‘Cargo loses over poor awareness, infrastructure at airports’
In the light of new data identification number policy on goods entering Europe, Chairman of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Segun Musa, in this interview with WOLE OYEBADE, explains why air cargo services in Nigeria are more at risk, among other sundry issues. Excerpts:
How critical is standard and infrastructure to goods open to export in Nigeria?
You need to know the demands of the buying countries, at what standards and rate are those things going to be exported to them. Presently now, a lot of people wanted to export but they are not informed about the bilateral agreements of those countries with Nigeria in terms of export. Second, there is what we call Process Department for exportation, because there must be a processing facility on ground that must do the packaging, branding and internationally acceptable standards for exportation. These we don’t have within the aviation sector. So, we still go about our local packaging, labeling and exportation processes.
And these products still get accepted overseas?
In smaller quantities and not in commercial quantities. That is why till date, a lot of people cannot export in commercial quantity unless probably they have to smuggle through other means. So, if you are producing beyond local consumption and want to concentrate on export consumption, yet you need to have the requirements and standard for that venture, definitely you are producing for waste.
Whose responsibility is it to provide this infrastructure vis-à-vis government’s diversification agenda?
Government just needs to look at the facility available to enhance exportation before they start thinking about economic diversification. If those facilities are not on ground and you want to go into commercial exportation, you are just as good as joking.
We cannot do commercial exportation because we don’t have the quantity on ground with the exception of only few people that probably from their factories have those equipment to achieve that. But when talking about our traders that have dedicated theirlives to farming and kinds of productions that wants to start focusing on international domain on exporting, such facility are not on ground.
Again, government policy has never been favorable. The government has not come forward with policies that will enhance and encourage trade facilitation when it comes to exportation. Take for instance; of recent we were to be exporting donkey skin in large quantity because it was required in China, Hong Kong and some European countries. When it was realized that these things are actually going in large quantity, they invaded the airport and they stopped it.
The only excuse given was that those things were contraband because they do not go through processing. We begin to ask, in the gazette of the Customs, it was specified that those things must go through processing not necessarily to the finished leather. The intension is not for it to be finished leather otherwise, what is the need for exportation when we need finished leather here? And because of their personal interest, they stalled the exportation of that donkey skin that would have actually boost not only revenue to the ground handling companies but also the airlines, port management agencies, asides the duties as so on. They have stopped it now. It is like at every time the government tries to diversify; the Customs will come with excuses to discourage it.
There are concerns about the attitude of government officials at the airport. Have they been friendly to your members?
They have not been friendly. Even in the import session, they have not been. Customs cannot do without alert at every point of clearance of your cargo. Valuation will bring alert, CIU, CAC, Abuja and every departments of Customs will bring alert and in clearance of every alert, you are wasting resources and time. There are multiple agencies. So, how do you facilitate export trade?
Today, in Europe, beginning from November 13 or 14, nobody will buy anything from you if you don’t have the Identification Data (IITD) otherwise they (buyer) will be penalized by their government. Yet, nobody is talking about that in Nigeria; nobody is even aware.
Government is not sharing information with exporters. To me, I see government doing more of lips service to exportation as a way of diversifying the economy. Government has not shown any serious indication to suggest that we are ready for exportation. And I keep telling people, yes, we are all aware that we don’t have manufacturers’ association in Nigeria…
We do have. There is the Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (MAN)
We don’t. What we have is local manufacturing association. When you are talking about manufacturers’ association, you are talking about people that have satisfied local consumption as well as export consumption. But the people we have are local manufacturers and are not looking beyond local consumption.
We have been challenging government that whatever policy is made in other countries about export, they should be aware of it. If they don’t and at the end of the day, whatever we produce in Nigeria that is in excess will only become a waste because no one will buy it overseas.
I am of the opinion that for any economy to strive, taxi or fly, the freight forwarders have a major role to play. They are the catalysts for trade facilitation. They are the ones that can educate both the public and private sector on the requirement to meet export facilitation. You can imagine, for the export sector that has been abandoned for decades, you cannot just wake up in a day and want to start using it immediately. You need to overhaul it, even repair and change spares. And that is the bitter truth we need to tell ourselves.
The issue has always being that if by tomorrow we are now diversifying into exportation, do we have the wherewithal, the equipment, the passage for us to facilitate this trade? Take for instance, I’m a manufacturer based in Kano, and I’m manufacturing in large quantity to meet international consumption and I need to export. Probably, if I’m a farmer and I need to export my produce and they are perishables and I need to transport them from Sokoto to Lagos airport. And I need to go by road…
Why not by air?
Because it is capital intensive. If I go by road, the cost will be very minimal for my customers to buy abroad. But if I go by air, nobody will buy from me. They will get it cheaper in Ghana, Kenya or even in Ivory Coast. But going by road, over 50 per cent of my tomatoes will perish. At every bus stop, police are stopping the truck to collect bribe, which is going to be added to my cost. At the end of the day, I bring everything to Iddo or airport, and tell my customer that because of the losses, we have to review the price. If the customer refuses, then I lose everything.
Why do I need to go back to the farm for another one year to farm again? The only pivot for exportation is the rail system. It will carry volume and at the cheapest rate. That rail has not been linked to our seaports or airport. But if I’m to make use of the rail and it is not there, then the essence has been defeated.
How often are the airlines interested in export goods from Nigeria?
All airlines are always available for export but there is no export to go. With exception of few vegetables and other few items going, we have nothing to lift. Go to Ghana and see their volume of export. The problem we have is not exportation, but that export is going at what cost?
Even if you have the goods, the multiple agencies are waiting with attitudes. You have to bribe and continue bribing from one table to the other because you don’t want them to frustrate you so you don’t miss your flight. If you do, those items will get spoilt before the next flight. Under the right procedure, those agencies are not supposed to be there at all.
Only the Customs are supposed to be there, as it is the case in Ghana because the work of Quarantine would have been done before that cargo gets to that arena. For exportation to thrive they must be prepared and all necessary things put in place.
Do you really advocate that the multiple agencies be withdrawn from the airport?
We have been doing that and all of them will tell you that we have statutory right to be here and that is why government has posted them there. Indirectly, they are telling you that government does not know the need for exportation and that is why they brought them to frustrate exportation.
The bulk of what we export is largely repair and return. Talk about machine that got damaged and have to be return and brought back.
That is the bulk of what we export in Nigeria.
What future do you see for export in Nigeria if these issues are addressed?
The future is bright. There areas that actually needed to be developed. Warehousing is very important along the sea area and the airports need to have the produce preserved, while waiting for the airlines to come. Then the processing centres must be within the airport. We should not be talking about economic diversification until we have satisfied these things.