EXPORTERS of perishable cargo/vegetable have lost a whooping N100 million due to government’s closure of export warehouses of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) and the Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCOL) over alleged housing stolen and prohibited items meant for exportation.This is just as they have stated that government’s closure of the export sheds at the Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos is sending wrong signals to the comity of international agro-allied supply chain and portends grave danger for the economy’s agro-allied produce, if not curtailed.
Speaking to journalists, CEO of ABX World, Captain John Okakpu said that the agro-allied exporters numbering over one hundred are concerned; although, the Nigeria Customs Service officials have re-opened the warehouses, however such incident tantamount to economic loss, as already international off-takers are developing cold-feet with regards agricultural produce from Nigeria.
Captain Okakpu, who said the exporters lost over N100million worth of goods within 48-hours the export warehouses were shut, called on the Federal Government through the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) should urgently commence full-scale investigations into the immediate and remote causes of the warehouses closure to avoid future occurrences.
He said that with government’s focus on agriculture as one of the panaceas to the rising inflation, restrictions in capital flows and depleting forex reserves, agro-allied exporters deserve protection as partners.
“Gentlemen, the truth is, we have made fundamental mistakes in the past as a nation by becoming a mono-economy. But, we cannot continue to lick the wounds. We have to reverse the case and agriculture provides us with a better option to grow. That is why as agro-allied exporters, we are seriously worried over the actions of some government officials, who seem not to underestimate the peculiarities of perishable items for export.
“Shutting down the warehouses was actually an indictment on customs, as they (Customs officials) ought to have carried out surveillance before shutting down all export businesses at the Lagos Airport. If such act is not checkmated in future it will compound issues and create a logjam in the system. Or, do we prefer to ship our cargos to countries like Ghana or Cameroun before we can be shipped to Europe and other markets? Presently, the yam sold in Europe as Ghana yams are actually from Nigeria! Go and investigate it! Because we seemingly abandoned our God-given potentials ‘to lick oil’, see how the economy has been battered. We wouldn’t want the issues surrounding brown beans and other agricultural produce from Nigeria, to happen to vegetables and other perishables like ginger, garlic, Nsukka-yellow pepper, among others. That is why we are calling on the Federal Government to urgently investigate the matter and punch who ever are the culprits to serve as deterrent to others. So, as Professor Yemi Osibanjo was inaugurating the new agric road map, those warehouses have been shut. What an irony. Enough is enough!”, he said.
He said that any action contradicting Federal Government’s agricultural road map which was launched by the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo recently should not be treated with levity.
Supporting Captain Okakpu’s claims, the President, Nigeria Vegetable Exporters Association, Mrs. Oluwatoyin Temitope, said that her company alone lost over N1million worth of cargo within 24-hours of the export shed closure.
She lamented the widespread impact on the Association’s members numbering over 20. She said, “It was a devastating day for us. We work at night so that as early as 6:00am our partner airline Arik Air would ship the vegetables. So, when the news got to us that customs have shut down both NAHCO and SAHCOL export shed my blood pressure shoot up.
“I have been on this business for over 30 years; exporting vegetables to South Africa and London almost every week. Unfortunately, the Customs Service and some other government agencies do not have regard for us. They do not any way intimate us before embarking on any clamp down. They know who are engaging in illegal businesses. Ask them, who cleared the items in the first place! In countries like Uganda and Ghana, vegetable/perishable goods exporters are accorded special attention; why is our different?”
Mrs. Temitope said that the Association members merit to be compensated by the government hence they are legitimately contributing their quota to the development of the economy.
“Most of us do take bank facilities, so when occasions like this occur you can imagine how difficult it becomes for us to meet up with the demands. Aside that, there are other markets offering more conducive environment; the principal reason most exporters now prefer Ghana to Nigeria. Customs have arrogated powers to themselves to the extent armored tanks were sent to the airport in hunt of illegal exporters whereas no items goes out of Nigeria without passing through Customs clearance. In fact, it should be investigated properly, maybe some secret or unknown forces sabotaging the county will be uncovered”, she added.
Also, Veronica Ezigbo, managing director of Kiverlin Foods said that the incident should be thoroughly investigated, citing the impact as a negation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s change mantra.
She said, “The impact is very huge, because we deal on perishable goods. We are ordinary citizens of this country and do not deserve this kind of treatment. Customs officials know the people they are searching for, where and how to catch them. They acted ignorantly, because our line of business is very competitive; if you fail to deliver within few hours the vegetables get damaged too.
“Think of it, our dear country is faced forex challenges. Is it not common sense that exporters should be encouraged? It takes a lot of stress to conduct this business, especially when Government no financial facility for us. We demand that this matter should not be swept under the carpet. If Nigeria will move forward, if we are sincere about agriculture, then, special recognition should be given to exporters like us”.