By Chibuike Nwabuko
ABUJA (SundiataPost) – The Senate Committee on Trade and Investment has asked the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) to submit to it a position paper to guide its ongoing investigation against alleged planned illegal take-over of some key free zones by Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority (OFZA).
Senator Francis Fadahunsi, Vice Chairman of the committee, gave the order as part of the committee’s resolutions after a hearing session on May 19 with the team of NEPZA officials been led by the Acting Managing Director, Mr Bitrus Dawuk.
Fadahunsi said the committee’s invitation on NEPZA management to appear before it stemmed from a petition served on the National Assembly on the ongoing controversy between NEPZA and OGFZA over which of the agencies has the mandate to oversee operations of all free trade zones in the country.
According to him, the committee is prepared to end decades of the needless squabble between the two agencies.
“We will apply justice and objectivity in our decision to end the controversy which has not served the overall interest of our national economy.
“We are fully aware of the intention of the drafters of the Acts that gave legislatives powers to the two organizations.
“From the point of law, NEPZA was established before OGFZA. The establishment of OGFZA did not seem to either limit or cause for the scrapping of NEPZA. We must go to the root of the matter to resolve this anomaly once and for all.
“We shall have similar sessions with officials from OGFZA and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment to tell us their informed positions before we take our final decision,’’ Fadahunsi said.
The current crisis got stoked by a directive from the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr Adeniyi Adebayo for a total take-over of all oil and gas related free zones managed by NEPZA without recourse to established laws.
Recall that the minister had called for meeting of stakeholders between April 16 and April 17 to discuss the amendment of OGFZA Act when suddenly he instructed the transfer of the trade zones to OGFZA.
A number of stakeholders and investors had continued to criticise this move to destroy the sector that should be genuinely left to inspire production in the country.
In a bid to salvage the situation, some investors of zones affected by this directive had approached the National Assembly for intervention.
The investors had contended that OGFZA, located at Ikpokiri/ Onne was not expected to license outside ikpokiri/ Onne, River State.
Recall also that some Oil and Gas Free Zones firms seeking judicial intervention in the alleged attempt by OGFZA to regulate the oil and gas operations within Snake Island Integrated Free Zone (SIIFZ) described the plan as “contemptuous’’ having dragged OGFZA, the ministry and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) to court in respect of the planned uninspiring deal.
The Nigerdock Nigeria Plc, Simco Freszone Company and Nigerdock Nigeria Plc-FZE in 2016 dragged OGFZA before the Federal High Court in Lagos seeking judicial intervention of its insistence to regulate oil and gas operations within SIIFZ.
The rest defendants in the suit are the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment.
Mr Qudus Mumumey, counsel to the plaintiffs in telephone interview said the last time the suit came up in court was on the Feb. 26
According to him, the suit is fixed for June 1 for definite hearing before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke.
Mumumey also said all the defendants in the suit were aware of the pendency of the suit having filed their responses and represented in court by counsel.
“In the light of the foregoing, the current letter from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment is contemptuous, abusive, oppressive and a clear attempt to undermine the authority of the Honourable Court’’, Mumumey said.
OGFZA, acting upon an uninformed directive of the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment had served letters on all oil and gas free zones including SIIFZ informing them of its readiness to implement the minister’s directive which empowered the authority to assume full regulatory powers over those zones.
Recall that Nigerdock and others had by an Originating Summons filed at the Federal High Court in 2016 sought judicial intervention in the attempt made by OGFZA to regulate the oil and gas operations within SIIFZ.
The plaintiffs seek to know whether by the clear provisions of the Nigeria Export Processing Zone Act, Cap No. 107, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, Snake Island Integrated Free Zone (SIIFZ) should be regulated by the Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA) being the Authority vested with the administration of the Authority and management of all the Export Processing Zones.
They further seek court determination on whether or not the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority, by the Provision of the Oil and Gas Export Free Zone Act Cap 05, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, is empowered to regulate the Onne/Ikpokiri Export Free Zone and by extension regulate other Oil and Gas Export Free Zones in Nigeria.
The plaintiffs are also seeking clarification whether by the letter from the Attorney General of the Federation captioned Re: Interpretation of the provisions of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Act, Cap No 107, LFN, 2004 and Oil and Gas Export Free Zone Act, Cap 05, LFN 2004 as to which government agency is seized with responsibility over oil and gas free zone in Nigeria dated 25th March 2008, the Attorney General of the Federation did not merely reinstate the provisions of the NEPZA and OGFZA Act.
The plaintiffs averred that if the answers to the above questions were in the affirmative, the court should not hesitate in granting a declaration that the Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA) was responsible for the administration and regulation of the Snake Island Integrated Free Zone (SIIFZ).
They also asked fora Perpetual Injunction restraining the defendants their privies, agents, and servants from interfering with, obstructing and/or disturbing the activities of SIMCO Free Zone Company from the Management of the Snake Island Free Zone pending the determination of the case.
The contention is also that the zone purported revised law by the National Assembly was false as it was not passed by the 8th assembly before their tenure came to a close and has remained so.
The investors had argued further that the issue could only be ratified through the National Assembly or competent court of Jurisdiction, adding that what the ministry had done was illegal and could not be sustained.