By Martins Odey
One could recount several economic policies of the Federal Government that clearly show that it is no longer comfortable with the over reliance on oil as key economic indicators are pointers to how the development continues to unsettle both the country’s Gross National Product (GNP) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The inexplicable abandonment of the non-oil sector had surfaced after the discovery of crude oil, thereby, allowing agriculture and the entire extractive industry to get less attention.
Doubtlessly, Nigeria over the years had enjoyed so much accouterment and respect as one of Africa’s richest nation as a result of huge earnings from the crude oil, but currently faced with the challenge of tweaking the several available economic models to yield results.
We must, however, realise that the era of “oil boom’’ has long gone, leaving the country with no option than to espouse economic policies that could speak to the narrative of “a country beyond oil’’.
We can only view with nostalgia, the Kano Groundnuts Pyramid; the huge reservoir of oil palm and palm plantations in the Eastern part of the country; the Cocoa of the West; textile industry and car manufacturing plants in both Lagos and Kaduna, as well as active mining across the country.
These aforementioned economic prospects if maintained should have today formed major constituents of free trade zones for the country economic growth.
What then is Free Trade Zone? Free Trade Zone (FTZs) also called Export Processing Zones (EPZs) are specific areas which have a different set of rules than the rest of the country in order to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and to also enhance local production for foreign exchange earnings.
An entrepreneur has the latitude to choose the free trade zones in Nigeria in which he or she wishes to incorporate business venture according to the services provided in the trade zone.
Some of the free trade zones are more suitable to a particular kind of industry whereas others are more general.
Border Free Trade; Calabar Free Trade Zone; Centenary Economic City Abuja; Onne Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone; Kano Free Trade Zone; Lekki Free Trade Zone; Ogun-Guangdong Free Trade Zone; Ladol Free Trade Zone, Snake Island Free Trade Zone; Tinapa Resort & Leisure Free Trade Zone as well as Dangote Free Trade Zone, Lagos are some of the active free trade zones in the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari has been consistently faithful with such economic policies that could leapfrog the country’s economy to a monolithic state as the government continually leverages on the pathways created by the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA).
The Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority is a Federal Government Agency under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. It was established in 1992 following the enactment of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Act 63, of 1992.
The agency is responsible for promoting and facilitating local and international investments into licenced Free Zone/Special Economic Zones in Nigeria.
Mr Bitrus Dawuk, Acting Managing Director of NEPZA in his unusual penchant for the diversification of the country’s economic, said NEPZA had the onerous mandate to change the narrative for the better.
Dawuk explained that the change had become more inevitable with the current Covid-19, a disease pandemic ravaging human lives and economic activities, adding that president Buhari had been divinely mandated to leverage on the free trade zone scheme to fine-tune the country’s economic trajectory.
He said the free trade zone scheme was set up to strategically improve the investment climate by stimulating export oriented business activities through strengthening strategic national economic policies.
The scheme is also streamlines administrative approval processes and providing a one-stop-shop service for the businesses both within and outside Nigeria.
Pursuant to the vibrant transformative economic programmes of the federal government, the activities of the agency have been strengthened which has led to the establishment of 37 Free Zones spread across the country.
A zone can be operated by the public or private sector or a combination of both. Some of the zones cater for a specific area of economic enterprise while others are more general in nature.
According to Dawuk, there are currently 400 licenced Free Zones Enterprises operating in the various zones across the country.
The overall objective for the adoption of free zones in the country is to create an enabling environment aimed at enhancing economic growth and development of export oriented manufacturing in the non-oil sector of the economy.
This structure is also aimed at the propagation of the Nigerian content policy in the oil and gas sector in order to diversify the country’s economic base, attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), generate employment, increase foreign exchange earnings, enhance technological transfer, skill acquisition/upgrading as we as create backward linkages.
“Since the inception of the scheme, Nigeria’s economy has witnessed tremendous patronage and steady growth through FDI inflow and revitalization of local industries.
“Presently, NEPZA is being repositioned to take up the role of an Industrial Development Agency that will be responsible for the rapid industrialization of the Nigerian economy by facilitating the development, promotion, operation, regulation and marketing of industrial clusters, industrial cities, industrial parks and free zones across the country,’’ Dawuk reiterated.
In addition, NEPZA is currently prepared for the task of conceptualising and executing transformational industrial zones and centres for the benefit of the country as well as applying incentives to industrial areas as needed.
Overall, NEPZA cardinal objective is to ensure that its clients’ operational and strategic objectives are realised through responsive, cost effective and efficient services and instant pragmatic solution to their needs.
These strategic locations of the free zones regulated and managed by NEPZA provide the required head-start to a resilient economic growth for the president Buhari-led administration going forward.
Chris Ndibe in his book titled: The Danger of Neglecting Free Trade Zones in Nigeria draws attention to the enormous gains accruable to the country from this organised trading structure when the major encumbrances are eliminated.
Ndibe, the executive secretary of African Free Zones Area (AFZA), further said Nigeria could become the next “miracle of Shenzhen’’, a fishing village transformed into a cosmopolitan city of 14 million, with per capital gross domestic product (GDP) growing 100-fold, in the 30 years since it was designed as Special Economic Zone (SEZ) .
In conclusion, as many countries affected by the covid-19 pandemic look for quick fixes for their economies, the Nigerian government may not have to look far as NEPZA free zone scheme remains the panacea for the country’s post covid-19 economic revival.
•Odey is Head, Corporate Communications, NEPZA