Due to travel restrictions and standstill in economic activities, the aviation industry has been one of the sectors most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the country began to struggle with the coronavirus pandemic, Nigeria shut its airports against non-essential activities.
This led to the loss of daily bread to those whose livelihood revolved around the airport, from airport taxi drivers, booksellers, food sellers, to children that roamed about the parking lot helping passengers with their luggage.
A lot of stall owners at the airport have run into losses while their various sales representatives are left without pay.
Before the pandemic, revenue generated from air transportation and related activities contributed majorly to the Nigeria Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
However, the latest data published by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics showed that the air transport under Transportation and Storage sector contracted by 38.86 per cent in Q3 2020 from 57.38 per cent in Q2 2020 and 15.23 per cent in Q3 2019.
Months after the major airports in Nigeria started operations, industry stakeholders are still counting their losses as a result of the airports’ closure which lasted for four months.
Some shared their awful experience during the closure with PREMIUM TIMES
“When listing the names of those affected by the lockdown of activities at the airport, I should be listed twice.
“I sold my second car, a Peugeot 406 worth N300,000 before the corona crisis for half the price just because my landlord almost sent me and my family packing,” said Nwokoro Ndubuisi, one of the airport taxi drivers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Mr Ndubuisi saw this reporter while she was trying to get an interview with other drivers who were seriously beckoning on anyone that appeared to be a prospective customer.
The father of four, who initially assumed this reporter will be his first customer for the day, said part of the money he got from the sold car was used to feed his family as he was unable to do anything tangible during the lockdown.
Mr Ndubuisi soon saw the reporter as the mouthpiece he needed as evidenced by how ready he was to recount his ordeal.
He said all he has done for years is driving and he later became an airport taxi driver, where he normally takes up to N5,000- N10,000 home daily after he fuels his car.
He said since the resumption of airport activities, he barely takes N2,000 home daily now.
Commenting on how often he gets to transport arriving passengers out of the airport, he said: “It is not possible to get two times rides in a day, in fact, some of us don’t get a ride for close to a week.”
Also, another driver who only gave his name as Sulaimon said, “I’m going through the worst moments of his life.”
Mr Sulaimon, who was very engrossed in trying to get a customer, lamented how the lockdown increased the rate at which he and his wife fought, as he was unable to cater well for his family.
“I suffer well well, even my wife no come dey respect me as money no de my hand, hunger wan kill my children,” he said in pidgin as he set about helping a man with two luggage bags, apparently about to get his first trip for the day.
Muhammad Ahmad, a fruit trader at the airport, also lamented how he was left with significantly less income to cater for his family.
“I stayed at home for some days until I could no longer stay because I am used to daily sales, no matter how little.
“I started going to markets like Dei Dei to get my fruits and sell in my village, Gwako, to at least have something coming in.
“People patronised me but you know what I will sell at the airport is not what I will sell to people in the village, I was left with almost ten per cent of what I usually have.”
Before the lockdown, Mr Ahmad said he sells up to 70 bowls of mixed fruit per day at the rate of N300; this is aside from other fruits he sells.
He said since the resumption of activities at the airport, he has been struggling to sell up to 30 bowls despite the resumption of international flights that makes him close as late as 9 p.m.
Also, two teenagers, Abba Abubakar and Ibrahim Abubakar, who are among those who lurk around the parking lot, looking for passengers to help with their bags in exchange for money, explained how they had to go to construction sites to work during the lockdown.
These kids do not have a fixed price for the luggage they carry, they can get as little as N200.
“Sometimes, we go home with N500 from morning till night and other times as high as N2,000, it all depends on how pitiful a passenger feels towards us,” Mr Abubakar said.
The duo said they live in Wolumo, a village close to the airport and they trek to the airport daily to see what they can get.
The complaint of these business owners is a reflection of how many airport-related businesses have been negatively affected by the raging coronavirus.
It is evident that the shutdown of airports has led to inactivity and loss of revenue for tenants of commercial spaces at the airport.
However, since these tenants can not suspend rent for temporary non-use due to the lockdown, a lot of shop/stall owners at the airport have run into losses while their workers are left without pay.
Stores at the airport, according to a sales representative who does not want her name mentioned, said to get a store at the airport, one must have from N1-N5 million, however small the space is.
Her claims however could not be confirmed when PREMIUM TIMES called an official in the commercial department of the Abuja airport, posing as someone who needs a shop to sell drinks and snacks.
The official, who only identified himself as Mr Charles, said the price is only determined by the cubic meterage of the space and the part of the airport that is available. According to him, a cubic metre space can go for as low as N37,000 per year.
The rent of a particular space then depends on how many cubic metres multiplied by N37,000. He also said a particular amount will be paid as the processing fee and also 20 per cent of whatever is paid as the rent will be charged as the commission.
Responding to PREMIUM TIMES on if there is a relief package for these tenants, the spokesperson of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Henrietta Yakubu who replied through a text said: “Everyone/Agency suffered one loss or the other, we in aviation more than most, we are still waiting for [palliatives] too from the government.”
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