NEPZA, Others to Remodel Free Trade Zones Operations

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By Adedapo Adesanya

There are plans by the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA), the Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone Authority (OGFZA), as well as Nigeria Economic Zones Association (NEZA), and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to remodel the administration and management of the country’s Free Trade Zones (FTZ) to strengthen their impact on the economy.

These critical stakeholders agreed to remodel the operations when Mr Adesoji Adesugba MD/CEO of NEPZA, and his counterpart in OGFZA, Mr Tijjani Kaura, and Mr Toyin Elegbede, Executive-Secretary of NEZA, paid a working visit on the Acting Comptroller-General of Customs, Mr Bashir Adewale Adeniyi last Friday in Abuja.

Mr Adesugba had described Mr Adeniyi’s appointment as a boost for the industry, noting that the growth of the scheme was largely stunted due to years of uncooperative posture of the customs’ top leadership.

The NEPZA boss explained that it was incumbent on the customs to help the regulatory bodies drive the success of the free trade ecosystem by allowing seamless trade facilitation across the landscape.

“We are here to first felicitate with you on your appointment by His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. We are elated that this appointment came from within the service, and we pray that this culture is sustained.

“Since my appointment in 2020 as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of NEPZA, this is the first time that customs honoured our request for a courtesy visit. This evidenced how uncooperative the former leadership was toward the overall success of the scheme.

“We are all now in agreement that only a collaborative partnership among the key stakeholders can reposition the scheme to begin to have a significant impact in the economy and for global competitiveness,’’ the NEPZA chief executive said.

Mr Adesugba added that a Joint Committee comprising of members from NEPZA, OGFZA, NEZA and NCS was urgently required to address all the teething challenges affecting the smooth operation of the scheme.

Mr Kaura, on his part, explained that the regulatory bodies and all the free trade zones’ stakeholders were willing to establish a more cohesive and collaborative partnership with customs, adding that such a partnership had already been established between the two regulatory bodies and with all the free trade zones’ investors through NEZA.

The OGFZA boss further stated that the Joint Committee would be in the right position to deal with all the key issues that would be listed as the Terms of Reference (ToR).

“We want the customs leadership to understand that the Free Trade Zone is a unique economic landscape guided by both the Act of Parliament and Global Rules and Regulations. Any country that seeks to adopt it must also be prepared to accept these rules.

“We are happy that the service now has an individual who is a professional in Investment Promotion, Investors Relations & Services, as well as Trade Facilitations. We again thank His Excellency, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for giving us such a complete professional, and it is indeed a new dawn for us,’’ Mr Kaura said.

The Acting Comptroller-General, expressed his delight on the visit, stating that the Free Trade Zones scheme could be used to realistically drive the nation’s economy.

Mr Adeniyi said that the suggestion for the setting up of a Joint Committee to remodel the processes and procedures to manage the various administrative engagements among key stakeholders was a novelty, adding that all hands must be on deck to salvage the country’s ailing economy through the scheme.

“I must, however, state that we should also study and re-evaluate our various Acts to see those areas of conflicts and overlapping functions and to assiduously work toward amending them.

The Executive Secretary of NEZA, however, explained that the Free Trade Zones’ Investors were confronted with a mirage of challenges that included intermittent disagreeable execution of duties by some customs officers, adding that the incentives that were the main attraction to zones must continually be allowed.

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