Industry stakeholders have accused the management of the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA) of destroying the operations of Free Trade Zones (FTZ) in Nigeria, following its unfriendly attitude towards Free Zone operators.
This was as about 16 companies announced plans to withdraw their operations from the Onne Free Trade Zone. They include Prodeco International Limited, West Africa Machinery Services (WAMS), MGM Logistics Solutions Limited and Orlean Invest Limited.
Austin Obieze, a Port Harcourt based oil and gas operator, who affirmed this, termed the attitude of OGFZA towards operators as “rogue behaviour”.
Obieze said at the weekend in Port Harcourt, that the recent attack by OGFZA against a leading free trade zone operator, Intels Nigeria Limited (INL), has sent wrong signal and created panic among businesses operating in the zones.
“It was a very wrong move by OGFZA, which was set up to promote trade and attract investors into the country. OGFZA, under Umana Okon Umana, is doing the direct opposite of what it was established to do,” Obieze alleged.
He said that by OGFZA’s action against Intels, FTZ operation in Nigeria “cannot be the same again” as investors will find it difficult to take government for its words.
Free trade zones all over the world are created to serve as destination for capital inflow; attract investment, create jobs and aid the transfer of technology to the host country. For instance, FTZ played a key role in the boom enjoyed by the Asian Tigers.
According to Obieze, the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) and OGFZA were specifically set up by the Federal Government to encourage investments in Nigeria in line with the country’s economic growth aspirations.
“Unfortunately, while NEPZA has remained on course, OGFZA has obviously lend itself to becoming an object of political vendetta and consequently derailed from its set objectives and the intents of its enabling Act,” Obieze further alleged.
“This was why incentives like 100 percent repatriation of capital investment, remittance of profits and dividends with no import or export licenses required, were instituted for the benefits of businesses in FTZ,” he explained.
Other benefits which companies operating in the free zones enjoy include immigration non-quota regime for expatriates and firms are exempted from taxes such as value added tax, corporate tax, withholding tax, capital gains tax and customs duty on export of goods to other countries.
“It was these incentives that attracted several companies into different zones in the country, resulting in over N5 trillion investments in the FTZ in Nigeria, with several thousands of jobs created.
Faulting OGFZA action against Intels, Frank Ejizu, managing director/COO of Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) in Nigeria, was quoted as saying, “You cannot be wooing investors on one hand and scaring them away on the other hand. It will not work. If there was a violation of the law, then there is a ground for sanction.”
Joseph Amoni, general manager, Finance of the Lagos Channel Management Company (LCM) Limited, said that the action of the government can scare foreign investors away from the country.
Leke Oyewole, former senior special assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Maritime Matters, also warned against the political witch-hunt against Intels Nigeria.