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Zambia’s government has just banned the imports of some farm produce as a way of promoting the growth of the agriculture sector. The Conversation Africa’s Samantha Spooner asked Calestous Juma about the impact this will have on African countries and their agricultural sectors.
Which African countries are the biggest importers of fruit and vegetables and how much do they rely on to meet local demand?
In 2013, the import value of all fruit and vegetable categories for the African region was about $1.2bn. However, the trade tends to be localised in countries that have poor infrastructure. They have short shelf lives so it’s important to get them to the market quickly. Consumers are also discerning and avoid buying produce on the edge of being spoiled. Many of them may not have refrigeration at home so are selective in what they buy.
Poor infrastructure means that countries such as Nigeria end up being major tomato importers because they can’t keep up with the demand. Over the last 12 months Nigeria imported 189.5 tons of tomato paste. This is despite the fact that they have states with ample land for growing tomatoes close to major urban centres such as Lagos.
The importance of investing in infrastructure, as I argue in The New Harvest, has significant implications for food production, storage and distribution.
But poor infrastructure isn’t the only driver of imports, especially of fruit. Other factors such as taste, widely available variations among nations – like India – in fruit production, and seasonal availability are important forces behind the globalisation of the fruit trade.
Advances in freight technology and expansion of shipping have also made it possible for exporters to achieve economies of scale that out compete local producers. China, for example, is emerging as a major fruit exporter partly because of its world class capacity in shipping and logistics.
Is banning imports a good way to boost the local agricultural sector? Has it worked elsewhere?
Banning imports is a blunt tool for stimulating local production. It often triggers unnecessary trade reprisals unless there’s evidence of health concerns. And they’re a poor substitute for measures such as investments in local infrastructure that would enable local producers to compete favourably.
But it’s also important to take into account the political context that leads to bans. Countries like Zambia, for example, don’t have a long agricultural tradition and are under pressure to protect the emerging sector.
Zambia historically specialised in mineral exports and relied on food imports from neighbouring countries and international markets. It sought to diversify it’s economy when global copper markets tanked late last century and the economy collapsed. As a recent entrant into the green vegetable export market, Zambia has previously faced phytosanitary barriers to its exports.
Given the circumstances it’s clear why the government would want to protect local producers. But the ban is unlikely to result in the desired outcomes except to provide relief for existing producers. Bans are usually not permanent and so do serve as incentives to encourage new investment that may take a long time to show results.
Are international trading rules inclusive enough to accommodate a country’s different needs and pressures?
While I think bans don’t work in many cases, international trade rules cannot operate well without any consideration for their implications on ordinary people.
International trade can be designed as a positive-sum game. And it should be. But it will continue to be challenged when it carries the seeds of irreparable loss of livelihoods. Of course we need international trade, but it needs to be guided by different ethical stands such equity so countries are not pushed into continuous conflict because of the fear of being excluded from the global market.
4. What impact does importing agricultural produce have on local agricultural sectors?
Imports are not necessarily bad in themselves. They are part of a global system that’s theoretically built on the principle of reciprocity. This includes the expectation of reasonable balance of trade between the partners. Quite often bans are motivated by imbalances in trade relations.
Banning imports simply because one is seeking to protect local agriculture – and without just cause – is generally a poor approach to achieving food security. In many cases, imbalances in agricultural trade exist because African countries haven’t made the necessary investments – such as storage facilities and capacity building in international trade practices – that allow them to become important players in the global economy. Therefore, imports and suppressed local production tend to reinforce each other.
Even when countries increase production they still have to contend with the challenges of breaking long-term import contracts or violating international trading rules.
5. Have other African countries introduced similar bans?
Many countries tend to introduce bans to reduce the amount of foreign exchange used for imports, not necessarily to stimulate local production. When foreign exchange earnings improve they tend to reverse the bans. This often affects those local businesses that may have thought the bans would benefit them.
It’s therefore important to first put in place policies and incentives that promote local production. Their effective implementation often makes the need to introduce bans unnecessary.
Nigeria has previously imposed bans on imports. One example was barley. This helped to stimulate the use of sorghum to produce beer. But the motivation was foreign exchange management, not necessarily to promoting innovation in brewing.
In another Nigerian case, foreign exporters of wheat stifled efforts to introduce bread that was made with 40% cassava. The government didn’t ban wheat imports but a bill put to the legislature to require the blend was starved of support and defeated. Such is the power of food import lobbies.
In this case the initiative would’ve stood a better chance of success if it had found a way to extend benefits to those who were likely to lose from reduced wheat imports. It’s such losers who become the sources of resistance to new ideas, as I argue in Innovation and Its Enemies.
6. Apart from banning imports, what should African countries be doing to grow their agricultural sectors?
Banning imports may protect a few existing producers but in the long run it should not be considered as a tool to grow the agricultural sector. The focus should be on laying foundations for agricultural productivity, starting with infrastructure and working up the value chain to developing agro-industries.
Without reliable roads, power supply and irrigation there is little chance that Africa will radically transform its agriculture. Much effort is going into scientific research, which is commendable. But the gains from productivity will have little impact if produce can’t reach the market because of poor infrastructure and a lack of competence in logistics.
And more than anything else Africa needs agricultural engineering. Today Africa exports less food than Thailand. The immediate goal should be to learn how Thailand became an agricultural force and apply the lessons to regional trade.
Africa will become a more serious international player when it can trade effectively with itself. It’s like the world of football. Those countries that don’t have strong regional leagues tend to shine in the first rounds of the World Cup tournament then they flounder.
The contemptuous label of “cyber-criminals” is the figurative sword with which the Nigerian image is generally being hacked and left for dead. According to Professor Biko Agozino of Virginia Tech university,
“there is a long standing demonisation of Nigeria as being full of criminals.”
This unfortunate generalisation, especially in the media, has a far-reaching negative impact on the overall image of Nigeria as a nation. It’s become the prism with which most Nigerians are viewed and judged globally.
It stems from the country’s vulnerability in a specific category of cybercrime known as ‘419’ and its offshoots. Dr Mohamed Chawki, President of the International Association of Cybercrime Prevention, explains that the term 419
is coined from section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code dealing with fraud. Nowadays, the axiom ‘419’ generally refers to a complex list of offences which in ordinary parlance are related to stealing, cheating, falsification, impersonation, counterfeiting, forgery and fraudulent representation of facts.
The most widely known component of ‘419’ is cyber fraud - the culprit behind the blanket labelling of most Nigerians as cyber-criminals.
But cybercrime in essence encompasses a wide range of crimes other than cyber fraud. These online crimes include cyber stalking, cyber hate speech, cyber espionage, cyber terrorism, cyber colonialism, revenge porn and cyber bullying among others. Nigeria is exclusively implicated in cyber fraud. The country has no significant record of other forms of cyber crimes such as cyber espionage, cyber stalking and revenge porn found predominantly in Western nations.
The key point here is that the term ‘cybercrime’ is misleading which is why it’s reasonable to call into question Nigeria’s reputation. It’s an image nonetheless buttressed by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and its Internet Crime Complaint Centre which has ranked Nigeria third in the world behind the US and UK.
But the FBI centre’s claims are problematic because in Nigeria cybercrime is exclusively cyber fraud (or scam). What constitutes ‘cybercrime’ in most Western nations differs from the particularities of cybercrime in Nigeria. They differ possibly because jurisdictional cultures and nuances apply online as they do offline.
Crime primarily driven by economic benefit
Money is undoubtedly a primary motivation for online fraud. The primary benefit of a Nigerian swindler is financial. That the problem is propelled by monetary pursuits is well illustrated in the examination of 150 scam letters by professor Afe Adogame of Princeton University.
Corruption among some government officers and some high profiled politicians also plays a role. Corrupt practices promote cyber criminal activities.
Another contributory factor is the link between e-waste and online fraud. E-waste refers to discarded electronic appliances such as mobile phones and computers. The dumping of e-waste from countries such the UK and the USA is common in Nigeria and Ghana and there’s a strong correlation between dumping and the physical locations of online fraud victims.
The statistics are selective
Why is Nigeria ranked the third worst nation for cybercrime perpetrators?
The FBI-run Internet Crime Complaint Centre was established in May 2000 to limit economic losses through internet crime. It acts primarily by reviewing victims’ complaints. These number about 300,000 a year.
The centre’s data looks robust because they are drawn directly from victims. But this is deceptive. Of particular concern is the fact that complaints are exclusively framed by victims. This highlights the centre’s over-reliance on participants’ honesty and accuracy. The data’s probity is also undermined by the fact that only a small percentage of people voluntarily report themselves as victims of cybercrime. Even the FBI has previously noted that globally less than 10% of people report themselves as victims of cybercrime.
Apart from cybercrime being under-reported, the vast bulk of cybercrime goes undetected. For example, people who see themselves as victims of law enforcement are unlikely to flag their predicament to the FBI.
Finally, it’s impossible to tell the extent to which the entire process is shaped by the media and political discourses which tend to amplify the moral panic about Nigerian 419 fraud. Based on these underlining factors it’s reasonable to argue that the cybercrime league table is a simplified, limited and an incomplete representation. The claim that Nigeria is ranked third globally is therefore questionable.
Beyond the league tables
Over 90% of crimes reported to the complaints centre between 2006 and 2010 were primarily about cyber-fraud. Under this specific category Nigeria was found to be the third most cited nation. But what if categories such as cyber espionage and cyber bullying were covered? Would the outcome be different?
A different approach might be useful. One such approach is the Tripartite Cybercrime Framework which I recently proposed. This framework helps to simplify league table claims into a nuanced umbrella which includes categories such as, for example, socio-economic cybercrime and geopolitical cybercrime.
If the complaints centre’s reports were viewed through this lens, the results could be interpreted differently. This would, for example, lead to Nigeria being ranked third in the socio-economic category. And naturally in the geopolitical category Nigeria would be ranked much lower. It would also have positive impacts on efforts of law enforcement agencies in Nigeria such as the Economic and Financial Crime Commission EFCC in controlling the activities of cyber criminals.
It’s of utmost importance for the term “cybercrime” to be revisited and re-defined because it has huge consequences. It has, for example, influenced the framing of most scholarly endeavours about Nigeria which echo the sense of ‘moral panic’ over the ‘419’ phenomenon. It also affects how Nigeria is portrayed in the western media and how it’s viewed in the world.
Given that repeating discourses normalise their claim, the problem is deep.
Nigeria presents an interesting tale of seemingly opposites in the African growth agenda. Simultaneously taking pole position as the largest economy in Africa in 2016 and yet suffering from its worst recession in 25 years is indicative of both the ups and downs that the country’s economy has been through.
The last 24 months, in particular, have been difficult for the nation as an exodus of foreign direct investment (FDI) and assets took place prior to and at the time of the last Presidential elections in February 2015. The country faced a liquidity crunch, with the Central Bank and Nigerian stock exchange both facing trials and the country’s reserves decreasing from over $50 billion to $20 billions.
Various other socio-economic issues additionally came to the fore; volatile commodity prices, poor production in the dominant oil sector and depressed import levels, a devalued currency, inflation, high unemployment and the continuing challenge of corruption.
In line with these developments, foreign exchange suffered a blow. What impacted on this was that Nigeria has seven official and unofficial exchange rates from the official Central Bank rate to the parallel market or street rate - leading to market speculation.
As such, keeping foreign exchange and how its rates are determined under control comes with inherent challenges - and, as is to be expected, there have been considerable swings in the rates over the past 24 months. This has been marked by exchange rates that have ranged from between N305 to the dollar and N520/$ at its lowest level on the street.
Also contributing to the crisis was overseas remittances – money sent from Nigerians living outside the country to citizens within its borders – which is the second highest source of foreign exchange in Nigeria. Twenty million Nigerians living elsewhere in the world have a significant impact on spending power, particularly when those remittances come in the form of British pounds and US dollars. However, with the banks foreign exchange crisis in late 2015 and 2016 stemming from the unavailability of foreign exchange, that value fell considerably.
Despite the undoubted hardships the Nigerian economy and trade environment has struggled through over the past 24 months, there have in the last year been marked improvements that are driving a general consensus of a more positive outlook for the country.
Unpredictable commodity prices levelled out and even saw an upswing at the beginning of 2016 that continued throughout the year – and with the return of international banks providing additional credit lines to Nigerian banks to fund trade, an increase in FDI and a number of significant capital markets transactions such as the listing of $1 billion Federal Government (FGN) Eurobond on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in March 2017, there is growing evidence of a certain optimism in the country.
Upward movement in performance in the manufacturing, energy, retail and agriculture sectors mean that there are buds of growth starting to show. Dangote Cement, the largest cement producer across the continent, for instance, has in the last year built additional manufacturing plants in the country that have seen Nigeria stop importing cement at all – and, in fact, start exporting the product to the rest of Africa. Sales from its Nigerian operations increased by 13.8% in the last year.
This development speaks directly to the trend of a fundamental and ever-increasing move to local production. In retail, significant shelf space is taken up by Nigerian products from fresh produce right down to soap and toothpicks. Shoprite Nigeria even introduced its ‘Made in Nigeria’ campaign on 1 March this year to promote local producers; according to reports, over 80% of products in the retailer are locally made and sourced. “Made in Nigeria” now has a meaning and is not just a passing comment.
The shift to local was mostly driven by the lack of availability of foreign exchange through the Central Bank, and it essentially changed the economic focus of the country from importing to local production - noticeable too in agriculture, for example, where there is a concerted push towards domestic rice production, as well as export of agri commodities. Dangote Rice – a subsidiary of the Dangote Group, which also owns Dangote Cement – has plans to produce 225 000 metric tonnes (MT) of parboiled, milled white rice in 2017 alone and moving up to 1 000 000 MT over the next five years, satisfying 16% of the domestic market.
Overall, the difficulties of the past two years have caused the country to diversify its economy, making the move away from reliance on oil to industries such as manufacturing, agriculture and retail and driving growth by increasingly investing in local producers. Nigeria has over the years proven to be a resilient country - and with improved transparency between banks and international companies, greater regulation and an increasingly inclusive economy, the Nigerian good news story is slowly but surely starting to write a new chapter.
By Charles Weller, Head of FI Trade Nigeria, Barclays Africa
The Federal Government on Monday announced its readiness to ensure seamless operation at Kaduna International Airport as Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja closes today March 8 for runway repairs.
The Minster of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, disclosed this during a World News Conference organised by the ministry in Abuja. The news conference was attended by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika and the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.
Mohammed said the Acting President had inspected Kaduna airport and the rail station to ascertain the level of readiness to ensure smooth operation during the six-week closure period. He said that the summary of the findings during the inspection was that even though the airport might not be 100 per cent ready, its current state was suitable enough for the operation.
The minister also disclosed that the repair work on the Abuja-Kaduna highway had been completed to ensure smooth passage for Abuja bound passengers. “As you are all aware, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja will shut from the midnight of Tuesday March 7 to the Wednesday March 8 for the purpose of repairing the failed portion of the airport runway.
“During that time, Abuja flights will be diverted to Kaduna.
“On Friday, the Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo inspected the Kaduna airport and the railway station to ascertain the state of readiness. “The summary of the finding is that while the airport may not be 100 per cent ready, by the time Abuja airport is shut, it will indeed be suitable enough,” he said.
Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said government had concluded arrangements to provide free transportation service for Abuja-bound passengers to and from Kaduna. Amaechi said that the train services would be rearranged to suit the flight schedules at Kaduna airport, adding that the train would be coming from Kaduna instead of the current arrangement.
He said the Kaduna airport runway was in perfect shape, adding that it was a portion of the terminal building that was yet to be completed as at Friday. According to him, the work was nearing completion as at that day and the contractor promised to deliver it before the deadline. The Minister of State, Aviation, Sirika, craved the indulgence of air travelers to bear with the government on the closure.
He said that the decision was for safety reasons, which is the key word in aviation sector.
The minister said the part of the Kaduna airport terminal building had been completed as at this morning, adding that much work had been done to ensure smooth operation. According to him, the ministry has provided a dedicated website (www.abujaairportclosure.info) to update airport users on the operations at Kaduna during the period. Sirika said the government had no other option than to shut the Abuja airport runway considering the level of dilapidation that had made it to fail completely.
He said that Kaduna airport would remain a seasonal international airport even after the six weeks period until it met the requirements to be a designated international airport. According to him, Ethiopian Airline is the only foreign airline that has expressed its readiness to fly the airport so far but at the end we expect more to operate the airport.
The minister reiterated the government’s plan to concession all the airports for efficiency beginning from the big four such as Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt. “We have already concluded the arrangement for the appointment of transaction adviser that will commence work in a matter of weeks,” he said.
The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, assured that the police had made adequate security plans to ensure seamless operation between Abuja and Kaduna airports. Idris said the police force had enough capacity and capability to carry out efficient surveillance on the road, the rail line and air during the six weeks. According to him, he was in Kaduna on Sunday to conduct assessment of security in the airport, on the road and the rail at Jere and Idu stations.
“In the whole, our deployment on the ground is perfect because we have the various units of the Nigeria Police Force in charge of specialized units. “We have the force Explosive Ordinance Department (EOD), we have the force animals in charge of dogs; we have the patrolling team and the mobile force as well as the air wing.
“As I stated, all the units are deployed fully on ground,” he said.
Foreign travelers planning to reach the Nigerian capital, Abuja, next month have two choices: make a 15-hour drive from the southern commercial hub of Lagos or fly to the northern city of Kaduna and ride through an area plagued by kidnappers and gunmen.
The authorities plan to close Abuja’s airport for six weeks on March 8 to repair potholes on the 35-year-old runway that have damaged planes’ landing gear. British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and South African Airways declined the government’s suggestion to divert their flights to Kaduna, while Ethiopian Airlines says it will fly there. Kaduna’s attractiveness dimmed on Feb. 23 when two German archaeologists were kidnapped and released three days later in a village off the 234-kilometer (145 mile) road to the capital.
“This route passes through insecure territory where the convergence by criminal actors from cattle rustlers to bandits and militants has precipitated a surge in kidnappings,” said Michael Clyne, an analyst at the Lagos-based security consultant group DC Premium Logistic and Solutions Ltd. Victims of the abductions included two former ministers, a Sierra Leonean diplomat and two bankers, he said.
The closure of the airport in Abuja, which handles 3 million passengers a year, will be another shock to a country facing its worst economic contraction in a quarter century. The drop in oil prices has slashed its main revenue earner, while the naira currency has weakened 35 percent against the dollar since June, the third-worst performance globally. President Muhammadu Buhari, 74, has been receiving treatment in London since Jan. 19 for an unspecified medical condition, with no date set for his return.
Abuja is a deal-making center, frequented by executives from mobile-phone companies, retailers and energy firms including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. that are pumping crude with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. in Africa’s second-biggest oil producer.
Already the airport shutdown prompted the postponement of the Nigeria International Trade and Investment Conference on non-oil investment until June.
“We have talked to several participants and embassies, and it seems no one is interested in going to Kaduna,” Sand Mba Kalu, who’s helping to organize the conference for Africa International Trade and Development Trust, said on Monday.
Besides the danger of the Kaduna route, its airport probably doesn’t have the capacity to handle the Abuja traffic. It had 12 flights in December 2015 compared with 812 in Abuja, Lagos-based research house SBM Intelligence said in a Feb. 24 note, citing the latest available figures from Nigeria’s airports authority.
Aviation State Minister Hadi Sirika said the government is expanding Kaduna airport’s capacity to handle more traffic. Most airlines had little alternative but to suspend their flights, said Joachim Vermooten, an independent aviation analyst in Pretoria, South Africa. “It’s very hard to transfer the whole airline supply-chain that includes ticketing, etc to Kaduna just for a short while,” he said by phone.
The runway at Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport was built in 1982 with a 20-year lifespan and has deteriorated to the extent that it has become a safety hazard and has to be completely overhauled, according to Minister Sirika.
Construction company Julius Berger Nigeria Plc won a contract in 2010 that was then worth about $425 million to build a 4.6-kilometer second runway, but it was canceled after lawmakers said it was too expensive. It also won the bid to carry out the current repairs at a cost of 5.8 billion naira ($18.4 million), according to Sirika.
Until the work is finished, Ben Okechukwu says he’s planning to shut his clothes shop in the capital because he won’t be able to make his usual monthly trip to Turkey to buy suits, shirts and ties.
“I plan to shift to Lagos,” he said in an interview. “The biggest problem is we are not sure how long the airport will be closed. If it’s six weeks it’s OK, but if it goes for months, then it messes up the whole year.”
Nigeria’s airline industry was already reeling from shortages of jet fuel and foreign-currency as revenue from crude oil fell and the value of the naira tumbled, leaving airlines with higher maintenance bills and difficulty in repatriating ticket sales. The government was forced to take over Nigeria’s biggest airline, Arik Air, this month. The airport closure will make the situation worse, said Linden Birns, managing director of Cape Town, South Africa-based aviation consultancy Plane Talking.
It’s not only a “blow for both domestic and foreign airlines who will lose revenues, but also for the Nigerian economy,” he said.
The Lagos State Government has said that the construction of Fourth Mainland Bridge would still begin this year.
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Steve Ayorinde, gave the assurance in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday in Lagos. The commissioner, however, did not mention any specific time of the year for the commencement of the project.
He told NAN that the state government was committed to the proposed project. The construction of the bridge is accommodated in the state’s 2017 Budget and about N844 billion has been earmarked for it.
About 800 structures and shanties will be affected by the construction of the bridge to be carried out under a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangement.
The construction of the bridge will be coming 50 years after the state’s existence and 26 years after the delivery of the Third Mainland Bridge by the ex-military President Ibrahim Babangida. NAN reports that the idea of the 4th mainland bridge first came up during the Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration, about 14 years ago. In May 2015, Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a consortium of firms and finance houses for the construction of the bridge.
During its conception, the government had to stop several times, when it realised that about 3,000 structures could be affected by the bridge’s right of way. To continue the construction, a new alignment design concept was produced to save about 2,200 houses from being destroyed. The project, when completed, will give birth to the longest of all the bridges connecting Lagos Island to the Mainland.
NAN reports that the bridge will pass through Lekki, Langbasa, and Baiyeku towns – on the Lagoon estuaries – to Itamaga, in Ikorodu. The bridge will serve as a complement to the Eko, Carter and Third Mainland Bridges and help to reduce traffic. The bridge is expected to have a four-lane dual carriage way.
Arik Air has suspended its international flight operations to the London and Johannesburg routes.
The spokesman of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON, Jude Nwauzor, made the announcement in a statement issued on Tuesday in Lagos. The News Agency of Nigeria reports that AMCON had on February 9 taken over the airline following its huge indebtedness to the company and other creditors, both local and foreign. Arik, which was set up in 2006, has a 60 percent share of domestic flights in Nigeria.
AMCON said Arik had failed to repay loans totalling 135 billion naira ($429 million, 402 million euros) by the end of December and also had debts to “a lot of foreign creditors”. Staff salaries have not been paid for up to eight months and it had defaulted on payments for insurance, repairs and servicing of its planes, it added.
Mr. Nwauzor said the suspension would enable Arik Air to find permanent solution to problems facing its passengers and carry out a thorough assessment of its situation. He said :"The strategic business decision is meant to realign our operations and refocus on satisfying our domestic and West Africa and other international passengers.
"It will also present Arik with excellent opportunity to engage and discuss with creditors who have become restive since the intervention and have also understandably exhausted their patience due to non-payment of accumulated debt and non-performance on services and contracts." Mr. Nwauzor said consequent upon this, arrangements were being made to refund all international passengers of the airline that were affected by this decision.
"To our international creditors, Arik is most grateful for your patience and understanding. "We reassure them that all pending issues with the airline will be duly addressed as a matter of priority as we plan to engage them in this regard," he added. According to him, the international route is very critical for the strategic turn around, growth strategy and stability of the airline.
Mr. Nwauzor said the airline intends to revisit the routes immediately it addresses all the problems inherited, which was affecting and creating more dissatisfied passenger base.
"We appeal to all passengers to kindly bear with us as the decision is to ensure that the airline adheres strictly to international aviation best practices," he said.
Nigeria said it lost out on as much as $100 billion in revenue last year as attacks by militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta cut crude output to a record low.
Production fell by 1 million barrels a day to 1.2 million a day at the peak of the attacks, Emmanuel Kachikwu, minister of state for petroleum, said Tuesday in a video-clip on his Facebook page.
Last year, Nigeria suffered its first full-year recession since 1991 as a resurgence of armed conflict in the delta, combined with lower oil prices, blighted the economy. While recent peace efforts have curbed the frequency of attacks on oil infrastructure, the West African nation has struggled to boost output as one of its largest export terminals remains closed.
“We continue to engage,” Kachikwu said, referring to peace talks between the government and local leaders from the delta. “It is a difficult undertaking to try to embark on trying to resolve it once and for all, but we’re very bullish about this.”
Surveying his sprawling car dealership on the fringes of Benin’s commercial hub Cotonou, Kassem Hijazi alternates between chainsmoking Marlboro cigarettes and puffing on a hookah.
He and his colleagues don’t have much else to do. There hasn’t been a single customer since December, when neighbouring Nigeria banned car imports by land as part of a wave of protectionist policies that are strangling Benin’s economy.
“We spend our days smoking, it’s our life now,” Hijazi sighs, sitting in a gazebo beside his stock of thousands of cars steadily accumulating the dry winter dust. This afternoon, Hijazi who, like the vast majority of car dealers in Benin, is Lebanese called in his Beninese accountant to help close up shop. Debts are accumulating and the stress is becoming too much. “I lost in one year what I have earned in 16,” Ali Assi, another car dealer, told AFP. Of the 2,500 Lebanese dealers in Cotonou, 1,600 have packed up and left in the last six months, shutting down businesses that employed dozens of drivers, cleaners and security staff.
“Unemployed people used to come here to find work,” said Vincent Gouton, who represents a group of car dealership managers in Cotonou. The Benin car market began its free fall last year when neighbouring Nigeria entered its first recession since 1994. Nigeria, an economic behemoth of 190 million people, gobbles up “99 percent of car exports” in Benin, according to Gouton. Benin, a tiny country with scarce natural resources, relies on its port business to survive. From the port city of Cotonou, imported cars, fabrics, and food from all over the world get distributed across west Africa.
But since the Nigerian economy crashed following the collapse in global oil prices, Benin has been suffering knock-on effects. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s protectionist policies has banned a slew of items including cars imported by land has only aggravated the situation.
“This decision will encourage smuggling, it’s back to square one,” Gouton said. Several agreements were signed in the past between Benin and Nigeria to facilitate legal trade. But Nigeria accuses Beninese customs of failing to monitor the exported goods and collect taxes. Buhari hopes that closing land borders will revitalise Nigerian industries and attract business to the port at Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital and largest city. Today over 20 products are banned from being imported overland. “For the past 18 months, we have seen a lot of policies that are not market friendly”, said Nigerian economist Nonso Obikili. “The self-sufficiency policy has led the government to create all sorts of hostile environments around import”, Obikili said. “The government wants to ban palm oil (imports) but our plantations are not ready to meet local demand, and it takes two years to get oil from trees. It’s a mess,” Obikili told AFP. “And this will encourage illegal trade.”
It isn’t just Benin which is hurting. Nigerian car dealer Olabanji Akinola said he had to fire half of his employees last week as a result of the ban. Business used to be brisk at Akinola’s car dealership, located on the outskirts of Lagos. Yet now he can’t pay any wages. “In Cotonou, they tax 35 percent of the value of an imported car. In Lagos, it’s 70 percent”, Akinola said. “It’s killing the business.” “The price of cars will go up, and the smuggling will increase. There are 200 roads through the bush to come to Nigeria, the borders are porous,” Akinola said. “This morning, customers begged me on my knees to lower my prices, but I cannot,” Akinola said. Ultimately, it may only be the Nigerian government who benefits from the import ban. In 2016, customs seized 307 contraband vehicles, worth nearly 5 billion naira (about 15 million euros). The figure is expected to rise in 2017.