Friday, May 22, 2020

Abuja hotels in survival battle as COVID-19 keeps patrons away

Although the Federal Government has, through the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, promised Nigerians working in the formal and informal sectors of the economy that it will protect their jobs, the reality on the ground shows that the opposite is the case.
An independent investigation by our correspondent revealed that some hotels, bars and restaurants in the Federal Capital Territory have laid off many their staff. There is no indication that they might consider recalling the sacked workers when things get better.
The managements of these hospitality outlets, no doubt, had decided to embark on the retrenchment of their workers due to the effects of the restriction of movements and the ban on gatherings of any kind in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states by the Federal Government, through the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in a nationwide broadcast on March 29, ordered the restriction of movements in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states for an initial period of 14 days, with effect from 11pm of March 30.
The President said it was to enable the government to identify, trace and isolate individuals that had come in contact with confirmed cases, in order to contain the disease.
In a COVID-19 Regulations No 2 of 2020, declared and signed on April 13 under sections 3 and 4 of the Quarantine Act, he further extended the lockdown for two weeks with effect from April 14.
On April 27, Buhari also announced that there would be a gradual easing of the lockdown from May 4 under phases for two weeks.
Upon completion of the two weeks, Nigerians expected the President to announce more relaxed measures, but this did not happen. Buhari failed to address the nation as expected. The PTF chair and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Mustapha Boss, who briefed journalists on Tuesday after meeting the President, only said the easing of the lockdown would continue for another two weeks.
This left many Nigerians, especially those residing in Abuja, very disappointed. “We were hoping the president would address the nation and reopened the economy but were all disappointed,” says David Igbokwe, the Manager of Ibiza Relaxation and Entertainment Centre in Area 11, Garki, Abuja.
Wondering if sacked workers could cope with the situation, particularly with the extension of the lockdown, the Front Desk Manager at Residency Hotel, which is located in the same neighbourhood, Mr Robert Christopher, said, “How are those that don’t have savings going to cope with this? This persistent lockdown has crippled many hotels and seriously affected their staff. It is not easy at all.
“We had 48 members of staff in this branch. Only six workers are left.
“When the lockdown started, our workers were paid half salaries and told to go home. Later, we had to send letters to all of them, informing them that we could no longer pay their salaries. We told them that recalling some of them would largely depend on when we reopen and our ability to pay them. For now, they are no longer employed by the hotel. The remaining six workers are just for essential service and housekeeping.”
One of the retrenched workers, who spoke with our correspondent, said the hotel had a target of about N20m monthly and was paying the staff regularly before the COVID-19 pandemic struck down business.
“We were paid regularly and the chairman of the hotel did not neglect our welfare. Now that we are no longer in his employ, we have been abandoned to our fate,” he said.
The manager said the management of the hotel felt for its staff, but it could not help the situation.
“Retaining them comes with a lot of responsibility and expenses running into millions of naira monthly, but what can we do?  No money is coming in to run the business, yet we must maintain the facilities.
“That’s why only the house keepers, security men and a cook were retained. We care for our staff. We decided to retain the cook so that she could cook for other members of staff, since there is nowhere to buy food and they must eat while on duty,” he said.
Igbokwe said the workers at Ibiza Entertainment Centre were having a tough time coping under the lockdown.
“Everybody knows it has not been easy, especially the workers that depend on their salaries to feed their families and extended families. For two months, nothing has been happening. I am also affected by the situation because I have parents and siblings who depend on me.”
Stressing that only six out of 74 were retained by the management of the centre, he said, “We used to have 74 staff in our employ, but we couldn’t help the situation. What we do now is home delivery service and pick-ups so that we can continue to service our customers.
“Whenever customers place an order, we deliver to them or they come around to pick it up. This is coming at a great sacrifice, but we don’t want to lose our customers. So we must satisfy them.”
“We are waiting for the government to ease the lockdown. It is only when this place begins to operate fully that we can generate revenue and give to people. But when it is not operating we can’t do anything.”
“I’m also feeling it because the pressure keeps coming from those we have sent home who have nothing to eat.”
Igbokwe also disclosed that the centre had lost a huge sum of money to the lockdown, but he did not give a specific figure.
“Our revenue largely depends on the situation in the country. On a good day, the sales could run into few hundreds of thousands and on weekends, it could hit the million naira mark. But there are so many entertainment centres nowadays, unlike the past. The competition is getting stiffer, but this lockdown has made the matter worse.
‘We are tired of the lockdown. When we heard the President would address the nation on Monday, we were really expectant. At the end of the day, we were disappointed.
“We understand the government said it is doing this in the interest of the citizens, but we need to be alive to survive the lockdown. Government has introduced a lot of measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. We believe such measures could help the situation, if enforced and implemented.”
A waitress in one of the hotels in the highbrow in Wuse II, Chizoba Ogochukwu, said the lockdown was threatening her dream to acquire higher education.
According to her, she gained admission to study English at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, in 2019, but deferred it because she needed to save enough money for her studies.
She had hoped to set up a small business to sustain her education while begging the hotel management to place her on weekend duty.
She said, “My dream is fast disappearing before my eyes. I can’t even feed myself now, not to mention saving up money for my studies. I have been supporting my mother in the village with the little I earn. It has been a challenging period. I hope and trust in God that things will get better.”
A night club operator in Karu, Abuja, Bola Oladosu used to have 10 workers, but he has asked them to stay away.
“This is an informal sector. There are no severance packages here.  But they were all happy working with me. I never delayed their salaries. With the lockdown, everything is at a standstill.
“A lot of people have been begging me for money, but what can I do? I can’t even help myself. I have eaten into my capital because I was giving palliatives to people. Nobody expected the pandemic to last this long,” Oladosu said.
In Hotel Rosebud, which is located in Area 11, Garki-Abuja, about 90 per cent of the staff were laid off due to the negative effects of the lockdown.
The Human Resources Manager of the hotel, Mrs Ademidun Adesanya, said only four workers could be retained by its management, including herself, out of 43.
“We used to have 43 workers before the pandemic. Initially, we pruned down the figure to 14 before realising the need to further downsize to just four.
“Let me also add that this place was shut down because the government gave a directive. We are monitoring the situation and will always discharge our obligations as deemed necessary.”
Adesanya said the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company kept bringing electricity bills despite the fact that the hotel was no longer operational.
“The last bill they brought is about N2m and they are expecting us to pay. There is even no regularly supply of power, yet the bill is accumulating.”
She appealed to the government to do the needful and lift restriction on hotels and other entertainment centres that can adopt the controlled measure in their places of work.
Source: punchng.com

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