• Movement Of Persons, Goods Now Hampered
• Our Businesses Crumbling, Traders Cry Out
• Travelers Lament High Cost Of Airfare
• Security Agencies Need To Up Their Game — Experts
Indications have emerged that unless the Federal Government takes decisive steps to curb insecurity and address the crisis in the aviation sector, economic activities across the country may experience worse downturn in the nearest future.
This follows findings by The Guardian that Nigerians were already avoiding travelling by road and rail as a result of the activities of terrorists and kidnappers while the air option left to them has suddenly gone out of their reach due to the high cost aviation fuel, which has forced domestic airlines to hike their fares.
Recall that the oldest operating carriers in the country, Aero Contractors, recently suspended operations over its depleted fleet capacity to operate reliable scheduled operation. The airline had about eight out of its nine airplanes on the waiting list for routine maintenance, but lacked foreign exchange to purchase spares and meet obligations.
Less than 24 hours after Aero closed shop, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) suspended Dana Air operations with immediate effect, citing inability to run safe operations and meet financial obligations.
With 10 local airlines suddenly down to eight, the effects have started to tell on local travels. The Chief Operating Officer of one of the airlines had recently confided in The Guardian that the airlines were faced with multiple challenges of fuel and capacity constraints.
He narrated that out-of-operation Dana Air has a fleet of nine aircraft and daily flights network on Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Enugu, Owerri and other routes.
“Following its exit, those are routes that are now further devoid of flight options. There will be scarcity and disruptions. Those routes that have alternate airlines will push up prices seeing a spike in demand. Think of those people who depend on flight to get in and out of those places to avoid being killed or kidnapped on the road or rail.
“Aero Contractors has good connectivity between the North and South regions. Those routes will suffer and miss their operations. So, when I say that we are in a mess, that is what I mean and it is only going to get worse for the entire industry,” he added.
As of yesterday, The Guardian learnt that most seats on the busy Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Kaduna routes cost between N100,000 and N110,000 for one-way economy seats, while round-trip tickets cost between N180,000 and N200,000, depending on route, airline and time of purchase.
An airhostess at the Port Harcourt International Airport Omagwa, Rivers State, who preferred anonymity, told The Guardian that there was serious decline in the number of air travellers, stating that most airlines do not have up to 50 per cent of passengers for each trip.
Speaking on the development, a resident of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, who often travel by air, Mr. Douglas Manuel, said: “The scarcity in the aviation sector has to do with the inability of the refineries to work despite the Federal Government channeling resources to revamp them.
“Government should help the private sector to perform. There is need to regulate the private sector in a way that they can become optimally functional. Government needs to step up its game to ensure that the refineries are working. It bothers me because this is a public problem.”
Speaking in the same vein, a management expert, Dr. Damian Osondu, warned that the situation could bring the economy to its knee given the hyperinflation the country was already contending with. He stated that the development was dangerous to the survival, growth and stability of any economy, as well as the government in power.
Osondu said: “This is the worst any economy and government can face. It would leave survival of the people and businesses at the mercy of the few individuals who can afford it.
“The inability of the country to sufficiently provide for the aviation sector in terms of fuel and other facilities will result in the crippling of airlines due to price increases. On the other hand, those who managed to stay would decide to increase their fares above 100 per cent. This by implication would lead to a drop in the number of people who use air services to do their businesses and make their journey; not everybody can afford the new prices increase.
“Now, on the long run, you will also discover that certain services that are rendered using the air will reduce and increase cost for those that managed to stay. It is not a good development, especially when there are no palliatives or alternatives that could address the increase”.
He added: “When you think of going by land, the fear of being killed or kidnapped will make you avoid certain travels. Now, who produces the goods? Who distributes the goods and to what extent? This becomes the challenge. The truth is that what is going on now will continue to stifle the economy. It is a serious matter that will impact negatively on development and growth. There are many hands that are active, yet there is low production. What we have cannot go round and the overall implication is increase in hunger, starvation and poverty.
“When you also take it further, you will discover that you have created insecurity, because when the people are hungry, they are bound to be angry and they will look for whatever means to at least feed. This could be by killing those that have resources, kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery and other forms of crime.”
Osondu added that the first victims of this level of infraction are the small and medium scale outfits, because they largely depend on their day-to-day activities to survive.
“Incidentally, we have over 70 per cent of our manufacturing sector on the small and medium scale. Majority of the population also depends on this sector for survival since they are more reliable than the services provided by the government. But they will give way because of running cost,” he stressed.
Osondu, who insisted that there should be a deliberate policy to tackle the ugly situation, further explained that revenues accruing to the government at the federal and state levels would be affected. He added, “This, to a large extent, will affect programmes and policies of government to the people.”
“It is only when an outfit makes profit that it can pay tax. Whereby it is not able to meet running cost, it will find it difficult to meet other obligations within its locality. That is why it is not safe for the government and not safe for the citizenry. So, the best approach is for our economic planners to return to drawing table and figure out how best to address the rising cost of aviation fuel and other facilities and government to up its security network to guarantee free movement of people in their surroundings,” he added.
To the Director of Research in International Relations, Niger Delta University, Fortune Alfred, the insecurity on the road and railways has heightened a sense of fear and despair that erode investors’ confidence in nation’s economy.
According to him, the situation has reduced the creation of new business and employment for Nigerians. “The cumulative effect of the increase of flight fares has pushed up the cost of goods and services, which make them expensive and the purchasing power of citizens and businesses that need them, thereby reducing the production capacity of our economy,” he noted.
Alfred, however, advised governments at all level to do all within their powers to address the security challenges bedeviling the country and improve the supply of aviation fuel through the establishment of refineries.
Businessmen and women who spoke with The Guardian on the issue said they were already suffering the effects of the precarious situation.
A textile dealer in Osogbo, Osun State, Mrs Beatrice Adewumi, lamented that it was no longer easy for her and her spouse to travel to Lagos and the eastern part of the country to restock their shop due to the fear of activities of kidnappers and bandits.
She said the unpleasant situation had taken its toll on the business due to additional cost being charged when goods are sent to them through commercial drivers. She added that the extra transportation cost is usually passed on to the customers, noting that it has become a burden on them.
A dealer in games items, Arinze Odoh, shared a similar experience, saying insecurity has slowed down his business. He said he used to travel regularly to restock his shop, but insecurity has made it difficult for him to engage on trips outside his base.
“What I do now is to transact business with customers on phone. I list the items I need to restock my shop and then transfer the money. But the waybill method has not been very helpful, because sometimes, some items not actually needed are added to the items ordered,” he said.
A stockfish dealer, Mrs. Grace Aderemi, popularly called Mama Ope, also lamented that, “travelling to the Niger Delta area to buy stockfish and other items we sell is no longer possible.”
The trader, who has done the business for over 25 years, said she could not engage in a risky trip because of money.
“Everyday, we hear terrorists have kidnapped and killed people, because the families of the victims could not meet up with the money the kidnappers demanded. So, for me and my children, it is no longer safe for us to go on business trips as usual,” she said.
She also said what she does mostly is to send the items she needs to her suppliers and then pay them through bank transfer.
A woman who sells foodstuff at Mile One market, Port Harcourt, Mrs. Juliana Amadi, also said her business was almost crumbling due to high cost of transportation occasioned by the activities of criminals on the roads.
“We are gradually dying in this country, because if we sell a basin of garri N5,000 today, if you to go back to the market to buy the same garri, you will be surprised to get it at N6,000. This happens on weekly basis; so consequently, businesses are crumbling,” she said.
In Imo state, a traveller who simply gave his name as Joseph, told The Guardian that the free movement of persons in the state was seriously threatened by the increasing incidences of abduction of passengers.
He lamented: “From the information and reported cases of road abductions in the state, the economy is in trouble. People will not be moving to handle their problems. How did we, as a people, get into this insecurity mess everywhere? This must be nipped in the bud quickly by the security agencies. Governments at all levels should step up their game to stop these.”
To address the problem, a security expert, Alfred Harrison, urged President Muhammadu Buhari and other stakeholders to redouble their efforts to secure the country, noting that the situation has reached a ridiculous level.
A security analyst in Jos, the Plateau State capital, Mr. John Ebunwa, also said: “For now, everybody, including business people, close from work earlier than they used to. Before, you could walk to any shop and buy what you want even around 10.00pm. But now, nobody can do that.
“Once it is 6.00pm today, everybody is rushing home. If you don’t leave, there will be no transport for you. Tricycles, the major means of shuttling round the state, have been ordered to leave the roads at 6.00pm.”
Ebunwa also lamented that farmers no longer go to their farms because of fear of either being killed or kidnapped by armed bandits, adding that the development has led to a short fall in food production in the locality.
“Because of this, prices of food have skyrocketed and not everybody can afford to buy foods like yams, cassava, plantain e.t.c again. These have suddenly become essential commodities,” he added.
On what he thinks could be done to secure the roads, he said: “Government does not have enough manpower to man all the roads, especially those roads leading to the farms to protect the farmers. This is why many states have come up with their security outfits. In Plateau State, there is this Operation Rainbow, which is expected to deal with rural communities, but it is short of manpower, thereby limiting its operations to the township and immediate surrounding.
“The vigilante groups in the hinterlands are trying, but are still under the police. They do not do anything without the permission or knowledge of the police. This dependence on the police became glaring early this week when the vigilante groups and bandits clashed around Wase local council of the state, where the vigilante succeeded in killing 16 bandits and lost two members.
“But the police authorities were said to be fuming over the refusal of the vigilante groups to tell them first before embarking on the mission.”
Ebunwa said local vigilante should be given more powers to discharge their duties and ward off terrorists in their localities, adding that government should provide security on inter-state roads.
Two security scholars at the University of Ibadan, Professors Oyesoji Aremu and Adewale Yagboyaju, also suggested ways the current insecurity on roads and railways could be tackled.
Prof. Aremu said: “Nigeria and its security is under unprecedented threat given the failure of the entire security architecture. While the roads and recently, the rails are now under huge threats, it becomes practically impossible to ensure safety of lives and property. Efforts should, therefore, be made to guarantee safety of roads and rails. This can be done by promoting third eye security, CCTV; it can be mounted at strategic points by the Federal Government.
“There should also be a more coordinated simultaneous security checks by the security agencies to checkmate incursions of bandits and terrorists on our roads and highways. The rail lines could also be made safer by providing aerial security covers that would be flying at intervals of hours. While this comes with a huge cost, it is expedient given the parlous state of security in the country.
“The government should also embark on geographical profiling of some hot spots where insecurity is on the high scale. Geographical profiling and scanning is to launch rapid security responses when there are security breaches. This should be complemented with massive intelligence.”
Yagboyaju, on his part, argued, “securing rail lines and roads cannot be done in isolation. We need to make the environment safe generally. We need to build a body of volunteers who are selfless people with the ultimate goal of making the country safe.”
“Everyone – the government, security agents and the people – must work together to make our roads and railways safe. Agreed, it is the work of security agents, but they cannot do it alone. The people have to supply them information. Let’s make use of the whistleblowing approach. When you see something, you must say something.”
Another security expert, Olatunbosun Abolarinwa, also said: “The security agencies should be equipped with good weapons and good vehicles so that can get rid of all criminals trying to make the lives of Nigerians insecure.”