By Ossom Raphael
Abuja – Established in 1992 following the enactment of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Act 63, of 1992, the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) was expected to boost the county’s industrial growth aspirations.
Specifically, NEPZA was mandated to promote and facilitating local and international investments into Nigeria’s licenced Free Trade Zones/Special Economic Zones.
In addition, the FTZs were seen as economic diversification drivers away from oil, fast-tracking industrialization, stimulating export-oriented business enterprises and manufacturing, strengthening strategic national economic policies, streamlining administrative approval processes as well as providing a one-stop-shop service for businesses both within and outside Nigeria.
In line with its mandate, the Authority, has so far licensed over 40 free trade zones spread across the country, which are at various stages of completion level, and are expected to bring in billions of dollars for the country, while at the same time generating millions of direct and indirect jobs.
However, in spite of the gains recorded; the spirit behind the establishment of FTZs has not been fully accomplished.
The Calabar and Kano trade zones which are government owned are set for commencement of full economic activities following the renewed commitment to fund various infrastructural projects in the zones, while construction works in other zones like the Centenary Economic City Free Zone, Abuja, Tomaro Free Zone, Ladol Free Zone, Abuja Technology Village, are currently ongoing.
Speaking at the capacity building workshop for Commerce & Industry Correspondents Association of Nigeria (CICAN), in Nasarawa state, Acting Managing Director of the Nigeria Exports Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA), Mr Terhemba Nongo, who was represented by Simon Imobo, said the agency was making efforts to ensure that the 40 FTZs are functional.
But as in all human endeavours especially in developing countries like Nigeria, funding continues to pose a challenge and this is evident in the Inactive Free Zoned among which are: Olokola Free Trade Zone jointly owned by Ondo & Ogun State; Living Spring Free Zone in Osun State; Brass LNG Free Zone in Bayelsa state; Banki Border Free Zone in Borno; Oils Integrated Logistics Services Free Zone in Lagos; Specialized Railway Industrial FTZ in Ogun State; Imo Guangdong FTZ in Imo State among others.
Analyst have said that the Centenery Economic Cuty, Tomato & Abuja Technology Village, can’t be labelled as inactive zones as construction work is yet to be completed largely due to paucity of funds which have been a major constraints ocassioned by the oil price slump of 2015 which pushed Nigeria’s economy into a recession ultimately affecting business transactions in general.
And as the NEPZA chief did explain to journalists recently in Abuja, “For Centenary City (Free Zone), if you go to the zone now you will see a lot of activities. We are very happy we were able to resolve the challenges.”
Apart from the challenges, there are still issues of infrastructure ie roads, power, and the mounting insecurity which has caused some to abndone site.
As Engr. Nongo rightly noted: “Every system has its challenges; and in our case, the most critical is power. And there are others like the dearth of infrastructure, and poor transportation modes.
“Let me add that the poor state of roads as well as the absence of a functional rail system and inland waterways make the transportation of finished goods from the Zones to the ports for exports difficult.”
In spite of various drawbacks experienced over the years, NEPZA has been able to attract $20 billion fresh foreign direct investment through the FZs/Industrial Parks and well over 400 licensed Free Zone Enterprises (FZEs) into Nigeria.
With the present administration allocating more funds to the agency unlike the practice in the past, Engr Nongo is confident that it would be able to ensure it fulfills its mandate of assisting interested persons to set up industries and businesses at a low cost and tax-free environment, with a major objective of boosting manufacturing and export activities.
But we are optimists, and looking at the political will shown by President MuhammaduBuhari to take the Scheme to the Next Level by word and deed, we believe there is a New Dawn for Nigeria. If the attention we are receiving is sustained, and possibly even improved upon, Nigeria would take advantage of the FZ scheme to fast-track her industrialization drive.