The Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) has solicited the intervention of the National Assembly for a sustained and robust appropriation for the development of Special Economic Zones across the country.
Prof. Adesoji Adesugba, the Managing Director of the Authority, made the call during the defence of 2021 Budget and the presentation of that of 2022 before the House Committee on Commerce and Senate Committee on Trade, Industry and Investment on November 3 and November 10 respectively.
Adesugba, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of NEPZA explained that ensuring improved system and re-alignment of operation of the free trade zone business ecosystem could only be propelled by huge investments on infrastructure.
``Infrastructure development in the zones is the ultimate attraction to this concept. We shall not be dissipating too much energy in promoting the concept if the right infrastructures are in place.
``China has about 3000 state-of-the-art free trade zones and has leveraged on them to transform its economy to an enviable form. This is indicative of the socio-economic possibilities embedded in this global concept.
``We need to, therefore, rethink our strategies to improve appropriation and funding of the free trade zones if the country truly aims at using it to accelerate economic growth,’’ he said.
He said: ``we have developed a formidable SEZs structure that can stand the test of time. What is, therefore, required is the political-will to substantially enhance its funding.
``If we failed to do this, the country will finally become a dumping ground for goods and services from other African countries due to the current trade libralisation mechanism allowed by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AFCTA).
``Nigeria must become competitive by being a producing nation as opposed to being a consuming nation.’’
He further explained that parts of the country’s economic recovery plans revolved around the development of key special economic zones, adding, that the scheme could fix a greater percentage of the country’s dwindling sectors if properly developed.
``The Free Trade Zone Scheme is a wonderful global economic model with the capacity to transform economies, but it is indeed a multi-billion-naira venture. Countries that are reaping from this model continually inject funds into it.
``We, therefore, invite the members of the two committees to take NEPZA and the zones as their pet projects. I believe the time has come for the members of these committees to also embark on inspection of some private zones in order to reshape their perspectives on the potentials of this great scheme to change the country’s economic landscape for the better,’’ Adesugba said.
The managing director, however, pointed out that the country’s free trade zones had fared much better under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in six years than it fared in the last two decades.
The NEPZA chief executive reiterated that while the country was only able to establish two public zones in 30 years, the Buhari administration had laid foundation for the establishment of additional six.
He further said that the Authority was particularly appreciative of the president’s relentless push for the upscaling of electricity and other vital infrastructure in the two public zones located in Calabar and Kano.
Adesugba noted that the government had also displayed sustained commitment to the free trade zone international regulations by not engaging on any untoward actions that could negate the smooth running of the private zones and their enterprises.
Meanwhile, Sen. Sa’idu Alkali, Senate Committee Chairman on Trade, Industry and Investment, described the free trade zone as a veritable economic intervention scheme that could fix the country’s many economic challenges if adequately funded.
He said the committee was not averse to ensuring NEPZA got adequate funding for proper development of the scheme.
Similarly, Hon. Femi Fakeye, Chairman, House Committee on Commerce aligned himself with Sen. Alkali, stating that the committee had enormous power of appropriation that could empower NEPZA to propel the development of the scheme for the overall benefit of citizens.
Fakeye, however, said that the committee would henceforth increase its oversight visits to both the Authority and the zones in view of their grave importance to national development and growth.