Monday, November 20, 2023 2:33 pm
One of the key initiatives of the Ogun State government targeted at making the state a major investment destination is the construction of the Agro-Cargo Airport located at Iperu. With the facility on the verge of commencing full operations, Governor Dapo Abiodun, in this interview, discusses how it would impact development
What would you consider as your greatest achievement so far, in line with your vision for Ogun State?
As it stands today, and without doubt, Ogun State has become an investment destination of choice in Nigeria, and that is made possible because of our creative policy of exploring the inherent comparative advantage of our geographical location as the only neighbour that Lagos State has.
Lagos State is the fifth largest economy on the continent of Africa. It remains the economic capital of Nigeria and the financial nerve centre, and being the only neighbour Lagos State has, we are what I would describe as the New Jersey of Nigeria. What New Jersey is to New York is what Ogun State is to Lagos State. So, we represent the overflow of Lagos. Ogun State is 16,000 square kilometres in size. We are about four times the size of Lagos State; we have an expansive land size. Also, you can’t go to any part of the country without going through Ogun State, either by land or sea or air. So, that in itself represents our comparative advantage over other states.
We are also a neighbour to the sub-African region through the Republic of Benin. Today, you will find out that there are lots of companies, industries, and manufacturers that have been in Ogun State for years. And the primary reason for that is, one, Lagos State houses the busiest airport and the busiest sea ports. They are able to bring their raw materials in from Lagos to Ogun State, process it, distribute them back to Lagos, or distribute them to the hinterlands. But beyond that, we also enjoy a crisscross of natural gas pipelines. So, beyond the convenience of being close to the busiest seaport and the financial capital, industries have found their home here because they have access to power through natural gas. So, as an administration, when we came on board, we looked at all these factors and decided to leverage them. Our vision encapsulates a focused and qualitative governance while creating an enabling environment for Public-Private Partnership (PPP) which we believe is fundamental to economic growth of the state and the individual prosperity of our people.
How friendly is Ogun to investors and investments?
We are so conscious of creating an enabling environment for people to come and work, live, invest, and play. So, we decided to have what we regard as our implementation pillar called ISEYA. I for Infrastructure, S for Security and Social Welfare, E for Education, Y for Youth Empowerment and Job Creation, and A for Agriculture. Through these developmental pillars, we have begun to implement our vision. Take for instance, the area of infrastructure, we took cognizance of the need to maximize our proximity to Lagos, and so far, we have constructed over 400 kilometres of highways. And of these 400 kilometres of highways, we prioritise the highways that connect us with neighbouring States, particularly Lagos. Today, four years and a few months into our tenure, you can travel between Lagos and Ogun states and it will take you less than an hour. When we assumed office, it would take you probably two or three hours or even more. So, more people are now coming to Ogun State to live, work, hold conferences, and to play because we are easily accessible.
There are several narratives in the media about your transportation policy and pattern of implementation. Can you explain to us what you have done so far in this sector?
After we assumed office, we decided it was necessary to have a transportation master plan as we considered transportation as a key enabler for our various industries to thrive. We now have what we call a multimodal master plan. This masterplan defined the connection among roads, rail and air transportation. We have since begun the implementation four years and a few months down the road. We have built a world-class Airport in Ogun State. This airport story actually started in 2006 when it was licensed as an airport. When it was approved for the state, it remained what we call a power-point airport. However, after our masterplan, we decided that we must be adequately informed as to where the airport should be located, and from all indications, the airport was located where it was originally approved for, somewhere in Ikenne Local Government between Ilishan and Iperu.
Why do you feel this is the best location?
The reason for this is very simple. The location of the airport represents the centre point of Ogun State. It is easily accessible. It is joined by two major highways; Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Sagamu-Benin Expressway. It is bound within our major plantations. It is co-located in our special Agro-Processing zone. And thus, we call that airport location area our Aerotropolis. That airport was built within two years. The first flight landed sometime last year. The airport will commence commercial operations sometime before the end of this year. It is built with a cargo airport and passenger airport but it is an International Airport. It is built to be a truly International Airport, in line with global best practices. It is the airport that has the longest runway in Nigeria. Of course, the whole idea of co-location of this airport is predicated on the special Agro-Processing zone such that all the entire value chains of agro-produce that would be occurring in that zone and raw materials are coming from different plantations that we have in Ogun State, be it cassava, be it cashew, be it oil palm, be it rubber, be it cotton and so many others are coming to the special agro-processing zone and are being processed, including those that need to be air-freighted in that airport to the rest of the world.
Like they say, “When you build a road it takes you from one location to the other, but when you build an airport, it takes you from one location to the rest of the world”. By this world-class International Airport that we have constructed in Ogun State, Ogun State is now open to the entire world as an industrial capital of Nigeria.
In addition to the aforementioned, we also sit on top of many natural resources. We have limestone, we have uranium, we have calcium carbonate, and different kinds of clay suitable for many products. That explains why we have the largest cement factories in Nigeria, right here in Ogun State. In Ogun State, we produce the highest number of tons of cement. The largest cement factories in Nigeria, and in Africa are actually situated in Ogun State. We have Lafarge, we have Dangote and we have others that are also springing up. But besides that, we have all the multi-nationals. We have Nestle, we have Cadbury, we have Unilever, we have May & Baker, we have International Breweries, we have Olams, we have Flour Mills, as the list goes on. As a matter of fact, I always say that, “if you are not in Ogun State you are not yet in Nigeria.”
Can you address questions concerning the economic viability of the airport?
Well, as I had earlier explained, our airport is part of our multi-modal transport masterplan implementation, and what the airport represents is an opportunity that allows for investors, in terms of passenger travel, to take off from anywhere in the world and land in our State. So, in the first instance, our state now becomes accessible to those that are traveling by air, unlike before when you want to travel by air from Ogun State, you will have to go to Lagos, and you will have to fight traffic congestion to access the Lagos Airport.
Now, when commercial operations commence at the airport, you just have to drive to the airport within 30 minutes or 40 minutes from any part of Ogun State, board your flight and fly to whatever your destination is. That is on one part and the other part, which is the multiplier effect of this airport in Ogun State, is its colocation in an industrial zone. This industrial zone, when completed, will employ between 30,000 and 50,000 personnel. The industrial zone itself is a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) between the state government and private companies.
In this instance, we have chosen an economic hub that expands daily, with such partnerships in different parts of the sub-region: Ivory Coast, Gabon, Togo, Benin Republic, and so on. We have done this successfully. We are being supported by the Africa Export-Import Bank and many others. Basically, the airport represents an enabler, not just for air traffic, but also an enabler to evacuate efficiently fresh agro-produce. Let me give you an example, we have had investors from different countries that have come here to meet with us with the intention of setting up vegetable farms in the special agro-processing zone and airlifting fresh vegetables from our airport on a daily basis. We have been approached by-cargo companies that now want to relocate where their cargoes are being delivered to and ship into Nigeria from where it is presently, simply because they have seen the size of our apron at the airport, which is 84,000 square metres. It is four or five times larger than the largest cargo airport in Nigeria. These cargo-based companies have now decided that, once the airport is ready, they will now be flying their cargoes that are destined for Nigeria to that airport, and from our airport, they will now be trans-shipping the cargoes to the other parts of Nigeria and even West Africa. And when you look at all those who will be involved in these cargo operations in the distribution and running of our airport from the Agro-producing zone and to the Aerotropolis, you can just imagine the economic impacts and the number of jobs that will be created. The impacts will also resonate in the entire economy, not just this country but the entire Africa.
With the new African Free Continental Agreement, our airport is coming up on board at the right time because, with that Agreement, the sub-region is now gearing up to ensure that there are no trade barriers between one country and the other. An airport like this can only best facilitate this AFTC Agreement…
With this airport, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has a role to play. What are the roles of the Customs Service, Nigerian Air Force (NAF), and other security agencies in this regard?
You should know that the traditional role of the Customs service of any country is to ensure that goods are being imported into the country, that goods are allowed into the country, and their role is to ensure that necessary tariffs, and excise duties are paid on those goods. In that regard, the Nigeria Customs Service has actually applied for and paid for 100 hectares of land at the airport. They have actually begun the construction of their village at the airport. This just goes to show how much preparation is already underway, if the Nigeria Customs Service actually came, and paid for 100 hectares of land. From what I understand, they will be erecting over 700 housing units and so many warehouses. So, a lot of work is already ongoing. They have been in the pipeline. The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has also discussed with us an Air Force Base. We are also talking to others who want to set up flying schools at the airport. Others have also come, saying that they want to set up what they call an FBO which is a place where planes are maintained, parked, and serviced rather than being taken outside the country.
You sound so enthusiastic about this airport…
This will save the country the needed foreign exchange. The amount of activities that we will be seeing in the next few months at the airport will be massive and awesome. We are a state government but we are not willing to wait and be looking and seeking for others to come and build an airport for us. That wouldn’t have happened in our eight years of administration. So, we decided that we would make a new investment. We would de-risk the project and then, we would continue with others. That’s exactly what has happened. Today, we have received unsolicited offers from many aviation investors who are serious about taking over the airport on a concession. We are talking to them. We are so excited about the level of interest that we have seen, and this we had actually expected. That’s why we built this airport to a world-class standard.
As I said earlier, this airport has the longest runway in Nigeria, it has the best-constructed runway in Nigeria, and the best-constructed apron in Nigeria. Our terminals are the best in Nigeria. Our airport lounge, our terminal lounge, will be the best standard in Nigeria because this is what we wanted to do and what we set out to do. So, we are excited about the opportunities these have been presented.
We have undoubtedly opened Ogun State to the whole world, and in the same vein, we enjoy railing that goes from Lagos through Ogun State and to the North. We are so concerned about cargoes that come to Ogun State either as raw materials or finished goods; those that are being imported through Lagos, whether Tin Can or Apapa seaport. We also know that, besides the inefficiency of these ports in the past years, there is also a problem with the degree of traffic congestion one will go through in the ports to remove containers. This in itself affects our manufacturers and processors.
How do you address that challenge?
*Continue to read from the source: The Nation