Tinubu, brain behind free trade zone in Nigeria

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Lagos state occupies a vital space in Nigeria; first, as a mega city with over 20 million population and second, as a coastal city with endless maritime routes linked to other international waters that have positioned it as the country’s most viable commercial hub.

Various governments have ultilised these somewhat nature-gifts to impact not only on the development of the state, but the entire nation.

Suffice, therefore, to say that the importance of the state in spiking the development process and industrialisation of the country has remained highly pivotal.

It is, however, amazing how the state has leveraged on the federal government Free Trade Zone scheme managed by the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) to further drive the national economy. It is common knowledge that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu laid the foundation for the progress the state is making with the free zone scheme.

Currently, 18 of the 52 free trade zones in the country are located in Lagos state. They include Lagos Free Zone (LFZ), Snake Island Integrated Free Zone (SIIFZ), Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ), LADOL FTZ; Newsrest ASL Services & Logistics, Dangote Industries and Alaro City Development Free Zone.

Others Badagry Creek Integrated Plant, Nigeria Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO), Eko Atlantic; Ogororo Industrial Park, Tomaro Industrial Park, NASCO Town FZ, Quit Aviation Services, Maritime Services FTZ, Cocoa Beach & Walness Valued-Chain Resort, Flour Mills FZ, and the Oils Integrated Logistics Services FZ.

These free zones with estimated investments of $25 billion are harbouring some of the most renowned international brands. For instance, the Lagos Free Zone started in 2002 with 215 hectares. Later in 2012, around 590 hectares was given by the state government with the construction handled by Lagos Free Trade Zone Company.

This zone prides of world-class enterprises like Colgate, Lekki Port, BASF, Insignia, Power Oil, Arla, HEC, Westminster, Boskalis, CNC, SBS, Kellogg’s, among others. The impact these enterprises are making in the economy cannot be overemphasised.

It is noteworthy that the Lekki Deep Sea-Port, owned by the Lagos Free Zone, remains a world-class maritime infrastructure worth $1.2 billion with the capacity to mainstream the entire African trade and logistic businesses into the global economy for profitability.

It was on the heels of these unmatchable achievements that Prof. Adesoji Adesugba, NEPZA managing director, recently described the country’s modern free trade zone visioner, Tinubu, as the undisputed “brain behind modern Free Trade Zone in Nigeria.”

Adesugba alluded further that the new president had laid the foundation for the establishment of the leading free zones in the country, attracting over $30 billion from the non-oil sector and over 170, 000 direct and indirect employment.

“Eko Atlantic and the four quadrants of Lekki Free Zone which harboured Lagos Free Zone, Alaro City, Lekki Free Zone, and over 100 other enterprises, including the just concluded Deep-Sea Port and the Dangote Refinery, operating in the enclaves as Tinubu’s exclusive initiatives.

“His Excellency, Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s presidency will be a new dawn as we hope that the scheme will be used to speedily drive national growth. Let me again congratulate the new president for a successful inauguration. We are optimistic that the excellent progress made by former President Buhari in the sector will be expanded and sustained.”

Tinubu’s intervention on the old Lagos Bar Beach saved the entire Victoria Island’s investments of over $170 billion by the perennial ocean surges. Today, Eko Atlantic, also a free trade zone, is an international hot-belt with well laid landscape and modern architectural masterpieces and portends a great revenue spot for the nation. The tourism worthiness of Eko Atlantic has been further accentuated with the siting of the United States of America’s largest embassy in the world there.

The receptiveness of the Lagos state government under Tinubu towards sound economic growth created the right ambience for the Private Public Partnership that also birthed the multi-billion-dollar Dangote Refinery, a free trade zone located in the Lekki area of the state. In 2006, the state conceived an idea to develop some part of the Lekki Peninsula into a blue-green, eco-friendly environment.

The proposed area covered an area of 60, 000 hectares stretching from Victoria Island in the west to Refuge Island and some parts of Lekki town in the east. The blue-green concept was primarily to create a comprehensive new town with important public facilities and infrastructure in the North and South peninsulas. The free trade zone scheme has rightly helped to propel this laudable vision to become a reality.

While the free trade zones and their enterprises are slithering in Lagos state, the same cannot be said of those located in other enclaves for obvious reasons spanning from poor understanding of the concept by other state governments, infrastructure deficit, lethargic disposition of local investors and insecurity.

Adesugba, a thoroughbred investment promotion and development expert, has in the last three years devoted time in addressing some of these systemic challenges that have limited the country from realising the full potentials of the scheme that included poor infrastructure in the country’s two public zones in Calabar and Kano, inter-agency interference, obsolete NEPZA Act, analogue system of operation, and external interference.

At the moment, the new management of the authority with the support of the former Buhari administration has obliterated most of these challenges and given the authority a new impetus to promote and manage the scheme in accordance with global standards.

The adoption of e-NEPZA, has greatly fenced off some of the teething challenges of accountability, transparency and probity. The new government will now be bequeathed with a solid free zone scheme to drive the growth of the economy more bullishly.

Furthermore, the earmarking of the country’s four major international airports as special economic zones, approvals for other specialised public zones in Lagos, Katsina, Benue, Gombe, Ebonyi and Kwara can be avenues for the new government to begin a widespread development across the six-geopolitical zones.

Also, the recent approvals for the establishment of seven privately-driven zones which are: Bonny Kingdom Free Trade Zone Rivers; Hydropolis Niger; Premier Industrial Free Trade Zone, Rivers; Koko Walness Value Change Resort, Lagos; GC Exports, Kogi; Ekiti Knowledge Zone, Ado Ekiti, as well as Flour Mills Free Zone, Lagos are great stimulants of the economy with palpable benefits in both employment and revenue generations.

The authority in its wisdom also identified licensing of federal universities as education free zones to break the circle of contention on funding leading to endless protests and strikes. The University of Abuja in collaboration with the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has applied to use the university as a pilot study.

As part of its strategic approach to ensure that citizens benefit more directly from the scheme, the authority is on the verge of concluding the legal frameworks for the listing of zones and their enterprises on the Nigeria Stock Market for interested individuals to own equity shares in some of these international brands.

Also, efforts are on to leverage on the global over $1 trillion Virtual and Crypto investment portfolios as the authority has concluded an arrangement to partner with the Talent City to establish the first Africa’s Virtual Free Zone.

It is our expectation that the new government would place the free trade zone on a first line charge, being a veritable economic instrument to fast track the country’s industrialisation.

Dr Odeh is the head, Corporate Communications, NEPZA