opinionBy Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi
Days after the first cargo plane landed at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, on Tuesday, August 24, 2016, I had, in excitement written an article that eponymously discussed the “cargo” of opportunities which the upgrade of the airport represented for my people and by extension, the people living and doing business in and around the South East of Nigeria.
In that article, I pointed out the peculiar economic values a standard international airport will provide for the people of this area and its environs by positing that South-East Nigeria was (still is) a vast market with a population conservatively estimated at N45 million people most of whom engage in agriculture and commerce. I also added that the opportunities the Enugu Airport would present will become even more significant when the proximity of the State to the North-Central Nigeria states of Benue and Kogi States were factored. What it therefore meant, I had also stated, was that the Enugu Airport has the capacity to become the cargo hub for the South East and parts of North Central Nigeria. With a combined population of close to 70 million people, it is easy to imagine opportunities this will provide for the people.
I recall that at the South East Investment Summit, held in April 2016, which had as its theme: “Beyond Oil: Fostering Inclusive Economic Growth & Sustainable Development,” I had made it clear that ours was a government that was determined to provide the critical development enablers that will catalyze the economy of the state in a manner that will uplift and upscale the living standards of the people. A world-class international airport is critical to achieving some of these goals and in saying this, I am not just talking about the lives of the people of Enugu State, but also those of the entire South East and north central Nigeria.
On Sunday, September 2, 2018, the South East Governors Forum held their meeting at the Government House Enugu and top among the issues discussed was the state of the Enugu Airport, especially the runway, tarmac and the lighting systems that have made it almost impossible for aircrafts to land at the airport at night. We also took note of the very important cargo section of the airport, especially with its economic importance to the economy of the region and urged the Minister in charge of Aviation to take urgent steps towards ensuring it was brought to optimal standards of performance and usefulness for business.
The deliberate efforts of the Federal Government on the Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria is not lost on us and we are determined to contribute our own significant quota in ensuring that all indices that facilitate the consummation of transactions are on the upscale without compromising systems, processes and revenue opportunities for the government.
I am one of those who strongly believe that in the efforts to reduce the bottlenecks against the Ease of Doing Business, attention should not be limited to expediting approval processes and limiting documentation requirements to certain minimum levels. The future of ensuring that businesses are conducted faster and easier also includes the decentralization and spread of a number of activities. Activities at our land and sea ports are some of the areas I would wish would be examined in Nigeria’s Ease of Business cycle, and I will take time to explain this in some of the following paragraphs.
A report published in 2014 in the IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science (IOSR-JHSS) by two researchers, Adenigbo, Joseph Adedotun and Ubogu, Andrew Egba suggested that the absence of strong and viable airports in other parts of the country have constrained occupational mobility outside of Lagos.
According to this research, of the 18,780 registered cargo agents in Nigeria in 2011, Lagos airport accounted for 10,414 of them while Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt had just over 8,000 agents to share among them. What this means is that any Nigerian that wishes to survive in the freight forwarding business must have to relocate to Lagos.
The same research also recorded that in the same year 2011, there was a total of about 84 million tonnes of cargo coming into Nigeria while 11 million tonnes were shipped from Nigeria’s airports. Of these numbers, Lagos had a lion-share of 76 million tonnes in cargo inflows and 10 million tonnes outflows.
Now, out of the 76 million tonnes of cargo that berthed in Lagos in the year under review, it is easy to speculate that more than 75 per cent of that volume is destined for cities/locations far away from the ports of the Nigerian commercial capital. What this means is that importers spend a whole lot more in transportation, insurance and other logistics, costs that are passed on to the consumer.
Again, nearly 100 per cent of the 10 million tonnes of cargo that left Nigeria from Lagos were moved from other parts of the country, again, at logistics and insurance costs to the exporters. Considering that exports have pre-agreed prices, irrespective of ports of origin, this also impacts adversely on the exporters, cutting down margins, slowing turnaround time and slowing investments in exports/imports by businesses located far from the port centres.
Littering nearly all of Nigeria’s highways are fallen articulated vehicles laden with either imported goods or those destined for exports, mostly, if not all from the Lagos ports. Our roads are not too good and the drivers of such vehicles would not yield to fatigue until it has become fatally late. In most cases, the merchants, most of whom, as we know, overlook the insurance side of their businesses, tend to lose everything.
The case for a major cargo hub in Enugu:
It was after due evaluation of these and a few other factors that the Enugu State Government, under my watch, decided a few weeks ago, to provide more support and motivation to the Federal Ministry of Aviation towards ensuring that the Akanu Ibiam International Airport receives such a makeover that will ensure it becomes capable of attracting enough patronage to make it a major hub for passenger and cargo traffic for the South East as well as some South-South and North Central states.
In order to demonstrate the willingness of the Enugu State Government to provide all the support needed to expedite action on the much needed upgrade of facilities at the airport, we set up a stakeholders committee to, among other things; examine all pending issues with a view to resolving them to facilitate the expansion and provision of enabling facilities that will make Akanu Ibiam International Airport the hub it so much deserves to become for the good of Nigerians doing business in and around the region.
What we wish to achieve is to support every effort required in order to get the airport functioning at optimum capacity and efficiency. The stakeholders committee will also have to unravel what appears to be a disagreement among federal authorities operating in Enugu State regarding ownership of vast hectares of land, which the state government had approved around the airport for their use.
We are willing to clear these perceived stumbling blocks and have also expressed our willingness to relocate some identified structures and encumbrances such as a nearby local market at Emene to pave the way for the relevant federal authorities to complete all works on the airport. We have also expressed our willingness to donate even more land areas should there be the need.
We understand the enormous impact of an upgraded airport in terms business growth, employment generation and capacity building. Our people are great entrepreneurs. They travel to all corners of the world in search of goods they bring home to meet the needs of the teeming population. They are increasingly also becoming producers; engaging in manufacturing and commercial farming, most of which are exportable to other countries. With the Nigerian government increasingly making strong statements with agricultural development and investments along the value chain, an upgraded Akanu
Ibiam will give stronger impetus to the national agenda of expanding our economic base.
Studies have shown that cargo airports are great stimulants for economic development. For instance, a study done in 2005 on the local and regional economic impacts of Minneapolis/ St. Paul International Airport in the United States, estimates that that the airport generated 28,545 direct jobs. Of these, around 63 per cent (18,000) were in airlines that used the airport. In addition, freight airlines/freight forwarders employed 3,000 people, while around 2,300 were employed by ground transportation companies. Another 11,264 indirect jobs were generated as a result of expenditure by firms located at the airport, on the goods and services they buy from their suppliers.
What this means is that there are pipelines of opportunities for the people of the south-east which, combined with other development strides we are making, are capable of transforming the fortunes of the region and its people in a very short time.
Some of these gains are summarised as follows:
Employment generation. With improved cargo handling capacity at the Enugu Airport, tremendous opportunities will open for young people in and around the South East. As a government, we have made employment generation a key plank of our democratic deliverables by creating fertile enablers for the expression of the entrepreneurial spirit of our people and ensuring we get priority call for investment decisions.
Trade facilitation. The trade and commerce industry in Nigeria is dominated by the people of South East who travel to all corners of the world for goods and services that meet the needs of well-defined market segments. With an upgraded cargo airport in Enugu, the challenges of travelling to Lagos and Abuja to receive imported goods and ship those destined for exports would be significantly reduced and by that token boosting economic activities.
Inspiring innovation. Research has shown that when there is an opportunity to serve a bigger market, 30 per cent of businesses will substantially innovate while the remaining 70 per cent will marginally innovate. What is important here is that innovation happens across industries when they smell the chance to sell to a larger market. Our people are already exporting fresh vegetables and other farm products to China, Europe and the Americas but I am certain that with a cargo airport close to them, there’d improvements in crops, standardization and better packaging of products. These, on their own, will spinoff other industries that will provide the material and standards for the packaging and also open widows for marketing and branding of what were otherwise commodities.
Investment enabler: Most air cargo consists of machinery or products that will be used in a manufacturing process. It is estimated that 40 per cent of the value of inter-regional trade in manufactured goods is transported by air. What this means is that nearness to seaports may no longer be an inhibitor to investors who desire to exploit to resource and labour opportunities in the South East.
Ugwuanyi is the governor of Enugu State, South East, Nigeria.