By Martins Odeh
The contribution of the Nigeria Free Trade Zone Scheme resulting in palpable positive impact in the national economy is evident of President Muhammadu Buhari’s unassailable commitment to using the concept to fast track the country’s industrialisation process.
The scheme is more than ever been deployed to assist in stimulating local production, job creation and infrastructure development.
The president, being a man involved in a long walk to re-engineering the country for the better, has from onset viewed this scheme as the ultimate economic game changer for the country.
Recall that the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority, (NEPZA) was established by Act 63 of 1992 to carry out this onerous task through special economic zones or hubs that conform to global best practices.
It is, however, imperative to state that the decades of interplay of centripetal and centrifugal forces significantly retarded the progress of NEPZA as a regulatory body and by extension, the scheme.
Relief, however, came when the president took a bold step in 2016 to revamp the scheme by first understudying the Chinese’s model, which arguably remains the best managed and successful free trade zone in the world at the moment.
That visit, described by the president himself as an “eye opener’’, is responsible for the current high level of bequeathment of financial muscle, independence, vitality and power to Authority to carry out its mandate without fear and much reservations.
This present Federal Government’s quest for NEPZA to become a stronger force can also be seen from the recent quantum of investments in the scheme.
For instance, the Federal Executive Council early this year approved N1.4 billion for the upgrading of electricity facilities at the Calabar Free Trade Zone Area just as similar approval was given to also upscale the Kano zone as well.
The federal executive council (FEC) had gone further to approved the sum of N18.1 billion for the development of infrastructure at the nation’s free trade and economic zones across the country within the last few months.
The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo had said the whole intention of the upgrade of the two zones was indeed to create zones with world class standards.
The minster further elucidated that the president was desirous of making Nigeria a manufacturing hub with the Africa Continental free Trade Area (AFCTA) Agreement was in place.
The government has also continued to ensure workable operational policies and continually provide support and outside infrastructure for greater performance of even the private free trade zones.
Ideally, the zones are viewed as business enclaves that have the status of an independent nation and are expected to develop those business enclaves independent of Nigeria’s direct involvement but this provision still does not deter the government from intervening in meeting the critical needs of private operators of the zones.
These gestures have continued to encourage the traffic of prospective international and local zone promoters to the Authority for possible exploration of the scheme. The patronage is not unconnected with the quality leadership recruited by the president to direct the affairs of the scheme a year ago.
It is common knowledge that the success of any leadership hinges on the aggregate’s successes of the lieutenants.
It is in the light of this that the president’s performance score card has arguably been made more pleasant with the good successes achieved in the last one year by Prof. Adesoji Adesugba as Managing Director/CEO of NEPZA.
Adesugba’s appointment in June, 2020 was viewed as another fitting choice in the series of such merit driven nominations and appointments by Buhari.
Truth be told, Adesugba’s exploits and strides in the last one year to reposition the 29-year-old agency to this enviable height has vindicated the trust the president reposed in him.
Many of the industry players have similar expectations of the Lagos-born, being a thoroughbred investment promotion professional and public sector expert, his appointment was described as a round peg in a round hole.
An accomplished specialist in investment promotion and economic development, Adesugba is known for his proficiency in organisational development and institutional reforms. He has combined the best of his private sector entrepreneurial acumen and expertise ability to navigate public sector practice.
His avowed declaration in the support of anti-corruption crusade of the administration upon his assumption on July 1, 2020 was widely noticed. Few hours after mounting the saddle, he sternly warned officials of the agency against violations of financial regulations and inappropriate financial dealings.
I will not tolerate tampering with financial regulations and corrupt activities both in the procurement process and in the financial management of the agency. I will strictly enforce extant rules and financial regulations. I will not tolerate breaching of due process in procurement and other financial transactions. I charge you to ensure proper records keeping and be observance of the internal processes’’, he advised.
These words of caution to the workforce reminiscence the analogy of the “new sheriff in town’’ as it has indeed so far helped to keep all forms of fraud in abeyance.
Adesugba has tactfully applied his ingenuity and general mien in the handling of his task with greater measure of circumspect that aligns with John Maxwell’s wisdom quote of “Everything rises and falls on Leadership’’.
The NEPZA new leadership can be best described as fearless executor of federal government policies carefully marshalled to propel the success of the free trade zone scheme across the country arguably leading to the rising profile of the Authority.
Apart from ensuring the better understanding of the scheme through regular sensitisation and advocacy with zone promoters, investors, owners of enterprises in zones and with sisters’ agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Federal Inland Revenue (FIRS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), the NEPZA boss has successfully marketed the socio-economic prospects of the scheme to the state governors.
Beside the approval for some special economic zones to be sited in Lagos, Kwara, Benue, Katsina, Gombe, Ebonyi which may have helped galvanised interests of some governors towards the scheme, Adesugba’s relentless advocacy and visits remain the catalyst that continually attract the state governments to key into this presidential initiative.
While on working visit to the headquarters of the Authority to canvass for the creation of a world class special economic zone late last year, Governor Dairus Ishaiku of Taraba State explained how the zone if set up could generate well over 1 billion US Dollars annually from Mining, Agriculture, and Tourism respectively.
Ishaku also said plans had reached advance stage to ensure these resources were harnessed in the next one year given the ongoing smooth partnership with NEPZA.
The Authority has also thrown its weight behind the Ekiti State Government for the establishment of Knowledge-based and Agricultural Special Economic Zone in the state.
Governor Kayode Fayemi in responding to that gesture said NEPZA had more than ever been re-positioned to be used as a very critical vehicle in the country’s quest for industrialisation, adding also that the agency could assist states of the federation fast-track their development agendas.
For us in Ekiti, we arguably have comparative advantages in the areas of scholarship and agriculture. We are very keen in our knowledge economic agenda to have a status of a special economic zone which is going to be the first service-oriented zone’’, Fayemi said. On his part, Gov. AbdulRahman AbdulRasaq of Kwara State explained that the free trade zone was a scheme that created unique opportunities globally, adding that Kwara state would fully key into the concept to stimulate its wealth and development for its people. The governor made the remark on March 11 when Adesugba took delivery of the Certificate of Occupancy for both the 500 hectares for the Medical Special Economic Zone and 276 hectares for Agro-allied Special Economic Zone respectively on behalf of the agency. This zone will serve as stimulant for exports and a strategic point for technological transfer. With this economic zones, Kwara state is in a strong race to compete nationally and beyond’’, the governor said.
The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu has long been beaten by the bug of leveraging on the scheme to improve the state’s development indices.
No wonder, he posited on August 2020 when the NEPZA CEO led some officials of the Authority to pay him a courtesy visit that the free zone scheme was a catalyst for exports and development.
Sanwo-Olu went further to acknowledge the fact that the scheme had become one of the state’s key economic engine rooms.
Governors Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano, and Aminu Masari of Katsina are not left out of the fray to leverage on these services provided by NEPZA to harness the fortunes of their states as discussions were underway to also establish world-class Medical Special Economic Zones in the two states.
The NEPZA new leadership has ignited upsurges of both local and global interests towards the country’s free trade zone with scores of financiers and investors gravitating toward participating in the highly promoted Medical Special Economic Zones to be sited in the six geo-political zones.
Also worthy to mention is the readiness of the promoters and financiers of the proposed Enyimba Economic City to be sited in Abia State.
The city is proposed to be a world class and state of the art, all-encompassing economic city that aims to positively impacting the development configuration of the South-East/South-South region as Dubai of Nigeria.
Already, the impact clusters of awesome one world project zones like the Dangote Petrochemical, Alaro City, Nigeria International Commerce City (Eko Atlantic City), Ogun-Guangdong, LADOL, Lagos Free Zone, Lekki Deep Sea Port, among others on the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are sure signs of prosperity, wealth creation, and general economic advancement for our nation.
The recent president’s official listing of four of the country’s International Airports as special economic zones remains a wise decision that will henceforth convert those areas to highbrow businesses and investment spots.
Adesugba, in his remark on the project while playing host to the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Capt. Rabiu Yadudu explained that the development provided the two agencies with opportunity to change the configuration of the airports in Nigeria into business empires with discernible contribution to the country’s GDP
•Odeh is the Head, Corporate Communications, NEPZA