By Chinelo Obogo, [email protected]

Nigeria has immense potential for air cargo which has remained untapped due to limited dedicated cargo flights and infrastructure. The chairman, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria’s (FAAN) AviaCargo Committee, Ikechi Ukoh, stated in Lagos while amplifying the call for strategic investment in the sub-sector to unlock its inherent offerings.

According to him, with a robust agricultural sector generating significant perishable goods, air cargo could revolutionise the nation’s export, swell foreign exchange earnings and turn Nigeria to a major cargo hub globally, if well harnessed.

Ukoh, who is also the organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, presented a paper at the just concluded Annual General Meeting of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agents (NANTA) held in Lagos, titled, “Identifying Business, Trade and Investment Prospects in Emerging Africa’s Travel and Tourism Market”. He said a recent visit to Jos with the Aviacargo Committee revealed an alarming 80% spoilage rate for locally-produced foods. Historically, Jos thrived as a cargo hub, boasting 26 dedicated cargo flights in 1986. Unfortunately, this activity has completely ceased.

He revealed that the research carried out by his committee shows that Nigeria has a far greater potential for air cargo than passenger travel and can increase its cargo volume which is currently estimated at a mere 170,000 tonnes annually. He expressed disappointment that most domestic airlines utilise belly cargo holds for limited freight movement but said this approach can be significantly improved upon by adopting dedicated cargo flights, particularly during off-peak night hours.   

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“When I took the FAAN Aviacargo Committee to Jos, we discovered that 80 percent of the food produced in Jos perishes. The only crop they don’t have issues with is soya beans, every other crop is in danger of spoiling because the roads are bad. In 1986, 26 flights were doing cargo out of Jos, now Jos does not get even one. From my study, the oppourtunity for cargo in Nigeria is much bigger than that of passengers because we produce a lot. 52 percent of the revenue generated by Ethiopian Airline comes from cargo business. Only one country in Africa is activating this oppoutunity big time and that is Kenya. It is currently the biggest air cargo country in Africa, meanwhile the country has a small airline, a small airport, a small population and a small capacity to produce. Almost every airline in Nigeria is doing cargo with the belly, only few are freighters. We can take advantage of the night time to fly cargo. We are only doing about 170,000 tonnes of cargo in Nigeria in a year and that is too small because the oppourtunities for cargo is immense. The managing director of FAAN, Mrs. Olubunmi Kuku, has insisted that I go with the team to the North West, because she is interested in activating that potential.

“In Africa, we have a huge population, but we are not taking advantage of it. One of the most thriving businesses in Africa today is agro business. Every country in Africa is moving food from one region to the other. Ghana buys yams from Nigeria, packages it very well and exports it abroad at a more expensive rate. Kano supplies cereals to Mauritania. Part of the studies we did in our committee is that we found out that the trucks that transport food from Kano takes two weeks before they get to Mauritania and the ones going to Central African Republic (CAR) have to pay duties to bandits on the way. But a Boeing 737 that flies four times a day can deliver quite a lot of that. The trade oppourtunities across Africa is massive. Ethiopian Air does cargo business and everything comes into an e-commerce hub which is distributed,” he said.

Ukoh said governments play a critical role in creating enabling environments that facilitate trade but while many African nations recognise this, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Africa, understand the importance of state involvement in developing their citizens’ capacity for global trade. Rwanda’s policy of offering visa-on-arrival for all African mainlanders serves as a prime example. This initiative, now emulated by others, underscores the potential of such proactive measures.  He maintained that to fully exploit the vast trade possibilities within Africa, governments must actively participate in creating solutions and this necessitates the inclusion of experienced professionals as advisors, to ensure effective policy development and implementation.

“The government plays a huge role to create an enabling environment for trade. Probably, only Kenya Rwanda and to some extent, South Africa truly understand the role a state can play in developing the capacity of its citizens in global trade. Rwanda started out with visa on arrival for all Africans on the African Mainland.  Today it is a model being copied by others. To access the possibilities in Africa, a government has to come to the table. This is where we need experienced people in government or assisting them.

“Airline access is the biggest problem we have in Africa. We keep talking about it every day because it is almost impossible to move around West Africa. East Africa is working because almost every country there has an airline. The reason why Tanzania and Uganda have not signed SAATM is because they just launched airlines and they need to protect it. With all the airlines we have, we are still not able to connect most nations,” he said.