Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, talks to journalists about the prospects of the state’s airport project, how it will improve the lives of the residents and why his administration is considering a dry seaport. BANKOLE TAIWO was there
Many states in Nigeria pride themselves as the new destinations for investors. How business-friendly is the Ogun State Government to investors and investments?
We are 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 cognisance of the need to maximise our proximity to Lagos, and so far, we have constructed over 400 kilometres of highways. And of the 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 took one probably two or three hours or even more. So, more people are now coming to Ogun State to live, work, hold conferences, and play because we are easily accessible.
What would you say is your greatest achievement so far since you have been the governor of the state?
Without a doubt, today, 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 that 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, 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 a lot 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 seaports. They can bring their raw materials from Lagos to Ogun State, process them, 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 focused and qualitative governance while creating an enabling environment for public-private partnership, which we believe is fundamental to the economic growth of the state and the individual prosperity of our people.
There are several narratives in the media about your transportation policy and pattern of implementation. What has your administration done so far to align the sector with your plans for Ogun State?
Immediately we assumed office, we decided that 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 master plan defines 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 started in 2006 when it was licensed as an airport. When it was approved, it remained what we called a ‘PowerPoint’ airport. However, after our master plan, 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, somewhere in the Ikenne Local Government Area between Ilishan and Iperu.
How did you arrive at the choice of the location?
The location of the airport represents the centre point of Ogun State. It is easily accessible. It is joined by two major highways – the 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 our ‘aerotropolis’. That airport was built within two years. The first flight landed sometime last year. The airport will commence commercial operations before the end of this year. It was built as a cargo and passenger airport, but it is an international airport. It was built to be a truly international airport in line with global best practices. It is the airport with the longest runway in Nigeria.
What is the idea behind having two locations connected to the project?
Of course, the whole idea of co-location of this airport is predicated on the special agro-processing zone such that the entire value chains of agro-produce in that zone and raw materials are coming from different plantations that we have in Ogun State. The agro-produce, be it cassava, cashew, oil palm, rubber, cotton, and so many others, including those that need to be air-freighted in that airport to the rest of the world, are coming to the special agro-processing zone and are being processed. As 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, the 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 tonnage of cement. The largest cement factories in Nigeria and Africa are 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 multinationals. We have Nestle, we have Cadbury, we have Unilever, we have May & Baker, we have International Breweries, we have Olams, we have Flour Mills, and 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.
How economically viable is the airport?
Well, as I had earlier explained, our airport is part of our multi-modal transport master plan, 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 who are travelling by air, unlike before when people who wanted to travel by air from Ogun State had to go to Lagos and had 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 co-location in an industrial zone. This industrial zone, when completed, will employ between 30,000 and 50,000 workers. The industrial zone itself is a public-private partnership 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 African Export-Import Bank and many others. 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 who have come here to meet with us to set up vegetable farms in the special agro-processing zone and airlift fresh vegetables from our airport daily. 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 they are 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 be flying their cargoes that are destined for Nigeria to that airport, and from our airport, they will trans-ship the cargoes to the other parts of Nigeria and even West Africa. 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 to the ‘aerotropolis’, you can just imagine the economic impacts and the number of jobs that will be created.
The impacts will resonate in the entire economy beyond Ogun State, not just this country but the entire Africa. With the new African Continental Free Trade Area, our airport is coming 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 best facilitate this AfCFTA agreement.
What role are the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigerian Air Force and other relevant security agencies expected to play when the airport begins operations?
You should know that the traditional role of the Customs service of any country is to ensure that necessary tariffs and excise duties are paid on goods imported into the country. In that regard, the Nigeria Customs Service has applied for and paid for 100 hectares of land at the airport. They have 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 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 has also discussed an air force base with us. 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 (fixed base operator), which is a place where planes are maintained, parked, and serviced rather than being taken outside the country. 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 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 excited about the level of interest that we have seen, and this we expected.
Apart from the apron, what are the other special features of the airport?
We built this airport to world-class standards. It also has the best-constructed runway in Nigeria. Our terminals are the best in Nigeria. Our airport lounge and 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 we have been presented with. We have undoubtedly opened Ogun State to the whole world, and in the same vein, we enjoy a rail line that goes from Lagos through Ogun State to the North. We are concerned about cargoes that come to Ogun State, either as raw materials or finished goods, and those that are being imported through Lagos, whether through Tin Can or Apapa seaports.
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. So, we decided that to further ensure that we constantly increase our ranking in the ease of doing business index, we must find a way of allowing our manufacturers, who are exporting, to be able to export their containers efficiently.
Is the state government considering constructing a dry port?
We will also be constructing our dry port soon. And when the port, which will be in Kajola, is constructed, it means that if you are shipping goods from anywhere in the world to Ogun State, you don’t need to go through Lagos anymore. You can simply ship your goods through the Kajola Dry Port, just to take the containers on the train and then come down to Kajola. When you also want to export your goods, you will stock the containers in Kajola, put them on the train and the containers go on the vessel. There will be no need for the inefficiencies that are associated with trucks going in and out of Lagos ports and the menace of traffic congestion. These are some of the reforms, policies, and programmes that this administration has implemented to support the over 5,000 industries that have come to make Ogun State their home. By doing so, we will be fully implementing our vision, which is to create an enabling environment for more people to come here to live, work, and play, which in turn translates into the individual prosperity of our people.
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