Nigeria’s multi-billion dollar worth agro-export business is suffering preventable decline, as foreign cargo airlines and local exporters are fast abandoning the sector over stifling official bottlenecks at Nigeria’s airports.
In a replication of the hurdles that assail importing into Nigeria, more complicated roadblocks have been mounted by government agencies in the form of extortions, harassment and multiple charges on export goods, causing international cargo airlines to prefer flying out of Nigeria empty.
Though export was supposed to be free, investigations by The Guardian showed that the anomaly began at the beginning of the year, with multiple government agencies now on revenue overdrive – both for “government purses and private wallets.”
Among the 16 sundry charges tracked for goods coming in or departing the country via airports, only five are officially recognized.
At Lagos airport, for instance, at least 16 sundry charges are lined up against every inquiry to export beans, fruits, pap, garri (cassava flour), and cashew nuts to Europe or America. At Abuja, it was 15.
Official charges among the lots are five per cent Cargo Service Charge (CSC) that is statutorily collected by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA); Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria’s (FAAN) charge of N5 to N23/kg; Customs charges of N60 – N97/kg; ground handling charges of N45 to N90/kg (depending on produce or product) and freight charges accruable to the airlines.
Unofficial and non-receipted charges are: plant quarantine service fees for sanitary certification, put at N15,000 on average; association dues and FOU charges on the packaging, varying from N15,000 for car/van, N25,000 for bus/truck and N45,000 to N50,000 for a trailer full of cargo.
The following agencies also collect unofficial charges: Anti Bomb Squad of the Nigeria Police Force, National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), and National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).
Another illegal line charge is ‘repair and return’, as against plant quarantine.
The Guardian learnt that all these sundry charges, in addition to the foreign airline documentation charge of N12,500/kg, comparatively the most expensive on the continent, explains why foreign cargo airlines often depart Nigeria empty and fly to neighboring countries to pick export cargo.
A cargo agent, Akeem Aladeselu, said the charges had since gradually returned since freight services spiked after the pandemic lockdown last year.
“For us that deal in fruit production, the multiple charges readily amount to an average of N140/kg clearing charges. About a month ago, an additional N20/kg was levied at the point of export. It has no receipt.
“Our European partners just pulled out of the deal because it makes no sense spending N1, 160/kg processing fee to export bananas and mangoes to Europe. That was about N25 million worth of contract cancelled because exporting out of Nigeria, unlike in other parts of African countries, has become too expensive for vendors,” Aladeselu said.
Cargo exporter and Chief Executive Officer of ABX World, Capt. John Okakpu, added that the logistics cost of exporting pineapple is already £1.75/kg (about N1, 400).
“How much will you sell one kg in London? But when you complain, they will tell you that the agencies have to survive.”
Okakpu noted that government agencies have seen the cargo terminals as a revenue-generating venture for themselves and their agencies, yet killing the economy.
“All the airlines that come into Nigeria depart empty. Because it is cheaper for them to go out empty than carry something. If you load 100 tonnes of cargo on aircraft here, you are charged $35,000 in fees and taxes. Out of Ghana on the same trip is less than $4,000. That is why airlines would rather jet out empty.
“So, Nigeria is just hawking, not trading in the global cargo market. There are 500,000 to 620,000 tonnes out of Kenya every night. Here, we cannot boast of 20,000 tonnes a week. That is a $250 billion agro-export market wasting away. We created it for ourselves because we allow the civil servants to lord it on us all,” Okakpu said.
Managing Director of Flight Logistics Solutions Limited, Amos Akpan, at the Aviation and Cargo conference and exhibition (CHINET21) in Lagos, recently, said the export-to-import shortfall of 115 million (2019 figures) would keep widening due to bottlenecks and “most cargo airlines returning empty.”
Akpan shared his experience: “A farm management wrote to seek permission to import 4000 seedlings of avocado and macadamia seedlings from another African country. This government agency (not Customs) replied asking the farm management to pay N10 million before the permit is issued. Note that the phytosanitary certificate was obtained from the origin country at a fee of $120 only.
“The revenue Nigeria could have earned is lost. We have ET bring cargoes to Nigeria, and from Lagos move to Sierra Leone. DHL moves from China to Lagos, then Kinshasa to pick cargoes. Those are not good trade arrangements that can help local operators to survive or play in the cargo space.
Director of Product Development at the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), William Ezeagu, said they were not unaware of the complaints, and efforts were at advance stage to tackle the problems by setting up Domestic Export Warehouse and Aggregate Centre, as a one-stop-shop for all non-oil produce.
Ezeagu said the centre would harmonize activities and certification requirements of diverse agencies, as well as ensure quality assurance for seamless export to destinations.