By Ademola Ogunde, Public Affairs Analyst
For the public, July 1st 2020, holds no memory as it is either marked as a special day in Nigeria or in a global calendar to be celebrated. Nonetheless, this day has become part of history with the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) and the Free Trade Zone in Nigeria. You may recall that His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR on June 26th 2020 announced the appointment of a new sheriff, Professor Adesoji Adesugba to oversee this very important agency of the Federal Government, NEPZA as its Managing Director/ CEO. Professor Adesugba, a seasoned technocrat, and a thoroughbred private and public sector Investment Promotion and Development expert, chose July 1st to resume duty, a day that signified a fresh start and a new dawn in the management of both the Authority and the Free Trade Zone Scheme ostensibly set up to fast-track and sustain economic growth and industrialization of the country.
Professor Adesugba, assumed duty during the period of the covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, but that did not deter him from activating the series of reforms and positive changes the sub-sector has witnessed during his three years stay. Professor Adesugba had set out to tenaciously embrace the mandate assigned to him by his principal, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, albeit with a compelling mindset to succeed no matter the odds. Needless to mention that his taskmaster, the president was confident of his ability to deliver.
Known for his proficiency and organizational ability and institutional reforms, Professor Adesugba was well prepared for the job ahead having worked in the private sector for most of his career from the Nigeria Customs Service, (NCS), the Bureau for Public Enterprise, (BPE), the Nigeria Investment Promotion Council, (NIPC) as well as Ministry of Labour and Productivity respectively.
He adopted a hands-on approach to his task and brought his wealth of experience and expertise to actualizing his strategic plan at NEPZA. Being a strong stickler for teamwork, he rested much on assistance from his highly effective and efficient Board, management team and staff; and this paid off. No wonder, the staff have variously described his three years at the Authority to be some of the best times of the Free zones scheme in Nigeria since its introduction in 1992.
It was amazing that few months into his administration, the public and key stakeholders in the sub-sector could see the positive direction this enigma was driving the scheme. Suffice to say that there was a deliberate focus on increasing the number of functional Special Economic Zones and also ensuring the provision of key infrastructure internally and externally to attract more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as well as to optimize production within these special business cities.
This period also saw significant improvement in advocacy visits to lure sub-national governments to buy into the scheme. Consequently, states such as Lagos; Delta; Katsina; Kano; Sokoto; Ebonyi; Kwara; Gombe; Taraba; Ekiti; Enugu; Anambra; as well as Taraba took the right steps to further leverage on the scheme to grow their local economies.
Issues of infrastructure deficit which had been the bane of the success of the scheme in the country was given the serious attention it deserved. Key infrastructure needs such as access roads, electricity, water, warehouses, administrative buildings were given attention in the two public zones located in Calabar and Kano.
Professor Adesugba’s martinet for excellence is also etched on Kofo Abayomi Street, Lagos as he delivered a masterpiece of an ultra-modern liaison NEPZA office codenamed “Adebayo Adeniyi House.’’ He also replicated similar office edifice in the Kano Free Trade Zone, codenamed “Maryam Katagun House.’’ No doubt, the Free Trade Zone landscape in Nigeria under the Professor Adesugba witnessed tremendous attraction of both foreign and local investments in addition to other ground-breaking achievements. Typical examples in this regard included the completion and commissioning of the Lekki Deep Sea Port, Nigeria’s first deep sea port owned by the Tolaram Group based in Singapore and operated by the Lagos Free Zone plus the inauguration of the Dangote Refinery scheduled to significantly reduce petroleum importation and to boost the power generation.
The following are some of the deliverables that marked breakthroughs in the success story of the Professor Adesugba-led administration.
- The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS0, to improve administration of taxes in the Free Zones.
- The settlement of the lingering dispute between the LADOl Free Trade and SAMSUNG, which helped to restore over 300 million US Dollar investment and 3000 employees.
- Setting the stage for the listing of Free Trade Zones’ Enterprises on the Nigerian Stock Exchange Market.
- Designation of four International Airports as Free Trade Zones
- Establishment of new Special Economic Zones in Lagos, Kwara and Katsina State respectively.
- Establishment of the Free Trade Zone Training Institute, Kano.
- Establishment of the Special Economic Zones Security outfit.
- Digitalisation of NEPZA/Free Trade Zone operations.
- Establishment of the NEPZA Alternative Resolution Center.
- Establishment of Health, Safety and Environment Unit.
- Establishment of the Anti-Corruption Unit.
- Free Trade Zones growing from 42 to 52, and Enterprises in the Free Zones growing from 500 to
- Increase of combined Free Trade Zone Investment value from 25 US Dollar to 30 US Dollar.
Other milestone achievements included the ongoing review of the Authority’s Legal Regulatory Framework which is critical to support the current Epecial Economic Zones concept in the country; adoption of a national Single Registration/Operational License Regime under the National Economic Development Policy which gives potential investors the right to situate and operate their enterprises within any zones of their choice.
For those who care to know, Professor Adesugba was instrumental to the establishment of the Nigeria Economic Zones Association (NEZA), an umbrella body for all the Free Trade stakeholders to handle all matters relating to effective zone operations nationwide.
The wind of change for greater performance of the free zones scheme was also experienced at the internal workplace of NEPZA with the restructuring of its operations. In this regard, staff development and motivation, capacity building through trainings, improved welfare and the creation of new units to support new strategies were some of the initiatives of the NEPZA Management under Professor Adesugba.
There is no doubt that in three years of dedicated service, Professor Adesugba left an indelible mark and has set a solid foundation for the continuous growth of the Free Trade Zone scheme, which of course, is a testament of hard-work, diligence, impeccable leadership and above all, a strong display of political-will cum unwavering commitment to national service.
In conclusion, to further show how likeable Professor Adesugba was within the management and staff ranks, his handover ceremony looked more of a well-organised send-forth party as the event was graced by the presence of scores of well-wishers covering wide spectrum. His joy, however was that, he handed the baton to his childhood friend and brother, Dr Olufemi Ogunyemi, himself a visionary leader in Business Development, Policy Implementation and Global Diplomacy with palpable ability, capacity and finesse to improve on the Professor Adesoji Adesugba’s high velocity in using the Free Trade Zone Scheme to lead the country’s economic pathway and industrialisation.