In spite of the Federal Government’s campaign for economic diversification and export promotion, there is growing exporters’ apathy due, among others, to logistic difficulties at the nation’s international airports .
While the availability of supply is not in doubt, the bureaucratic bottlenecks at the airports and alleged extortion by a legion of government officials have more or less made the export corridors almost a no-go area for local exporters.
In the alternative, farmers have taken to smuggling to neighbouring countries, including Benin Republic, Togo, Cameroun and Ghana, where freighting is cheaper and unhindered by officials.
But the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), that is responsible for coordinating affairs at the airports justified the heavy presence of government agencies at the exit points, describing it as “statutory.”
At the cargo terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, for instance, there are representatives of almost all the security agencies in the country, who supervise the import and export of commodities. Among them are the Department of Quarantine Services, the Nigerian Immigration Services, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Customs, Police, Department of State Services (SSS), Anti-Bomb squad, Air Force, Skyways Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL)/National Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
A yam farmer in Nasarrawa State, who identified himself as Abdullahi Sanni, said the “road blocks” at the airport and attendant extortions by some officials had over the years remained the bane of the country’s export drive.
Abdullahi said: “Go and find out. A Nigerian yam that manages to get to Canada or United States, because they love our yam so much, ends up being between 60c and $1 more expensive than others coming from places like Ghana. And more often, they turn out to be the same type of yam but in different labels.”
An exporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity,said that all the officials must be “settled from table to table” before the produce can be loaded onto an aircraft.
According to him, “We usually start with the Quarantine. They will insist on fumigation and you must pay about N12,000 per pellet. Besides, you still have to bribe and continue bribing from one table to another You must bribe your way through all the agencies if you don’t want to miss your flight.”
President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Segun Musa confirmed the allegation, adding that “under the right procedure, those agencies are not supposed to be there at all, and we have been crying for ages, but government would not listen.”
Besides logistics, there is also the problem of certification of Nigerian farmers to make their produce acceptable overseas.
A U.S.-based Nigerian export promoter, Patricia Obichukwu, noted that Nigeria has over 15,000 registered yam farmers, but none is internationally certified because of non-adherence to the rigid process required by the international market.
Aside from the dearth of infrastructure, there is also the issue of five per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on freight cost. This is an additional barrier which makes the export of Nigeria’s farm produce more expensive than Ghana’s, or Cameroun’s.
For instance, the Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana is now a logistic hub in the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) because of its ease of export processing. It hosts only one government agency at the export shed to check the export of unauthorised goods out of Ghana, but there are absolutely no duties on authorised goods.
The Accra airport alone exports an average of 25,000 MT yearly, which include 95 per cent of fruits and vegetables, and five per cent for general cargo and mining extract. In contrast, the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, MMIA, Lagos, being the busiest in Nigeria, is doing 16,000 MT yearly, Kano 1,000 MT, Port Harcourt 900 MT, and Abuja 400 MT.
Air France KLM Cargo Country Manager Nigeria, Gabriel Lalande, reported that yams exported from Ghana, actually originated from Nigeria, due to the cumbersome export process and high duty cost.
According to him, what is usually done is to hold airport security meeting and the Joint Intelligence Board (JIB), led by the NCAA to address concerns as they are raised.