If Nigeria needs to turn around its economy, it must re-think its dependence on the export of crude oil and diversify into cargo and agro allied export. Such paradigm shift will guarantee food security and create a window for Nigerian exports to Europe and the global markets where it could earn over $52 billion yearly, in addition to creating jobs. The Managing Director of ABX World, Captain John Okakpu, in this intervie w with KELVIN OSA-OKUNBOR speaks on these and other issues.
There have been calls on the government to convert some airports to cargo airport; because of the availability of agro-allied products in the area where such airports are located. Do you agree with this?
Who goes to Akure airport? It is not the government that would go there. So, the government can designate more than 100 airports, are they the ones that will fly there? It is the private sector. The 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 there? Did they have enough cargo from their origin into Calabar to go and carry whatever you say you have there?
What does Nigeria stand to gain if it invests in agro allied products for export?
We have over 10 million Nigerians living outside the country. Do not forget that the market is geared towards Nigerians out there, who are looking for home food and products. So, if one Nigerian spends $100 on 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 the 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 Nigerians should suffer in the midst of plenty, especially as 70% of all exportable farm produce comes from Northern Nigeria.
What are your targeted farm produce?
We have 75 products and out of that, one of the major and the top line product exported out of Nigeria is a leaf calledUgwu, (Pumpkin). You cannot believe that today if you bring a 40-feet container full ofUgwu,it will go on a daily basis. That is one of the high products out of Nigeria. The list goes on;Ugwuis 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 who 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.
Preservation is not our goal; our goal is logistics, bring in supply chain, get the farmers, put 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. Crude oil prices are failing and one of its spiral effects is the huge cut in revenue accruing to the government.
How did we get to this stage?
Fundamentally, as a government and a people we got it all wrong many years and decades ago when we solely depended on crude oil export as the mainstay of the economy. No reasonable government or a nation will do that considering that it would have attendant effects on her economy. Now, the reality has hit us economically and we are running around. It is time to stop complaining and strategise to move ahead. It is time government launched a serious return to the land campaign, by that I mean agriculture.