OPINION

NEPZA: Daily Trust deliberately misleading Nigerians, By Sunday James Akinloye

Anything you in the media these days call for a double check and Daily Trust, along with some supposed respected national newspapers seem to be leading the way with ‘Fake News’

Take for example, the Daily Trust’s reportage on the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZ), and its presentation in a report titled, “Enelamah, this is very fishy”. Painting a picture of what happened, Daily Trust laced its account with falsehood and lies, writing it to soothe their paymasters.

That’s not where it stopped; the report tried to distort history and facts but that is what I will set straight here for those following the drama that has snowballed from NEPZA and NSEZCO’s debacle on SEZ.

The facts are simple and easy to understand except for those who are trying to cash out from the prosperity of Nigeria. Let’s start from the beginning. President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration sought to increase the export of locally made goods across the world so it conceived Project MINE.

Project MINE (Made in Nigeria for Exports) was initiated to develop SEZs across Nigeria’s geo-political zones to world class standards in collaboration with private partners. The idea is to position Nigeria as the pre-eminent manufacturing hub in sub-Saharan Africa and as a major exporter of made in Nigeria goods and services regionally and globally.

President Buhari then set up a Project Steering Committee under the leadership of the Honourable Minister of Industry, Trade & Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, comprising the leadership of the Ministry and members drawn from the Economic Management Team and the leadership of several Government Agencies: Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority, Nigeria Investment Promotion Council, Nigeria Export Promotion Council, Nigerian Office of Trade Negotiations, Bureau of Public Enterprises, Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, Bank of Industry and the Nigerian Export-Import Bank; as well as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, and Africa Export-Import Bank.

The Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment (MITI) then set up a special vehicle to achieve this goal, that vehicle was NSEZCO and it was at this point that all hell broke loose, mostly because an agency in the MITI, which is NEPZA (Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority) was not particularly happy about this positive development.

The agency leadership felt that its own direct operations should be the vehicle that drives SEZ, even when their functions have been clearly spelt out in the constitution. NEPZA was set up as a regulatory agency but it wanted to do more than the constitution’s provision.

After NSEZCO birthed, NEPZA approached the Attorney General of the Federation to demand whether NSEZCO was legal and it could act as a special vehicle. This is how the office of the AGF responded;
Two critical factors that implicated the need for NSEZCO are operational efficiency and access to international capital market with limited or no direct burden on the Federal Government in like manner as NLNG.

The use of NSEZCO to implement Project MINE is to facilitate the creation of commercially-oriented, efficient and effective institutions, in line with international standards.

In section 1(2), the NEPZ Act explicitly recognizes that an EPZ may be operated by any of three types of entities:
(i) public entity;
(ii) private entity; or
(iii) a combination of public and private entity.

The response of the AGF also covered the question and claim by NEPZA that NSEZCO was a private institution. The truth is that NSEZCO is a public-private partnership with the Federal Government of Nigeria holding 25% and private entities like AfDB, Afreximbank, BoI, etc holding 75% shares.

The structure of NSEZCO is no different from that of NLNG, Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company Limited and Development Bank of Nigeria Limited, so this is not new to Nigeria at all, and has always worked perfectly fine within all legal frameworks.

Not satisfied with the submission of the office of the AGF, NEPZA cons the Senate Committee on Trade to blow the matter out of proportion. The Committee chaired by Senator Sabo Mohammed, claimed that NSEZCO was a private company even after PPP explanations where clearly made.

The committee chairman produced a CAC document showing that Dr Bakari Wadinga, Mr Olufemi Edun and Ms Oluwadara Owoyemi were directors of NSEZCO. However, what he mischievously failed to outline is that Dr. Wadinga was appointed interim director for the Federal Government, pending commencement of full operations, while the others where interim directors for the private partners. All this was done in agreement with all partners involved, as listed in the ownership structure.
The highly erroneous position of the Senate Committee shows why many Nigerians have little or no faith in the activities of the Nigerian Senate.

The Senate and Daily Trust also inserted a mischievous conclusion. “This is fishy, very fishy. Besides, the creation of NSEZCO negates the Buhari administration’s objectives of pruning the number of existing MDAs,” Daily Trust claimed.

“The Senate and Presidency must get to the root of this matter. Unless the public gets a cogent explanation, the inescapable conclusion is that someone tried to play hanky panky with public funds.”

This claim however negates the position of President Buhari. At the signing ceremony for the investment partnership between NSEZCO and its strategic investment partners on February 8, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari said:

“When we decided to continue with the implementation of the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan of the previous Administration and launched our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan to fast track implementation, we had a vision of Nigeria as the pre-eminent manufacturing hub in Sub-Saharan Africa and a major exporter to our immediate West African sub-region, the rest of Africa and indeed the World. Special Economic Zones have an important role to play in achieving this vision. Special Economic Zones (SEZ) offer investor friendly incentives, world-class infrastructure and ease of doing business in order to attract local and foreign investment and have been used as a catalyst for rapid and inclusive development, job creation, industrialization and diversified export earnings in several countries.”

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