Belatedly though, the Federal Government of Nigeria has done pretty well in coming up with policy measures aimed at checking the spread of the global scourge called coronavirus which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared a pandemic.
So far, the government has banned social and public gatherings including religious activities where the congregants are more than 50 persons. It has also ordered the closure of all schools in the country till further notice with all the troubles and inconveniences. But the reason is worth all that.
The most far-reaching decision which the government has taken, after being over hesitant and unwilling, is the travel restrictions it has placed on the US, UK, China and about 12 other high risk Coronavirus countries.
The government has also gone ahead to shut down three international airports in the country, namely, Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu; and the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa.
Musa Nuhu, Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), who disclosed government’s decision in a statement on Thursday, said the three airports would be closed till further notice, effective Saturday, March 21.
This means that only the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja and the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos are the international airports in the country open to international flight operations except for those from the Coronavirus high-risk countries.
As commendable as government’s decision to shut down the three airports seems, that singular action has left many Nigerians in a reasonable level of perplexity that needs to be cleared or explained.
According to them, the action begs many questions. “There are a couple of things the Federal Government did not say or tell Nigerians regarding the shutting down of the airports,” said Desmond Ajuluchukwu, a social affairs commentator.
By the last count, Nigeria has recorded nine confirmed cases of Coronavirus and all of them were imported cases by people who came through Lagos Airport. That means none of the nine cases has link to Kano, Port Harcourt or Enugu Airport.
It is for this reason that many people are asking questions why the government has shut down the three regional airports leaving the two major airports, especially Lagos, which is a high risk area with confirmed cases.
The nine confirmed cases in the country today have been blamed on the government’s delay in closing its borders by allowing international flights through the international airports with Lagos and Abuja in mind. Government apparently is not moved by the confirmed cases as Lagos airport is still open.
“Unless government is telling Nigerians that the three airports, unlike Lagos and Abuja, do not have the needed facilities for screening passengers, and it is not prepared to provide them in those airports, closing them to international operations, in my view, do not make much sense. And the government has not explained anything to us,” Ajuluchukwu noted.
Nigerians argue that if the government is really serious about checking the spread of the virus as it appears to be, the airports that should be closed to international operations are Lagos and Abuja because these are the two major entry points for either returning citizens or foreigners or both.
Another major puzzle in government’s latest action is the inclusion of Enugu Airport among those closed to international flight operations. ‘Why Enugu’? is the question on every lip that has heard or read government’s statement.
“Well, to the extent that Enugu is an international airport, that action is in order. But it becomes as laughable as it is thought-provoking when reminded that this is an airport that has been closed and under reconstruction since August last year with its expected re-opening in April this year hanging in the air,” said Idowu Makinde, a researcher, told BDSUNDAY.
Makinde identified two possibilities in government’s thinking and action. One, he said, was that government may have decided to discontinue the reconstruction of the airport which is the only viable airport in the South East, or two, that government was determined to meet the April deadline for the reopening of the airport, but will still close it to international flight operations.
Whichever is the case, he continued, too many questions beg for answers. Questions could be asked whether there is a political dimension to the whole action; whether this is an extension of the continued emasculation of the South East in which case the action has been taken as a way of cutting the nose to spite the face, even in the face of global emergencies.
“Because government did not tell Nigerians all that they should know in this circumstance, a lot is left in the realm of the imagination. But as a country, Nigeria needs to be realistic and should begin to tell itself the bitter truth. One of such truth is that social distancing also includes closing its borders holistically,” Makinde posited.
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