Thousands of Nigerians who plan to return home after the resumption of international flights are postponing their travel plans due to the restrictive protocols, and high rate of extortions by Nigerian officials and poorly coordinated PCR tests by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Add to these, the airfares to Nigeria is far higher compared to what obtains elsewhere, even to destinations on same routes with Nigeria.
This development has affected both Nigerians trapped abroad as a result of the lockdown and those residents in their different abodes. It could be recalled that just before international flights resumed, the federal government had stopped evacuation of Nigerians abroad but there were still many Nigerians stranded overseas. Many of them have been struggling to return home but cannot pay the cost of airfares, which have risen due to the extra cost required for Covid-19 tests.
But while many potential air travellers are still wary about boarding flights, airlines cannot use low fares to attract them because they are hamstrung by the high cost of PCR tests for Covid-19, which some countries, including Nigeria charge outrageous and with the attendant cumbersome protocol.
The Economy spoke with a country manager of one of the major airlines who complained that the business environment in Nigeria is unproductive. According to the source who spoke on conditions of anonymity, airfares to Nigeria is far higher compared to what obtains in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Benin Republic all within same geographical range. The reason Nigeria is far more expensive is because of myriads of taxes, both official and unofficial that force airlines to mark up their fares to at least stay afloat.
He noted that a typical passenger ticket to Nigeria has so many costs factored into it such as the high cost of Covid-19 protocols that airlines are charged, the new airport charges by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), high cost of handling, high infrastructure cost, revenue seats per kilometer, available seats per kilometer, higher fuel costs, high navigational charges, very high operating costs, landing and parking charges have made the cost of air fares, then when airlines factor high fuel costs and the encumbrances of sourcing forex in Nigeria, everything gets out of reach for tickets that ordinarily should be affordable to passengers .
For example, the cost of travelling to Ghana from Nigeria for a return flight has significantly increased from the pre-Covid-19 era of about $300 to over $800, as Nigeria charges about N100, 800 for return Covid -19 tests, while Ghana charges about $240, when added to air fares, airport charges and insurance, a passenger could pay the aforementioned sum of money for a flight of about 35 minutes.
In addition to the above problem, passengers have confirmed alleged scam going on with Covid-19 tests, where payments were made in the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) approved portal but some of the monies are not reflected as payments made, thus putting the passengers in a quandary. Also laboratories and hospitals are alleged to device ways to make those who intend to travel pay more for the tests. The level of extortions going on at the airports involving all cadres of security and immigration officials are nothing to write home about, lamented Mrs. Joyce Chibundu who returned from Canada. She said that she was made to pay N42, 300 three times for Covid-19 tests without acknowledgement of the payment made. People are made to hang around Lagos for upwards of two weeks irrespective of where their final destinations are.
There are complaints that some of the designated hospitals by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) no longer conduct the tests for departing or arriving passengers. Also, while the federal government may have denied collection of money from travellers for the test to be conducted, investigations have shown that each traveler pay the sum of N50,450 to the bank account of NCDC through its portal: nitp.ncdc.gov.ng/onboarding/homepage.
Many of the passengers who filled the Covid-19 test form online through the NCDC portal and paid the sum of N50, 450 to the Sterling Bank account of the NCDC and after confirmation of payment returned to discover that the hospitals that were assigned to carry out the tests refused to so claiming that they have stopped the process. All these have added to the burden of Nigerians many of whom had to return home to attend to issues such as burial of parents or siblings, weddings and other domestics needs, but their complaints have made many other rethink their traveling plans.