Cargo airports with no cargo
The arbitrary designation of cargo airports across the country when there is no corresponding cargo to lift is political hoodwink than economic masterstroke. That explains why none of the airports is operational. Both commercial and cargo airports operate a two-way traffic arrangement. The same way commercial aircraft bring in passengers and then depart loaded with passengers is the way cargo planes operate. The aircraft doesn’t fly empty in either direction.
Cargo planes, for which cargo airports are built, bring in cargo and then load goods destined for other destination. No airplane would like to fly a route where there would be nothing to lift in the return journey. It doesn’t make economic sense. That some states are spending billions building the so-called cargo airports when it is certain that there are no goods on ground; and the goods have to be enough and supplied on regular basis to fill an aircraft. It is economic waste to do that.
Are there no regulators that should approve and direct these airport projects? What is the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) doing? Aviation is not like road transport where motor parks could spring up overnight and managed by area boys (agberos). Well trained professionals manage aviation.
Presently, cargo airports are mushrooming in Ekiti, Osun, Ogun, Zamfara, Nasarawa, Anambra, Abia and Bayelsa states. All of these states have nearby airports that could be used to lift any kind of cargo if the intention is genuine.
The flag off of another controversial N38 billion cargo airport at Dauda in Guma Local Government Area of Benue State, once again, brings to the front burner this issue of irrational cargo airports. Prominent citizens of the state have criticised the Benue project as more political than economic but the State Governor, Samuel Ortom, appears hell bent on carrying on. Many citizens see the mega project as a white elephant that may not yield the expected value to the state.
But Ortom insists that the airport would provide a platform for the quick evacuation of farm produce to markets abroad. He said the project is being implemented under a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangement in partnership with Cargopolis Development Consortium (CDC).
Ortom said CDC would fund 85 per cent of the cost while the state government would only provide 15 per cent. And to maximise the benefits, he said the airport, which expected to be completed in three years would include an aviation school fully equipped to train aeronautical engineers and pilots. All these are in order if the viability of the project has been thoroughly considered.
The issue is not necessarily in building the airport but on the imperatives surrounding it. For instance, whereas Benue State is described as the food basket of the federation, to what extent has the state gone in producing enough for the domestic market before having surplus for export? That the state appears to produce food in appreciable quantity is no justification for building a brand new cargo airport. Why not use the airports at Abuja or Benue that are stone throw away? Can Benue be able to meet the steady and regular supply of produce for the export market?
Besides, there are other technical issues that must be sorted out before hand. This has to do with the quality and quantity of the farm produce. On the local front, there has to be certification of the designated export products by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON). SON carries out a number of product assessment and processes to confirm conformance to specifications. Without these assessments, the product cannot be moved to any country without being wasted.
Then there is the international certification of products that allows products to be exported to overseas. I have said this before that while I was in Nairobi, Kenya, some Nigerian businessmen exported Nigeria’s Star beer (mini bottles) to Nairobi that were rejected by that country’s customs on the ground that the liquid content did not meet the required international standard. The guys lost substantial amount of money having imported containers of the beer by sea.
Besides, the European Union has, for some time now, banned the importation of Nigeria’s beans, sesame seed, melon, dried fish and meat, peanut chips and palm oil. The European Food Safety Authority said the rejected products did not meet the international standards required. The Federal Government recently set up a committee to deal with the matter. Did the Benue State governor and his advisers know about these developments? Did they consider them? How many farmers in Benue State or elsewhere in Nigeria have certifications for their farm products?
While it is common knowledge that Nigeria is a great importer of goods from all over the world, the desire to export has not been matched with clearly articulated policy thrust to ensure that enough goods are produced locally whether industrial or agricultural. The authorities in Nigeria are interested in cargo airports just for the mere attraction of it.
There is nothing on ground to ensure that such economic adventure creates an alternative source of income. As it were, at present, only four, out of Nigeria’s 22 airports are adjudged economically viable. These include Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. The rest are unviable.The implication is that there is little or no benefit derived from the billions spent on the airports. The potentials are not fully realised. It is possible to export agricultural products if the government is serious in directing the farmers.
Truth is that cargo airports are being designated across the country just for political gain. The people are being cheated. It is double tragedy to clear large hectares of valuable agricultural land and then spend billions to erect structures that would yield no benefits or add value. It would just be a matter of time and the structures would disintegrate. The fact that the affected governors are sitting the airports in their immediate home localities shows that they are merely settling political scores while at the same time dispossessing their people of their land. The people lose in everything.
I would like to emphasise that exporting non-oil products from Nigeria is highly encouraged. If any governor is sincerely desirous of embarking in export trade, especially of farm produce, by air, wisdom demands that the governor should first consider using the nearest airport. Building a brand new airport is senseless.