AVIATIONLINE: We understand you were recently honoured with a Doctorate degree of a university. Can you shed more light on this?
OWOLABI: The idea of the university to honour me with the award has been on for two years now. The institution in question is the Commonwealth University with the London Business School. During the two-year period the school was inviting me and I didn’t give any positive response regarding the award. They came the first time and I turned it down. Here in Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) we believe in reputation; we don’t just accept awards. I needed time to investigate the institution concerned to make sure they are credible people. When they came the second time, having concluded our findings, I accepted to receive the award. Three (3) of us Nigerians were honoured at the same time. There were people also from Ghana and other places that were similarly honoured.
At least some people from outside have seen what we are doing here and they have decided to bestow such a honour on me. It is a sort of recognition for our contributions to the development of aviation handling in particular and the economic system in this part of the world.
AVIATIONLINE: Which degree were you given?
OWOLABI: Doctor of Science (DSc) degree.
AVIATIONLINE: How do you feel receiving the award?
OWOLABI: Like any other human being I feel happy and proud of myself, I feel proud of SAHCOL, I feel proud of my management. It gave me confidence that we are doing things right here and that people are watching us. I also look at it as recognition of what we have been able to do here.
AVIATIONLINE: Do you see the award as a form of encourage-ment to you?
OWOLABI: Oh, yes. Naturally I feel encouraged that some people some-where else are looking at us and they feel we should be recognised for contributing our quota to the development of not only the nation’s aviation but also the entire economy. I see the award as a form of tonic that invigorates me to work more that I have done in the past at the managerial cadre. I must say here that I am grateful to the institution that has accorded me this rare honour.
AVIATIONLINE: To whom will you dedicate the award?
OWOLABI: To my staff of course. While I thank God Almighty for giving me strength, I am equally grateful to my staff for supporting me over the years. They have supported me because they believe in me. They have cooperated with me to do what we have been able to do so far.
AVIATIONLINE: Many Nigerians believe that awards have become a cash and carry business. Is it like that in this case?
OWOLABI: No, no, no! There is no money attached to it. We don’t do that here. In fact we reject awards here that we suspect has pecuniary undertone. We have rejected a number of such awards in the past. Any award that involves giving money before it is awarded, we reject it. We have standards. Even as we are talking now, there are some awards we are still considering. It is a policy here, we don’t pay for awards. All that we have received are based on merit and hard work. There was a conference that preceded the award ceremony and we were part of it. The award ceremony was a segment of the conference. A lot of people came for conference. Only a few people benefitted from the investiture. Our belief here is that any organisation that attaches money to its award, there is nothing in it.
AVIATIONLINE: What stage are you now with your new warehouse complex?
OWOLABI: We are doing our test running now and the response we are getting is quite encouraging. People are receiving their goods on time. The complex is one-stop shop where the Customs documentation is completed and goods are released without hassles. In all, we have 22 loading bays, that is, 22 trucks can load at the same time. We experience seamless services without the rains having to disturb us.
Also we have succeeded with the crowd control. This type of edifice is first in Africa and we are particularly grateful to the Chairman of SIFAX Group, our umbrella organisation, for supporting the vision. People now believe in us that we have been able to import into this country what only exists in the UK, America and other developed economies.
We no longer experience a situation whereby hooligans intimidate our customers. We have kept them at bay. Our customers are no longer extorted unnecessarily. Also we have succeeded in eliminating pilfering or mutilation of cargo.
Passengers that patronise us are now confident that whatever comes through our warehouse are safe and in good hands.
Here we have the best storage facility for pharmaceuticals. There are freezers for vegetables and other perishables. We are encouraged that people are responding to us positively.
With this type of facility in place, the country can begin to encourage the export of agricultural produce as a way of diversifying the nation’s economic base. The only area where we need to improve upon is in packaging. The government can get the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to sensitise farmers on the need to package their farm produce in a way that it will get to its final destination in the same condition it was at point departure.
In the past people were sceptical about exporting or importing certain items because of the high temperatures here. Here we have the freezers to handle such items. Our freezers are good enough to handle such cargo. We can even handle a whole flight if the need arises.
We should not depend solely on oil; I think the reality of the sharp drop in global oil prices is an indication that we need to diversify into agricultural export to enable us shore up our foreign earnings. We cannot succeed with that if we don’t have this type of facility.
Another issue is for government to create an enabling environment for us to be able to do this. For instance, the farmers need to be assisted to package their produce under conditions they can reach their destinations in Europe, America, Asia, etc. These are things that are essential in this country as we begin to look away from oil to agriculture. A lot of our agricultural products get spoilt because of non-packaging and lack of information about where these things should go and under what conditions.