Efforts to promote exports across the country are still a mere dream as most cargo airports have failed to take off five years after the Federal Government designated 13 airports for imports and exports of agro-allied products.
A recent visit by BusinessDay to five such designated airports, which include Lagos, Uyo, Akure, Port Harcourt and Owerri show that only Lagos and Port Harcourt currently import and export cargoes to various countries, while others barely function as passenger airports.
Recall that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, (FAAN), five years ago revealed that 13 airports were designated as perishable cargo airports in a bid to transform the aviation sector into a major revenue earner for the country. FAAN promised to develop with international standard perishable cargo facilities to enhance their operations.
BusinessDay’s checks show that Paache Construction, which was handling the Cargo Terminal at Jos Airport, received N459, 214, 790. 85 out of the total contract sum of N785, 348, 493.56. There is no infrastructure on ground to facilitate cargo in the airport.
For the construction of the cargo terminal at Markurdi Airport, Paache was paid N613, 860, 476.67 out of N818, 480, 635.56 but there is currently no cargo facilities on ground.
Lugapego Nig, Limited was contracted to build the cargo terminal at Akure Airport. Job completion rating remains zero per cent despite receiving N322, 727, 000.40 out of the total contract sum of N452, 950, 176. 00.
The cargo designation was part of the airport infrastructure renewal project embarked upon in 2011 by the Federal Government through Stella Oduah, the then Aviation minister, which gulped an estimated $870 million (N174 billion).
Yakubu Dati, the former Coordinating General Manager, Aviation Parastatal said then that “the strategy is to create the much needed storage infrastructure in view of the large volume involved and to facilitate the evacuation of agricultural produce to domestic markets in conformity with international standards.”
“The development of Economic Free Trade and Export Processing Zones will be targeted alongside cargo airports and agro-allied industrial clusters, based on local opportunities and the state’s competitive and comparative advantage in agriculture production.”
Cities prioritized to host perishable cargo terminals are Abuja, Akure, Calabar, Ilorin, Jalingo, Jos, Kano, Lagos, Makurdi, Minna, Owerri, Port Harcourt and Uyo.
Sadly, checks by BusinessDay’s show that only Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt have the facilities on ground to facilitate cargo trade with infrastructure solely provided by two ground handling, Skyways Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) and Nigerian Aviation Handling Company, Nahco Aviance (NAHCO).
After FAAN managed to construct a foundation for the cargo shed at Akure airport, the project has since been abandoned and taken over by weeds. Uyo airport also does not have a cargo shed as all cargo emanating from Uyo are sent to Lagos for processing, before being exported out of the country.
Port Harcourt airport also largely lacks the needed infrastructure to facilitate cargo exports and imports. The cargo screening machines provided by FAAN at one of the cargo warehouses has been unserviceable for two years now. As a result of this, the cargo handlers engage in manual search, which slows down the process.
Although no cargo is currently being processed at Owerri airport, the State government is erecting about eight structures, currently under construction aimed at boosting economic development in the South East geo-political zone of the country.
The air cargo handling companies, SAHCOL and NAHCO, which handles 100 per cent of all export and import cargoes going through Nigerian airports, provide almost all infrastructures for cargo processing across airports where cargoes are processed.
Experts tell BusinessDay that these infrastructure gaps are hurting the participation of Nigeria in the N250 billion annual air freight export market out of Africa.
“Countries like Kenya, South Africa, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Egypt are participating in trading in commodities such as fruits, fresh fish, vegetables and flowers while Nigeria, which produces these goods in abundance, has very low participation as a result of poor infrastructure across airports that are supposed to help farmers and exporters process cargo,” an exporter who identified himself as Tunde Ajayi told BusinessDay.
Ajayi said that it sometimes cost a lot of money for farmers from the hinterlands to ship their products to Lagos for processing and those who cannot afford the cost for shipment just sell to people who live around their locality.
John Ojikutu, member of aviation industry think tank group, Aviation Round Table (ART) and Chief Executive of Centurion Securities, told BusinessDay that the decision by the government to build cargo terminals across 13 airports was a way to siphon money, adding that the job should be given out to the private sector.