ABUJA, NIGERIA (The Southern African Times) – Six months ago, Nigeria like several other nations closed her airspace, a month after the first reported case of Covid-19 in the country. Domestic travel also came to a pause as measures were implemented to combat the global pandemic. This decision met divided reactions from citizens, but making tough decisions in tough times is not new to a government who had shut its land borders in 2019 to put an end to rice smuggling. Moreso, the entire world was locked down with the health and safety of citizens being paramount to any government.
While only allowing Flights for essential services, such as the delivery of food supplies and items for humanitarian use, to operate, Nigeria’s airports remained closed to domestic flight and all international commercial flights with the exception of passenger flights which evacuate people or repatriate Nigerian citizens. This was up until the 8th of July when the resumption of interstate travel across the country also meant the resumption of domestic flight operations.
Usman Sadiq, Director of Aviation Security of the FAAN (Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria) assured that adequate security measures had been put in place, the Daily Post reported. The airports began to breathe again, life was returning gradually, and so were jobs, businesses and people, but not the shut out world.
When Nigeria’s airspaces initially closed, the country was risking as much as $900 million of GDP, along with the loss of 124,000 to 139,500 jobs, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) report – ‘Quarantine measures threaten aviation restart in Africa and the Middle East’. Captain Musa Nuhu, the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), stated that the pandemic has cost the airline industry almost $1bn (£766m), while the loss to Nigeria’s economy is $800bn. These numbers were far too dire and keeping international airspaces closed was simply proving unsustainable.
After much postponement, Musa Nuhu, Head of the NCAA, revealed that international flights to and from Nigeria were to resume on the 5th of September. Nigeria’s minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika, confirmed that the resumption of international flights would be accompanied by adherence to safety protocols to ensure the progress made by the country in its battle with Covid-19 was maintained, justifying the move by citing that there were no in-flight infections reported since restarting domestic flights on 8 July.
On the 5th of September, the first international flight landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, signalling the official resumption of international flights. The Middle East Airline (MEA) flight, inbound from Beirut, touched down the airport at 2:00pm local time. Led by the Nigerian Immigration Service, the airport officials screened arriving passengers as they presented their documents. Since then, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja has also resumed international flights and the aviation sector is slowly, but surely, getting back up on its feet.