The Managing Director of Maevis Nigeria Limited, Mr Tunde Fagbemi in this interview speaks on airport development and how far his company has gone on the Niger State Government’s mega airport city project for the State capital,Minna.
What can you say about airports development in Nigeria in relation to the Minna Airport project?
The Federal Government of Nigeria has in its wisdom built 22 airports, and whether you like it or not, the one in Lagos has actually developed beyond an airport city. It has turned to be a mega city. The unfortunate thing is that while they were developing the estate around the airport, they didn’t plan it to include industrial estate in a very fashionable manner. So you will say Lagos has lost that opportunity. There is another airport that has that opportunity or advantage today; it is the Abuja International Airport. But again, it is far from town and the Abuja metropolis is struggling to develop into a city on its own. Therefore, trying to make an airport city out of Abuja airport may be a challenge in itself. Again, don’t forget that it is like Andrews Airport to Nigeria that is where the President takes-off and lands and occasionally, they have to close that airport for what I call safety and security movement of very important personalities (VIP). Now, what we then did was look at the proximity of Nigeria itself to Europe and look at the proximity of Europe to the rest of the world, especially Nigeria. If you truly look at the map of the world, you will find out that Nigeria is basically in the middle of the world. Therefore if you leave say Singapore which is farthest to your right and you fly 13 hours you will be in Nigeria. If you leave Nigeria perhaps to Sao Tome or Argentina, you will probably be there again in another 13 hours maximum. If you also went up to Canada, maximum 13 hours you will be there. Minna presented a very unique advantage and the Governor of Niger State has taken extremely good care of that advantage. What we have done so far, I am happy to report to you that the following have been completed: we have completed the master plan, we have completed the economic plan, we have done the first of the (IM) which is called the information memorandum. We have spoken to the major financiers; I confirm that we have the first set of financiers, basically on line. The implementation now requires the following: because we need to apply to export processing and free trade zone, we have spoken to NEXA; NEXA is currently processing the last of the papers to grant them an export processing zone. So, the whole of the airport and the apportionment of about 10 kilometers round it is all going to be like a free trade zone. Then people who live in that free trade, some of them are expatriates, Chinese, and some are British. They will have factories there, those factories will process things. If they don’t leave Minna to come into Nigeria technically they are still in quote, a foreign land. When they are finished, they will load them in the aircraft and then the aircraft will go to London. We have secured already manufacturers from China who have agreed to do their winter manufacturing and complete their early winter manufacturing in Minna.
What do you mean by winter manufacturing in Minna?
It gets very cold in China around December, November, so there are shutdowns in a few places there. So what they do now is that they will stock a 747 aircraft full of semi-finished things, bring them to Minna and complete the manufacturing technically in Minna and then export it to the shops in Europe for winter. They are training people as I speak to you, and they are ready now to say, this is the future in which that place is going to go.
Would Minna work?
It will work for two reasons. If you look at the photographs that were shown, when there was a lot of traffic, it came from the eastern flank of Abuja, that is Nyanya. That place has a huge number of people. There is another place which is Suleja, and the idea is rather than attracting migrant workers only into Abuja, what we want to do is to create a Suleja in between Abuja and Minna where the qualified workers exist and then the push/pull effect of migrant labour would not just come from Suleja into Abuja every day, they will go from Suleja into Minna, finish what they want to do, come back into Suleja. And even the educated, very qualified wives and children of the civil servants who don’t have factories to work in, in Abuja, can leave Abuja in the morning by 6, just like you leave Epe or Ajah, and in one hour, they will be in Minna. You will work in the Minna airport city with your qualified children and you will finish and go back. If you are in Lagos for instance, we have agreed also, we are talking to an airline and that airline will be positioned in such a way that they can pick you for a weekend trip, pick you for a daily trip, you go to the airport city, you shop duty-free. If you buy in excess of your average duty-free, which is the basic business travel allowance then you pay based on whatever. So if you enter Minna it will be like you just travelled to London and you are doing your shopping the way it should be done. Immediately you finish buying it, you will come back to Lagos, you will pay the normal duty on it. But if it is personal effect, it is the same way you will bring your personal effect from where ever. So we are trying to create a little Dubai, if it works and we believe it is going to work, then the rest of West Africa, the rest of Africa will just turn out to do their holiday in Minna. But the second thing that has happened to the governor, and I should also say, he recognised that of the five big games that the white man wants to see or shoot, he owns within his state. He owns Yankari games reserves, he owns the Shiroro games reserves, and the Oyo National Park. Because he has that, he has elephant, hippopotamus, lions and so on. We have also discovered that there are Europeans who want to just come, maybe 5000 of them every year to come and watch and see these animals in their wild. The Kanji Airport base exits, so there is a landing strip. The Shiroro landing strip exists, so we will try and bring in 5000, 10,000 foreigners in the first 2, 3 years. Imagine if you bring 10,000 people who spend $5000 each, that $5000 doesn’t stay in Minna, it goes to the village of Boso, and goes to New Bussa. And the people in that place will now start breeding chickens and eggs. So the income percolates even to the rural area. So he is committed to it, and I am happy that the thing is working. Like they say, sometimes what do you see first, buildings or plans? We are doing more planning so that we execute a good roll-out rather than put mortar on each other. But I tell you within the next six months, you will see rapid development because the thought process is clear and it has been properly taken care of and the right environment is being created. Luckily for Nigeria., he has been voted in the second time.
How long and how much has been spent so far?
How much has been spent so far is something I always joke about. There is cash capital and there is intellectual capital. I worry more about intellectual capital. I never worry about money. Because if money can be recovered, money is also relative. But if you have got good advice that can ensure that every amount of money that you spend, you are able to make 10, 20, 30 times of that back and you are able to transform the lives of the people.