Lagos State occupies a vital space in Nigeria; first, as a megacity with an estimated 20 million population and second, as a coastal city with endless maritime routes that connect international waters that have positioned it as the country’s most viable commercial hub.
Various governments have utilised these somewhat natural gifts to impact not only the development of the state but the entire nation.
Suffice, therefore, to say that the state’s importance in spiking the country’s development process and industrialisation has remained highly pivotal.
It is, however, amazing how the state has completely leveraged the federal government’s Free Trade Zone scheme managed by the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) to further drive the national economy.
It is common knowledge that President Bola Tinubu laid the foundation for the progress the state is currently making with the free zone scheme.
Currently, 18 out of the 52 free trade zones in the country are located in Lagos. They are Lagos Free Zone (LFZ), Snake Island Integrated Free Zone (SIIFZ), Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ), LADOL FTZ, Newsrest ASL Services & Logistics, Dangote Industries and Alaro City Development Free Zone.
Others are Badagary Creek Integrated Plant, Nigeria Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO), Eko Atlantic, Ogororo Industrial Park, Tomaro Industrial Park, NASCO Town FZ and Quit Aviation Services.
The rest are the Maritime Services FTZ, Cocoa Beach & Walness Valued-Chain Resort, Flour Mills FZ, as well as the Oils Integrated Logistics Services FZ.
These free zones with an estimated investment value of $25 billion are harbouring some of the most renowned international brands.
For instance, the Lagos Free Zone started in 2002 with 215 hectares. Later in 2012, around 590 hectares were given by the state government with the construction handled by Lagos Free Trade Zone Company.
This zone prides itself on some world-class enterprises like Colgate; Lekki Port; BASF; Insignia; Power Oil; Arla; HEC; Westminster; Boskalis; CNC; SBS; Kellogg’s among others. The impact these enterprises are making on the economy cannot be overemphasised.
It is worthy of note that the Lekki Deep Sea Port, owned by the Lagos Free Zone, remains a world-class maritime infrastructure worth $1.2 billion with the capacity to mainstream the entire African trade and logistic businesses into the global economy for profitability.
It was on the heels of these unmatchable achievements that Adesoji Adesugba, the managing director of NEPZA, recently described the country’s modern free trade zone visioner, President Tinubu, as the undisputed “brain behind modern Free Trade Zone in Nigeria”.
The NEPZA managing director alluded further that the president had laid the foundation for the establishment of the leading free zones in the country that had attracted over $30 billion from the non-oil sector and generated over 170,000 direct and indirect employments.
“Eko Atlantic and the four quadrants of Lekki Free Zone and over 100 other enterprises, including the newly-commissioned Deep Sea Port and the Dangote Refinery operating in the enclaves are Mr Tinubu’s exclusive initiatives.
“Tinubu’s presidency will be a new dawn as we hope that the scheme will be used to speedily drive national growth.
“We are optimistic that the excellent progress made by former President Muhammadu Buhari in the sector will be expanded and sustained,” Mr Adesugba said.
The NEPZA boss is not alone in acknowledging Mr Tinubu’s contribution to investment. Some experts recall how, as governor, his intervention on the old Lagos Bar Beach saved investments in Victoria Island estimated at over $170 billion from perennial ocean surges.
Today, Eko Atlantic, also a free trade zone, is an international hot belt with a well-laid landscape and modern architecture and portends a great revenue spot for the nation.
The tourism worthiness of Eko Atlantic has been further accentuated by the citing of the United States of America’s biggest Embassy in the world there.
The receptiveness of the Lagos State Government under Mr Tinubu towards sound economic growth created the right ambience for the Private Public Partnership that also birthed the multi-billion-dollar Dangote Refinery, a free trade zone located in the Lekki area.
In 2006, the state conceived an idea to develop some parts of the Lekki Peninsula into a blue-green, eco-friendly environment.
The proposed area covered an area of 60,000 hectares stretching from Victoria Island in the west to Refuge Island and some parts of Lekki town in the east.
The blue-green concept was primarily to create a comprehensive new town with important public facilities and infrastructure in the North and South peninsulas.
The free trade zone scheme has rightly helped to propel this laudable vision to become a reality.
While the free trade zones and their enterprises are slithering in Lagos State, the same cannot be said of those located in other parts of Nigeria.
Stakeholders identify a poor understanding of the concept by other state governments, infrastructure deficit, lethargic disposition of local investors, and insecurity as reasons for this shortcoming.
Mr Adesugba, an investment promotion expert, has in the last three years devoted time to addressing some of these systemic challenges that have limited the country from realising the full potential of the scheme.
Specifically, the free zones in Calabar and Kano have been facing the challenges of poor infrastructure, inter-agency rivalry, undue interference, inadequate NEPZA Act and a dysfunctional system of operation.
NEPZA is making tremendous efforts to obliterate some of these challenges and is leading the charge to promote and manage the scheme in accordance with global standards.
For instance, the adoption of E-NEPZA has greatly fenced off some of the teething challenges of accountability, transparency and probity.
There are many reasons to believe that the new administration has inherited a solid free zone scheme to drive the growth of the economy.
Earmarking the country’s four major international airports as Special Economic Zones, and approvals for other specialised public zones in Lagos, Katsina, Benue, Gombe Ebonyi and Ilorin, can be avenues for the new government to begin a widespread development across the six geopolitical zones.
The establishment of seven privately-driven zones is a great stimulant of the economy with palpable benefits in both employment and revenue generations.
The zones include Bonny Kingdom Free Trade Zone, Rivers; Hydropolis Niger; Premier Industrial Free Trade Zone, Rivers; Koko Walness Value Change Resort, Lagos; GC Exports, Kogi; Ekiti Knowledge Zone, Ado Ekiti, as well as Flour Mills Free Zone, Lagos.
NEPZA also identified licensing of federal universities of education as free zones to break the cycle of contention on funding leading to endless protests and industrial action.
The University of Abuja, in collaboration with the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), has applied to use the university as a pilot study.
As part of its strategic approach to ensure that citizens benefit more directly from the scheme, the NEPZA is on the verge of concluding the legal frameworks for listing zones and their enterprises on the Nigeria Stock Exchange.
Also, efforts are on to leverage the global over $1 trillion Virtual and Crypto investment portfolios as the authority has concluded arrangements to partner with Talent City to establish Africa’s first Virtual Free Zone.
Stakeholders expect that the new administration would place the free trade zone on a first-line charge, being a veritable economic instrument to fast-track the country’s industrialisation.
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