Dr Olu Owolabi, former Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited, SAHCOL, has urged the present administration to fast track the on-going airport development programme in order to complement its quest to drive the nation’s economy out of the doldrums through agriculture and export trade.
This, he said, has become imperative in the face of the dwindling fortunes of petroleum globally occasioning the current efforts to take recourse to agriculture and commodity export which actually was the mainstay of the country’s economy until the discovery of crude oil in commercial quantities.
DrOwolabi was of the opinion that nature has endowed Nigeria with resources such as good soil and minerals which we can export to earn foreign exchange to balance the heavy importation of products into the country; a development which he said has weakened the local currency, the Naira.
He made reference to the big mangoes; cotton, groundnut and cashew in the northern part of the country, cassava, rubber, cocoa and palm produce in the south which products we can export for hard currency rather than operate a mono product and import oriented economy which drains the returns we have from oil.
According to him, export trade has a quick turn around when commodities are airfreighted rather than shipped as shipments take as long as two weeks to European destinations and three weeks to certain American destinations whereas airfreighting takes a maximum of 48 hours to the most distant destinations around the world.
His words: “Now that you have a government in place during which tenure the oil we so rely on so much is drying up. The price is drying up; not the oil. I believe strongly that the government is looking inwards to what we can export which we have a lot both in the North and the South. We have the big mangoes in the North, so also cashew; we have minerals and so on, that we can export. And the beauty of it is that when you go by sea to any of the countries you want to go with these products it takes two or three weeks before arriving at their destinations. But if you use the airlines, I mean, aircraft, for such freighting it takes a maximum of 48 hours to reach the furthest destinations in the world.
It is unacceptable in a modern clime for foreign aircraft bringing in imported goods to return empty when we have in abundance agricultural produce and minerals which we can easily export at discounted tariff.”
He therefore counselled that rather than emphasise aesthetics in the ongoing airport remodelling exercise, the federal government should put in place necessary infrastructure that will promote commodity export trade as it is cheaper and faster to airfreight than ship products.
He said, for instance, the recently commissioned SAHCOL’s ultramodern cargo warehouse at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, would complement the present federal government’s efforts to encourage export especially of agricultural products not only to firm up the nation’s economic base but also the weak Naira.
He however took a swipe at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, for venturing into cargo warehousing in some airports in the country, pointing out that as a pub
lic agency, bureaucracies of government will hamstrung it from running the warehouses efficiently and profitably.
In his opinion, FAAN will be in a better stead, as landlord at the nation’s airports, provide security to counter terrorism which has assumed global threatening dimensions in addition to providing the necessary enabling environment for the private sector to make our airports commercially viable.
“FAAN cannot invest profitably in cargo warehousing; such entrepreneurship is better left in the hands of the private sector,” he emphasised.
He made reference to SAHCOL’s warehouse which he described as Africa’s first and best configured with 24 loading bays to facilitate loading or offloading goods even under harsh weather conditions and six cold rooms for the storage of perishable goods imported or for export.
DrOwolabi urged the federal government to support farmers in the country who are interested in the export trade in the areas of packaging of their products for export and standardisation such that the best of our products will be exported seamlessly without incurring losses.
“What I am emphasising is for the government to come into the area of packaging to help the farmers, to help those who are ready for export. I am not asking the government to come in and do things, no. I am asking government to come in in the area of technical know-how. It can use agencies like the Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, and the Export Promotion Council to liaise with the countries to where we want to export our products. Every country has its own standard. It is only in Nigeria we have standard that we don’t follow,” he added.