedu Eze

The Group Managing Director of Finchglow Group and Chairman, Airlines and Passengers Joint Committee, Mr. Bankole Bernard has said that despite the ravaging effects of the second phase of the coronavirus as well as efforts by the federal government to curtail its spread, Nigerians should not be stopped from traveling overseas because the country is heavily dependent on imports.

He also said Nigeria cannot afford another lockdown because it would hurt the economy, saying that globally countries have been unwilling to impose another lockdown because it would further damage the already devastated economy.

Bernard, who is the immediate past President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), said the only way to stop the spread of the more dangerous strain of the COVID-19 was to ensure that those who contract it are stopped at the airports.

But he lamented that this is difficult for government because of the country’s faulty system, whereby government officials at the airports allegedly collect bribe and allow passengers come into the country without verifying their COVID-19 status.

This, Bernard said, explained why some travellers arrive Nigeria without conducting genuine test and they find their way out of the airports without being stopped by Port Health that man the COVID-19 protocol at the airports.

He also said Nigeria could use this time to encourage and grow inbound tourism, but it cannot stop outbound travel because the country cannot afford to do that because of the economy.

“There is nothing wrong with growing inbound tourism, but we cannot stop people from coming and going from our country. We import everything we need so people must travel. We don’t have manufacturing concerns that produce what we need locally so people must travel to go and get them.

“But the problem is that the system is corrupt. Government officials are not paid well, so they collect bribes. If the personnel are well motivated and highly graded with skills, they won’t be collecting bribes and they will be more efficient. It is difficult to have another lockdown because if you lockdown your country, people will move to another country that is not locking down; so you damage your economy further,” he said.

The former NANTA President also said the aviation industry would face more challenges in 2021 because of forex scarcity.

He also urged the federal government to make the regulatory body, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), autonomous, saying that it ought to be fully stripped of any political colouration for it to function more efficiently.

“We cannot talk about aviation in Nigeria without talking about the world. Aviation is global and every nation has a common body, the regulator, known as civil aviation authority, responsible for safety and security of the industry.

“In the developed countries they make their CAA autonomous with little or no political interference. As a professional in the industry, we urge the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika to also do that in Nigeria and make NCAA fully autonomous,” Bernard said.

He also called for the central data system for the industry without a portal that could be accessed by the aviation agencies in order to ensure that the agencies have uniform data, noting that this would put an end to speculation that is prevalent in the sector.

“Central Data System is what the industry needs. This will make figures from the industry more reliable and authentic and this will also bring about transparency. The data will enable us know how many people that are coming into our country and how many people are going out.

“It will also enable the agencies generate the data themselves instead of relying on airlines and other organisations in the sector to provide figures, which could be inaccurate. In some countries which run efficient airports, figures could be made available in hourly basis because figures are captures automatically as facilitation is going on,” the former NANTA President said.