Gradually, but steadily, the bombastic accounts of the acclaimed underperformance of Nigeria’s FTZ concept over the past 29 years of its adoption to spur the country’s industrialization have been erased by a new generation of data scientists using the latest digital infrastructure. to capture, analyze and measure the contributions of this concept to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and national growth in a more succinct manner.

Indeed, the federal government, having seen the way and the way in which China, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and the western world had taken advantage of this global economic model to accelerate their socio-economic growth, adopted it in 1992. with a law which confers on NEPZA with exclusive powers of supervision and management of the structure.

The Authority’s successive management teams had ensured that this concept, which provides the threads of this particular business ecosystem, was guided; leaving the country with two public zones and 43 private zones housing more than 500 companies with cumulative investments of more than 20 billion US dollars, and accelerating job creation oscillating respectively around 50,000 direct jobs and around 100,000 indirect jobs .

Now, with Professor Adesoji Adesugba in the saddle as Managing Director and CEO, more resilient and results-oriented monitoring and management strategies are being deployed to reposition the functioning of zones for effective monitoring and measurement of various indices contributing to national growth.

Adesugba, professor emeritus of business administration and proven investment promoter, has focused over the past year on removing and adjusting the susceptibilities of the country’s free zone by also expanding the research scope of the country. innovation, business quality control mechanism and other forms of approaches that could transform the country’s free zones into real business destination hot spots.

The public must understand that the free zone regime is a global concept and not a Nigerian concept, and therefore leaves us no choice but to strictly adhere to its modus operandi in order to take full advantage of the structure. No wonder the new management has spent quality time educating and sensitizing key stakeholders to the ideals of this commercial enclave.

“The choice of this topic stems from the backdrop of the lack of knowledge that exists in the free trade area system in our country. It has little to do with the hiding places and the benefits of the program, but our inability to truly capitalize on the pros and cons of the program like other successful countries.

“The free trade area refers to an area surrounded by a fence or wall with monitored entry and exit points where certain economic tax benefits are granted to facilitate trade in the world market,” he said. said Adesugba.

More than anything else, the CEO is saddened that most of the progress the Authority has made over the years towards the country’s economic growth has not been properly factored into the country’s GDP.

This underscores why NEPZA has entered into the long-awaited partnership with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) to ensure that data from the Authority’s areas and headquarters are collected, calculated and entered regularly into national growth indices.

Adesugba explained that the partnership with the NBS was aimed at helping the Authority to solidly redefine import and export data points for analysis and decision-making through free trade area gateways. .

“This synergy also aims to share relevant data between the two agencies in order to regularly highlight the contribution of the area plan to gross domestic product (GDP), foreign direct investment (FDI) and job creation prospects in the region. country, ”he said.

In response, Dr Yemi Kale, General Statistician / CEO of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said the office was established to monitor indices of the productive sector, adding that any partnership considered in this direction was welcome.

“NEPZA is a strategic government agency created to use the zonal scheme to stimulate industrialization. it is therefore imperative to keep a statistical record of the Authority’s contribution to the economy, ” said the head of the SNB.

A similar partnership to ensure a uniform calculation of indices generated from free zones was recently concluded between the Authority and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) clearly embodies Adesugba’s virtue of due process, transparency, accountability and open governance.

It is also imperative to clarify that the Authority now boasts of what can be called “digital computing mavens” positioned to bring together data on import and export points in a timely manner. day-to-day analysis and decision-making purposes.

It is evident that this new leadership of NEPZA is doing what has not been done before to unequivocally enable the agency to spearhead both the country’s economic recovery and its process of recovery. industrialization. Needless to say, however, this rebranded Authority requires unwavering support from the Presidency, the National Assembly and other sister government agencies to carry out these daunting tasks.

There is no doubt that the continued calls for the amendment of NEPZA 63 of 1992 have become the most opportune in order to remove the legal frameworks that have continued to hamper the successful management of the concept once and for all.

For example, key stakeholders in the sector have, among others, suggested that NEPZA can become more manly and productive if it affiliates with the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment and is placed under direct supervision. of the Presidency as with other regulatory bodies in performing zones. abroad.

The other concern raised is the inadequate financing of the structure which has undoubtedly left the areas less competitive for many years. However, due credit is due to President Muhammadu Buhari for having significantly increased the capital endowments of the Authority for six consecutive years now, nevertheless it takes much more to bring this special business ecosystem to a competitive level.

It is with this in mind that the Authority, during the presentation of the 2022 budget on November 10, requested the intervention of the National Assembly for a sustained and robust appropriation for the development of Special Economic Zones across the country.

Adesugba, who led the NEPZA leadership team, explained that improving the system and realigning free trade area operations could only be propelled by huge investments in infrastructure.

“The development of infrastructure in the zones is the ultimate attraction of this concept. We won’t spend too much energy promoting the concept if the right infrastructure is in place.

“China has around 3,000 state-of-the-art free trade zones and has used them to transform its economy into an enviable form. This is indicative of the socio-economic possibilities inherent in this global concept.

“We must therefore rethink our strategies to improve the ownership and financing of free zones if the country really aims to use them to accelerate economic growth,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senator Sa’idu Alkali, chairman of the Senate Committee on Trade, Industry and Investment, described the free trade area as a real economic intervention plan that could solve the many economic challenges of the country if properly funded.

He said the committee was not opposed to NEPZA getting adequate funding for the proper development of the program.

Likewise, the Hon. Femi Fakeye, chairman of the House Committee on Commerce, aligned himself with Senator Alkali, saying the committee has enormous powers of ownership that could allow NEPZA to propel the development of the program in the interest general of citizens.

The current NEPZA management team under Adesugba has continued to score points by raising awareness, educating and galvanizing local and international business communities to invest in the zones.

Ensuring that the Special Economic Zones model is effectively deployed to address deficits in sectors of the economy, the Director General is committed to establishing a medical and pharmaceutical SEZ; Mining and mineral SEZs; Agriculture and allied industries SEZ; as well as SEZ information and technology parks across the country.

Already, efforts are showing results with the aforementioned types of zones at various levels of development in Sokoto, Taraba, Katsina, Kwara, Ebonyi, Ekiti and Lagos states respectively.

Internationally, the Authority has reinvigorated collaborations with various agencies to help attract investment to areas of the country, with Adesugba promising to liberalize some of its strict regulations if necessary to facilitate entry into the areas.

The NEPZA boss, on November 21, the last day of the 2021 Intra-African Trade Fair held in Durban, South Africa, specifically revealed that investors from the African continent should be considered to facilitate their entry into the landscape of Nigerian free zones, as he claims, this will position the country to attract a large chunk of the $ 40 billion in trade and investment deals slated for the continent for 2022.

The fair was a key event aimed at boosting trade in Africa with a theme focused on the New African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which sought a single market for goods and services in 55 African countries.

Adesugba further explained that there was no better time to take advantage of the huge business opportunities offered by the IATF to rapidly develop the Nigerian economy, adding that the Authority took the opportunity of the meeting to vigorously promote the ecosystem of the country’s free zone to wealthy African investors. and businesses.

He added that: “We already have in our network promising companies ready to operate in established areas or to apply to own their areas in the country.

In conclusion, it can be firmly said that Adesugba’s last year as CEO of NEPZA has been truly remarkable following his determination to deconstruct the inhibitory bureaucratic contexts that have prevented the country from reaping the great potentials of the zone concept. free exchange.