Government agencies, public servants, middlemen, officials of private sector firms, touts and greedy non-state actors are collectively and individually killing Nigeria’s non-oil export drive.
According to a report by thewillnigeria.com, the Federal Government has spoken about ‘non-oil export’ so much over the past years that it sounds like a worn-out cliché. The government almost turned the phrase to the third verse of the National Anthem. At every opportunity, government officials recite ‘non-oil export’ as an addendum to the National Pledge.
“Let us diversify. We must diversify the economy and our revenue sources. Let us embrace agriculture for food security and for export…” The chorus lingers in our speeches. But at Nigeria’s airports, brazenly corrupt and roguish individuals and groups are systematically killing the dream of robust ‘Non-oil export drive’ and practically dismantling every structure put in place to promote alternative revenue sources to oil. They exist at the nation’s airports, just as they abound at the seaports.
Following a recent media report that foreign cargo airlines often depart the Nigerian airports empty due to corruption, extortion and multiple charges, THEWILL visited the Muritala Muhammed International Airport in Ikeja, Lagos and observed that, indeed, there are practical and determined efforts by some people, including government agencies and their officials, to scuttle the government’s efforts aimed at promoting the non-oil export drive.
For five days of the week, THEWILL found out that the cargo side of the airport is a cash cow for uncountable government officials and ‘official’ touts who milk farmers and exporters dry, leading to some exporters deciding to abandon their cargo in frustration without counting the costs.
THEWILL confirmed that almost 20 sundry charges are imposed on Nigerian exporters of agricultural commodities, such as cocoa, sesames seed, cashew nut, coconut, garri, cassava flour, vegetables, beans and fruits. Most of the charges are created by these officials without the proceeds being remitted to the government’s coffers.
THEWILL also confirmed that most of the charges are outside the five per cent Cargo Service Charge (CSC) that is statutorily collected by the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria’s (FAAN) charge of N5 to N23/kg; Customs charges of N60 – N97/kg; ground handling charges of N45 to N90/kg (depending on the produce or product) by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA); and freight charges for the respective airlines.
Unofficial and non-receipted charges include the following: plant quarantine service fees for sanitary certification, put at N15,000 on average; association dues and FOU charges on the packaging, varying from N15,000 for car/van, N25,000 for bus/truck and between N45,000 and N50,000 for a trailer full of cargo.
THEWILL also confirmed earlier reports that the Anti-Bomb Squad of the Nigeria Police, the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) are among the agencies that collect airport charges at the cargo section – amounting to several millions of naira every month – going into private pockets.
Another illegal line charge is ‘repair and return’, as against plant quarantine.
The Guardian newspaper reports that these sundry charges, in addition to the foreign airline documentation charge of N12,500 per kg, comparatively the most expensive on the continent, explains why foreign cargo airlines often depart Nigeria empty and fly to neighbouring countries to pick export cargo.
Freight Forwarders operating at the export session of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA) have cried out over what they described as low patronage from exporters due to high freight charges imposed on export goods.
According to the freight Forwarders otherwise known as consolidated agents, exporters who had the intention of exporting their products are forced to return their goods to their warehouses. Those who have enough tonnage to export are also forced to divert their goods to the seaport.
With multiple agencies stationed at the exports shed, including the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Quarantine officials, Bomb Detectors, Customs and others, the freight charges are said to have increased by more than 400 per cent from what it used to be during the pre-COVID-19 period to the post-COVID-19 period.
Apart from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on freight charges, scarcity of cargo aircraft remains a significant factor in the increase. THEWILL gathered that major airlines operating cargo seriously are Air France, British Airways, Delta Airlines, Ethiopia Airways and DHL.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 15 cargo aircrafts were operating full time cargo services, thereby creating room for competition, which naturally brought down the cost of freighting goods. A case in point is the non-operation of the South African Airways (SAA), which used to serve as an avenue to export goods to South Africa.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, South Africa was Nigeria’s biggest trade partner, with yearly exports to country in excess of $3.8bn, while South Africa similarly exported $4.8bn in 2018 to Nigeria.
The stoppage of SAA flights to Nigeria, THEWILL gathered, has equally affected freight charges as other mediating airlines collect goods in the name of the airline, while the goods are exported through a third party airline. Unfortunately, Air Peace, which is the only domestic airline from Nigeria plying the South African route, has equally stopped putting pressure on exporters.
Air Peace, it would be recalled, had last year operated its inaugural flight from Lagos to South Africa. Before now, the Lagos- Johannesburg route was serviced by Air Arik and South African Airways. Unfortunately, both airlines could not sustain operations on the routes. It is against this background that Air Peace entered the market.
Speaking to THEWILL, the Chief Executive Officer of Afamdex Nigeria Limited, Mr Austin Okonkwor, stated that freight forwarders are suffering due to low patronage from exporters who, on their part, are nursing the injuries inflicted by government agencies, middlemen and corrupt officials of different organisations.
Absolving the exporters from the situation they find themselves, Okonkwor said “Part of the problem we have is COVID-19 and also the issue of multiple charges. Before COVID-19 goods are charged, say between N500 and N700 per kilo, depending on the destination. But now it has gone up to N3, 000 and more. Consequently, the exporters in most cases return their goods or look for alternative like the seaports”.
Similarly, another operator, CEO of Fidex Cargo Services, Mr Ayo Ajayi stated that most of their colleagues are idle due to lack of job especially in the export section.
Ajayi said, “We are practically doing nothing. The freight charges have gone up and exporters are ready to spend such money. In fact we are out of business. I appeal to the government to do something urgent. We are suffering of hunger as result of idleness”.
Commenting on the situation, President, Foreign Airlines and Representatives in Nigeria (AFARN) Mr Kingsley Nwokoma told THEWILL that Nigeria no longer has export out of the country.
Mr Nwokeoma listed the issues hindering export to include: Ease of Doing Business at airport which he described as being at zero level; multiple charges and inspecting agents; packaging and misuse of certain chemicals and fertilisers by local farmers.
The AFARN representative said that Nigeria which is one of the highest producers of yam find their yams in foreign countries but are unfortunately exported through neighbouring Ghana due to the situation in our export terminals in Nigeria.
He said, “Nigeria does not have export out of the country. Some of the issues militating against this is that you notice about 15 agencies looking at one single good at the terminal. In Accra for example, you have only one point where inspection is done.”
“Another problem is the attitude of our farmers. Some of the local farmers do not have GAP certification and therefore, do not know the right chemicals and fertilisers to apply. The implication is that they fail when they are subjected to tests abroad”.
“A case in point is the activities of some farmers in the Yelwa area of Ogun State where pineapples are produced. Ordinarily, a sucker supposed to produce one pineapple but these farmers force a sucker to produce as much as 21 pineapple at a go. Such produce when subjected to test cannot pass it”.
Proffering solution, Nwokeoma said that “We have so much potentials and possibilities but we need the government to do the right thing”.
What is happening at the Airport is a replica of the rot at the nation’s major seaports in Lagos. THEWILL had reported that corruption, collusion and confusion – rolled together – produce the frustration that reigns among users of Nigeria’s foremost seaports in Lagos — Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports. It is no news that the hydra-headed gridlock has gripped the Ports, projecting the country to the world as a place where leadership has gone on a vacation. What many people may not know is that the anomaly is being treated as a national priority that has come to stay because the wrongdoings perpetrated in the area are tacitly backed by the authorities because their officials are actively involved.
Although, the e-ticketing system introduced by the Lagos State government has helped to ease the congestion at the Lagos ports, the place remains another ‘arm’ of government with powers to make its own ‘laws’ and enforce them in the most aggressive and brutal manner. It is like an ‘arm’ of government set up to kill the economy through an insidious conspiracy that runs through the system. It operates in an environment of organised wrongdoings distinguished by its lack of sanity.
From morning to night, week to week, illegal “businesses” go on in the ports and their environment. The “businesses” are facilitated by officials of government agencies whose actions are killing the economy. They wear no masks, and their uniforms carry their name tags.
Among the organised teams of economy killers are officials of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Lagos State Traffic Manage¬ment Authority (LASTMA), personnel of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the Nigeria Police, the Army and the Navy. By conventional wisdom, these are security agents whose traditional role is to enforce order and provide security to ensure orderliness especially in the aspect of traffic flow.
But the reverse is the case. They are agents of extortion, intimidation and corruption. Truck drivers and their Associations play complementary roles in the periphery.
THEWILL learnt that the rot at the nation’s sea and airports is an offshoot of organised corruption created by government agencies. It was obvious that the teams of ‘economy killers’ have hijacked the port operations for extortion and other corrupt activities. They are bold, wild, brutal and red-eyed. They are there to make money in uniform.
Consequently, a process designed to be seamless has turned out to be a nightmare. The teams who should be clearing the road for importers, exporters, motorists and other road users, deliberately create road blocks within short distances. That way, they obstruct free traffic flow to extort money from those doing their legitimate businesses. A Licensed Clearing Agent, who preferred to be called ‘Modern Chairman’, had told THEWILL that the security agents and officials of the NPA devised a system called ‘Fast Track’ (FT) in the Port.
THEWILL findings showed that FT is a system which grants a truck driver/owner speedy call-up and to enter the ports ahead of those on queue for days or weeks.
The truck or goods owner pays a bribe through the Clearing Agent “who knows the route and receivers of the payment”, Modern Chairman said. “With this, you are given a special pass that is recognised by the security agents to allow the truck owner to pass through the ports’ multiple gates”. The payment ranges between N250,000 and N350,000 for a 20-foot container; and N400,000 and above for a 40-foot container.
Then the multiple road blocks from the ports extended beyond Mile-2, depending on the route of exit. “This is where you meet the Customs checkpoint after the goods have been cleared by the Customs in the Wharf. If you are not lucky, your goods may be seized for a minor reason, or the truck is towed to Customs location at Ikeja”, THEWILL learnt.
Notwithstanding the continued decline in the agricultural sector as shown in the quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reports in recent times, a section of Nigerian farmers are recording huge returns on their investments in agriculture through commodity exports. Many are also accessing the various intervention funds created by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to boost their productivity and earn foreign exchange.
The recent National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) quarterly report on “Foreign Trade in Goods Statistics (Q2 2021)” revealed that Nigerian farmers earned a total of N292.43 billion in the first half of 2021). These proceeds exceed the N205.11 billion value recorded in the corresponding period of 2020 by N82.32 billion or 42.5 per cent.
According to the report, the farmers earned a total of N165.26 billion in the second quarter (Q2) of 2021 as against N127.17 billion achieved in the first quarter (Q1) of the year, representing a 30 per cent increase during the period. The items include raw, processed and semi-processed commodities available in huge quantities in various parts of the country.
The report captured 18 various agricultural commodities that earned above N700 million during the period, with four recording over N10 billion and two yielding returns of above N5 billion. Cocoa and cashew nuts were in two categories: ‘Good fermented Nigerian cocoa beans’ and ‘superior quality raw cocoa beans’; ‘cashew nuts in shell’ and ‘cashew nuts, shelled’. They all had different export destinations mainly in Europe, South East Asia and the United States of America.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has introduced 37 intervention funds meant to boost productivity, create jobs, make the SME sector more viable and support commodity export. The funds include the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme (ACGS); Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL); Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS); the N220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Fund; the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme and the Small Medium Enterprise Credit Guarantee Scheme (SMECGS), among others.
With the corruption, extortion and multiple charges going on at the air and seaports, the laudable vision of the CBN will achieve nothing. It will also be a setback to the backward integration policy of government which has benefited the farmers and others in the agricultural value chain.
By Awunor Anthony