The Onne Free Trade Zone is in Rivers State, Southern Nigeria
The Federal Government said on Saturday that investments at the oil and gas free trade zone in Onne, Rivers State, had hit $6 billion (N900 million) and created about 30,000 jobs for Nigerians.
Labaran Maku, the Minister of Information, stated this when the National Good Governance tour visited the port in continuation of tour of projects in the state.
He said that the new policy of government which established the zone had attracted 150 companies.
Mr. Maku said that aside the total investment estimated at six billion dollars, the most important thing was the job creation and the skill acquisition prospects of the investments.
He said that like China that grew its economies through industrialisation in its free trade zones, Nigeria was on the right track to becoming a global giant.
In a related development, some members of the host community where the free trade zone is located have protested the absence of the locals in the management cadres of companies operating in the zone.
Josiah Olu, a member representing Eleme constituency in the House of Assembly, who spoke on behalf of the community, said that the people were not satisfied with the employment policy of the companies.
He insisted that the indigenes had not been fairly treated in terms of employment, even as the free trade zone remained the highest employer of labour after the state government.
Mr. Olu said it was unacceptable that in the whole top management of INTEL, a company operating at the free trade zone, there were no Eleme indigenes.
“We are peace-loving; we have not exhausted dialogue but something has to be done,” he said.
A representative of the regulatory agency at the free trade zone, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, denied the claims.
He said the companies were backed by law to bring in all their top cadre staff from outside the country, but explained that most of the companies had begun to reverse the trend.
He added that having agreed with representatives of the host communities, most of the companies had started employing indigenes into management positions.
“I agree with the submissions of the honourable member to an extent but in terms of placement of high-level man power, most of the people employed are in lower cadre. This is because the concept of free zone allows companies coming in to do so with their staff, so they have 100 per cent allowance by the law to come in with their expatriates or trained staff.
“That is the position of the companies, it is only by interaction that they are ceding some of these positions to indigenes and we are working on that.
“A company like Tinaries had 25 expatriate staff all at senior level but right now there is only one, the rest are locals from both the community and other parts of the country.
“As regulator, we are engaging them, the law allows them but now that the local content is in place we are also engaging with them to shift ground and this has been yielding positive results,” he said.,” he said.