Nigerian government is accelerating the country’s air cargo competitiveness by setting up specific committees involving leaders from public and private enterprises to build and operate airports with modern cargo infrastructure.

In a bid to bolster air cargo traffic and infrastructure in Nigeria, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) recently set up committees to tackle the major barriers that have continued to retard air cargo development in Nigeria. Experts believe several drawbacks in Nigeria’s air cargo value-chain have put the country at a potentially disadvantaged position in Africa’s unfolding free trade market called the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Capt. Rabiu Yadudu, emphasised the importance of the committees, saying Nigeria should now focus on strategic air cargo development to address deep-rooted challenges that resulted in Nigeria still importing more than it exports. Air cargo has remained significantly low compared to cargo carried by road transportation in Nigeria despite air cargo potentials in the country.

“In 2020, the contribution in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at current basic prices for the road and air modes of transportation were N2,368,878 and N151,047 respectively,” Yadudu said, citing data from Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics. In 2023, this gap is expected to have widened given the high cost of air transport orchestrated by worsening economic conditions in Nigeria. He expressed optimism towards “steadily increasing our exports data on goods and mails by a minimum of 25% and 10% respectively, year on year for the next five years starting in 2023 and using the 2021 data as benchmark.”

(L to R) Hadi Sirika, Minister of Aviation; Noimot Salako-Oyedele, Ogun State Deputy Governor; Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of Nigeria' Vice President; Yemi Osinbajo Nigeria’s Vice President; Governor Dapo Abiodun and Mrs Bamidele Abiodu during the first landing of commercial aircraft at the Gateway International Agro Cargo Airport.

Poor road and rail infrastructure prevent timely and efficient transportation of especially agricultural produce from farms in the hinterlands. According to Oju Olape, a rural farmer in Abeokuta, an agricultural town in South-West Nigeria, the lack of access roads, which is a ubiquitous challenge nationwide, prevents farm settlements from moving their produce safely to nearby towns and cities.

The Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Musa Nuhu, recently reiterated the need to attract more Nigerian exports to air transport to minimize losses incurred in cross-border transportation of Nigerian agricultural produce by road.

The persisting challenges dwarf the contributions of aviation to GDP in Nigeria. The Minister of Aviation for Nigeria, Hadi Sirika, recently said Nigeria aims at increasing the contribution of air transport to Nigeria’s GDP from 0.6% pre-pandemic to 5%. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had put the contribution of air transport to Nigeria’s GDP at $1.7billion in 2020; the country is focused on raising this to about $14 billion.

Ikechi Uko, Coordinator of the committees, expressed optimism that the newly constituted air cargo development Committees would help launch Nigeria to the leading position from its current fifth position in air cargo ranking in Africa. According to Uko, working in three clusters focusing on airport, cargo and export respectively the committees would kick-start Nigeria’s climb to the top air cargo position in Africa leveraging the large economy in the country.

The new committees which include local air cargo experts, leading cargo airline, insurance and regulatory agencies, as well as major ground handling companies and export processing and farmer associations in Nigeria, according to analysts, are a fresh opportunity to realign Nigeria’s cargo growth with current aviation industry recovery.

Interestingly, agencies including the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), National Quarantine services among others, which exporters have accused of creating bottlenecks in the air cargo export value-chain, are also part of the new committees. This raises hope that the agencies will work more seamlessly with exporters, handling companies, farmers and other cargo airport stakeholders in Nigeria.

“We need to attract more Nigerian exports to air transport to minimise losses incurred in cross-border transportation of Nigerian agricultural produce by road.”
Musa Nuhu, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority

Beyond efforts to reposition Nigeria’s air cargo, the Nigerian government also recently appointed Olusegun Awolowo, a former Managing Director of Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC), as Secretary of the National Action Committee on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), to enhance Nigeria’s participation in AfCFTA. The AfCFTA creates the world’s single largest trading bloc of 1.3billion people and over three trillion USD of combined GDP of 54 countries. It is a flagship project of the Agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU) which became operational in 2021, and Nigeria signed the AfCFTA mid-2019.

The Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria Economic Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA), Prof. Adesoji Adesugba, has called on Nigeria’s Free Trade Zones, local investors and industries to take advantage of the Nigerian government’s efforts to implement the AfCFTA.

Recently the Vice-President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, the Minister of Aviation, the Governor of Ogun State in South-West Nigeria, Governor Dapo Abiodun and other eminent personalities attended the first test flight of Ogun State Cargo Airport. The dignitaries have stated that the cargo airport would accelerate economic development in the region, which is one of Nigeria’s and West Africa’s leading industrial areas.

Hoping to complete the airport over the next half-year, the state government announced it is searching for international Public-Private Partnership (PPP) investors to develop the cargo airport which has four kilometer runway, a control tower still under construction, and 82,000 sqm space for cargo apron waiting to be developed.

The new cargo airport, he said, will be alternative to Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and is being considered as export terminal of non-oil export relevant to movement of cargo in the continental free trade area in Africa.

However, the springing up of new cargo airports in Nigeria has continued to raise questions, especially given that Nigeria’s cargo traffic and infrastructure have not remarkably improved over the last decade. Few major airports in Nigeria have achieved any form of certification, while almost all 13 designated cargo airports in Nigeria lack functional or new-technology driven cargo facilities.

“Ogun State Cargo Airport will be alternative to Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and is being considered as export terminal of non-oil export relevant to movement of cargo in the continental free trade area in Africa.”
Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria

John Ojikutu, CEO of Centurion Security Services and former Commandant of Lagos Airport, speaking the mind of many aviation analysts, expressed worry over the inability of previously launched cargo airports to deliver improved value to Nigeria’s GDP and economy.

Sindy Foster, Partner at Avaero Capital Partners, emphasized that new airports in Nigeria should provide a huge economic advantage rather than being used as political ploys. To get these airports working, states need to prioritise building and completion of airport agro-infrastructure as well as multimodal infrastructure to create value for airlines and shippers alike, while meeting evolving cargo standards. For airports in agricultural regions such as the new Ogun State Cargo Airport, state governments should lead policy strategies to ensure the agricultural investments and the cargo airports enjoy mutual support.

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