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OKAKPU: How To Turn Around Nigeria’s Economy With Agro-allied Produce Exports

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Captain John Okakpu

Captain John Okakpu1

Captain John Okakpu is the Managing Director of ABX World, an aviation firm that specialises in courier and cargo services, with interest in the freight of agricultural produce from Nigeria to the rest of the world, especially Europe. In this interview with IBE UWALEKE, he said Nigerian can earn as much as $52b from agro-allied exports annually, create 20 million jobs, if agriculture is handled as a business and by the private sector.

What is this firm, ABX World, all about, and how do you intend to go about export of Nigeria’s agro allied products to the rest of the world?
PRACTICALLY ABX World is a cargo and a courier organisation. We started our business in 1998 as Airborn Express. But along the line, DHL bought Airborn Express in 2002. We were left with no choice than to setup a new network.  That new network is what metamorphosed into ABX World. The journey started in 1989. It was during my stay in America, working and attending to my education. I came into a section that was the backbone of Nigeria but got lost. My goal here is to bring Nigeria back to where we are supposed to be. It was a very painful task and journey, it has taken a lot of time and hard work, but the bottom line is that we are here now.

Where we are now is no more classroom work, we have gone beyond classroom. Unfortunately, back here in Nigeria a lot of people are still living in classroom work.

In ABX world, our goal is to champion agro airline in Nigeria. We don’t want to lead them, we are leading, we have come to make our mark, to create a revolution in Nigeria. Agro Allied has to do with agricultural products, in conjunction with transportation and logistics, mostly in aviation.

The only airport that I can say is fit for a cargo airport in Nigeria is Ilorin. Ilorin is at the entrance and the exit point of Nigeria. But the problem with Ilorin is the road network that will take you to other areas. There is no road network. It is easier for a cargo airline to come into Nigeria, drop its cargo in Ilorin, pick some of the produce and off it goes. If you start taking a European flight to Calabar, that is crossing the airspace, when they get to Calabar what are they dropping in Calabar?

You know the price of crude oil in the market today. Nigeria is one dimension economy, mono-economy, crude oil and import, that is it. Our banking sector is nowhere to be reckoned with among the rest of the world. God wants to redirect Nigeria. That is why we are now facing the issue of crude oil and falling price by the day. People like me will say let the crude oil be zero, one dollar per barrel because that will wake us up from the slumber.

For Nigeria to balance its budget today, crude oil has to be sold at $128 per barrel. How do we make up for the difference? Is it by producing more? Do we have the capacity to produce more to make up the difference?

We have no choice than to go back to basics, which is agriculture. And that is basically why I want to tell Nigerian people that at ABX world, we have partners in Europe, around the world, we are here to make a difference, create agricultural revolution whereby we take agricultural products as long as they meet the international standard and requirements to the world.

First of all we have to engage a lot of supply chains around the world, especially in Europe because about 60 per cent of what is going out of Nigeria will be destined to Europe. What we do is to engage a lot of supply chain, bring in the supply chain, then try and liase with the government, both state and federal and get the farmers, through their co-operative societies because most of these farmers have to be fully registered through their co-operative societies. And these farmers have to be trained on the dos and the don’ts involved in what they are into. When you bring in the farmers, you bring in the co-operative societies, then you put both of them together to be trained and certified to be able to supply the products they are into.
Once you get certified you can be guaranteed about three years contract. So there is a need for the training and certification, which is the most basic.

What are the particular farm produce you intend to export?
There are some airports designated as cargo airports in Nigeria, but to me I will call that blue-sky project.  What I mean by blue-sky project is that it will never work. I had some meeting with FAAN officials about two, three times in the past months and I gave them reason why it will never work. The world is changing. Most of the aircraft manufacturers are changing their direction. There will be a time you will not have a cargo airline because of the new trend in technology in aircraft manufacturing.
For example, Emirate is taking the lead in this direction. Some time ago Emirate ordered for a hundred and fifty Boeing 777-300ER. This aircraft takes over 400 passengers, takes their luggage plus their excess and still have the capacity to carry 30tonnes of cargo on two engines.

If you start designating 13 airports in Nigeria as cargo airports, first of all is it viable for cargo airline to fly there?
The world is changing so much so that most of the passenger terminals have to be the cargo terminals because most of these agricultural produce, have to be moved on daily basis.
When you harvest them they are moved immediately to their destination within 18 hours. You cannot tell me you load a British Airways with full passengers then you tell them to stop at Enugu to carry five tons of cargo because Enugu is designated as cargo terminal. It does not make any sense.

Experts like you have called on the government to convert some airports to cargo airport, because of the availability of agro-allied products in the areas, are you saying they are wrong?
Who goes there to Akure airport? It is not the government that would go there. So government can designate more than 100 airports, are they the ones that will fly there? It is the private sector.

What I am into is a one million percent private sector investment. Government has a lot of role to play in this part, but as far as the 13 cargo airports are concerned, they are blue-sky projects that will not work. The only airport that I can say is fit for a cargo airport in Nigeria is Ilorin. Ilorin is at the entrance and the exit point of Nigeria. But the problem with Ilorin is the road network that will take you to other areas. There is no road network. It is easier for a cargo airline to come into Nigeria, drop its cargo in Ilorin, pick some of the produce and off it goes. If you start taking a European flight to Calabar, that is crossing the airspace, when they get to Calabar what are they dropping in Calabar?  Did they have enough cargo from their origin into Calabar to go and carry whatever you say you have there?
You know the bureaucrats come up with policies that will never work.

What does Nigeria stand to gain if it invests in agro allied products export to other countries?
We have over 10 million Nigerians living outside the country. Do not forget that the market is geared to Nigerians out there, who are looking for home food and products. So, if one Nigerian spends $100 for a particular food item for a day, multiply that by how many items he will need in a week, month and a year, all through, with the amount he will be paying for these food items if they are available. The amount will be unimaginable.

Nigeria is a mono-economy country, depending on only crude oil to run its budgets. We need to wake up now that oil price has fallen to low index. This is the time to diversify the economy and invest heavily in agriculture and agro-allied products.
To focus on agriculture, you need huge number of well-trained farmers, who will in turn form co-operative societies. You also need the supply chain that will get the products to their destinations, as well as warehouses, storage and packaging facilities.

Our goal is to create 20 million jobs in two years, while Nigeria will be able to generate $52b annually from the export of agro allied products alone. There should not be any reason why Nigerians should suffer in the midst of plenty, especially as 70 per cent of all exportable farm produce comes from Northern Nigeria.
What are your targeted farm produce?
We have 75 products and out of 75, one of the major and the top line product exported out of Nigeria is a leaf called Ugwu, (Pumpkin). You cannot believe that today if you bring 40 feet container full of Ugwu it will go on a daily basis. That is one of the high products out of Nigeria. The list goes on; Ugwu is there, Bitter Leaf is there, Sweet Potato, Ginger, and Garlic.

How do you preserve them for export?
We don’t preserve them, ours is transportation. We have experts, people that do that. For example, ours is to take it from Nigeria to Europe. They get it fresh. If you go to SAHCOL, which is our processing centre, I can proudly tell you that today SAHCOL built first class world standard warehouse. And the cold room they have there today is only ABX world that is making use of it because of the dimension we are taking Nigeria to. Chief Owolabi, who is their Managing Director has emphasised on the importance of the work we are doing.

In terms of preservation, that is not our goal, our goal is fully logistics, bring in supply chain, getting the farmers, putting them together to be trained and certified.
We all know today that brown beans is banned from Nigeria, you can’t take it into Europe because of the chemical used in preservation. Then in terms of cassava peel, nothing out of cassava is a waste, including the peel. If you bring 100 container of cassava peel, it will go the same day from Nigeria.


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