By Nse Uko & Chibuike Nwabuko
Abuja (Sundiata Post) — Hotel operators and businesses in Abuja are facing severe financial hardship as the temporary shutdown of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, takes toll on business activities and patronage as focus shifts to Kaduna.
The decision by the Federal Government to temporarily shut down the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on March 8, 2017 had generated widespread public outcry from different quarters suggesting to government that the repairs on the run way be carried out at nights to avert the hardship and national embarrassment the entire closure will cause the country.
From the hospitality industry in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), to the Airport taxi drivers, and down to the Bassa Village (which harbours mostly the Airport workers), the stories have been the same — lack of business patronage.
A cross section of the hotels and guest houses that were visited by the Sundiata Post revealed that hospitality business is suffering, as some already made reservations are being cancelled.
“Those, who made reservations, have called to cancel such reservations because of the Abuja Airport closure.
“Can you believe that few days before the date of the closure of the airport, one of our customers, who was checking out, told us that we will see when the Abuja Airport is reopened again.
“She specifically added that she cannot attempt coming to Abuja (again) until the Airport is reopened, and normal flights are restored,” a hotel manager said.
It is not only in the area of lodging and accommodation that the hospitality industry in Abuja is witnessing low patronage.
Hotels and guest houses in Abuja are also suffering from cancellations of meetings, seminars and workshops that have already been booked for.
The effects of low patronage on lodging and accommodation, and cancellations of events also bear on the sales of drinks, snacks and foods that the affected hotel or guest house would have made, if the lodgings and accommodations had been taken, and events had held.
“We are losing so much from the so-called temporary shut down of the Abuja Airport. We are very much aware that some of the cancellations that have been made so far have been shifted to Kaduna due to proximity to airport and convenience.
“Let’s face it: nobody wants to suffer, and nobody enjoys suffering. The simple truth is that we are suffering from the closure of the (Abuja) Airport.
“There is no guest house or hotel in this Abuja that is not being affected by this government decision to close down the (Abuja) Airport,” another manager claimed.
One manager, who collaborated with the others, added that sticking to the deadline of the contract would ease their pains.
“We want to appeal to the government to put pressure on the contractor handling the renovation of the run-way to ensure that the six-week target for the renovation is maintained. This will reduce the hardship the closure has brought to businesses generally and hotels in particular,” the manager added.
Our reporters, who visited the Airport axis, reported that activities around the Airport are on the low side.
They particularly observed that most of the Airport workers were seen in clusters chatting and cracking jokes for lack of engagements.
When approached to speak on how the closure of Airport has affected their works and activities at the Airport, an airport staff, who spoke under anonymity, said that life was at a standstill for a few days, after the Airport was shut down.
“The activities here at the Airport in those few days were almost at a standstill,” an airport staff said.
But activities have begun to pick up slowly as, some passengers still pass through the Airport, while traveling in or out of Abuja, using the shuttle buses that are provided by the airlines.
The Airport staff explained that the airlines made provision for the shuttle buses to convey passengers from the Abuja Airport to Kaduna, but on the condition that an intending passenger arrives at the Airport four hours ahead of their departure time.
The staff added that each shuttle bus is escorted by a joint team of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) personnel from Abuja to Kaduna and back from Kaduna to Abuja.
“You can see one of such buses coming in with passengers from Kaduna,” she said, pointing at an oncoming shuttle bus.
“So, the Airport (environment) is still active, but not as it used to be when the Airport was (operating),” she added.
Driving into the Nmamdi Azikiwe International Airport from the Umaru Yar’Adua expressway, one would not believe that it is the ever busy road with ear blasting sirens that has now become more of a ghost road.
The fast moving vehicles and convoys that usually characterised the road have suddenly disappeared that one drives the long Airport road without seeing more than three vehicles.
Due to the very scanty nature of the vehicular movements into the Airport, only two toll fare entries were opened for those going into the Airport.
Owing to lack of passengers, the Airport taxi drivers were more than busy trying to outsmart each other for business.
The drivers, who decried the closure of the Airport by the Federal Government, argued that government should have adopted the option of constructing the runway only in the night without outrightly closing it at this time of recession.
They claimed that the action has further worsened their hardship since they depend on it on daily basis to take care of their daily needs and carter for their families.
They called on government to expedite action on the work that is being carried out in the Airport, and reopen it so that they will be able to put food on their tables, as well as pay other bills that are expected of them.
A visit to the Bassa Village, which harbours mainly the airport workers, revealed that business activities are on a standstill.
Mrs. Halima, a trader, who sells assorted articles and wrappers, said that the closure of the Airport has dealt a devastating blow on her businesses in the Village.
“Most of the people here are airport workers, who depend on the activities in the Airport for their daily breads.
“Since the closure of the Airport by the government, we can hardly sell our items because the workers are at home, and do not have another source of income.
“It is when they go to work that they can get money to patronise us.
“But there is no market now, and when you see any customer, they ask you for credit. And if you give out all your goods on credit, what will you use to replace them?
“The condition is not funny, at all. Government did not try, at all,” Halima said.
Another trader, Ifeanyi, also explained how the shutting down of the Airport by the government is affecting his business seriously.
“Before now, I would have known how much I have sold. But since morning, it is only a few people that have entered my shop, and what they bought were small things.
“The highest (item I have sold since morning) is N550.
“I know that our opinion does not count, but government should try and make sure that they stick to the six weeks closure they said so that we will not suffer this pain beyond this period,” Ifeanyi said.
The same fate is experienced by the motor cycle operators, popularly called okada.
Simeon said that their daily operations have crumbled since those living in the Village do not go to work as a result of closure of the Airport.
“We have nobody to carry. People only move about when they have somewhere to go to. In this hard time, you see people trekking long distances because of the recession,” he said.
Sundiata Post reports that the Federal Government shut down the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to enable the German construction company, Julius Berger, to carry out repair on the damaged runway.
Sundiata Post recalls that in December 2016, it was only 12 flights that touched down at the Kaduna International Airport, while the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja recorded 812 flights.