By Josephine Isaac
The Nigeria Economic Zones Association (NEZA), an umbrella body of Free Trade Zones operators and enterprises in zones has urged members of the National Assembly, Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal Government to only take actions that would only protect the over 25 billion US dollars Foreign Direct Investments attracted to the country through the Special Economic Zones scheme.
Chief Toyin Elegbede, Executive-Secretary of the association gave the advice on Monday in Abuja while reacting to the needless and incessant invitation of private zones owners and their enterprises by committees of the National Assembly for questioning.
“With all intent and purpose, this association is worried on frequent infractions committed by the National Assembly committees aimed at undermining the laws that established both the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) and the Oil & Gas Free Zone (OGFZA) without recourse to their limitations as enshrined in both Acts.
“While recognising the oversight functions of our lawmakers, we kindly urge them against breaching existing laws capable of eroding gains already recorded in attracting FDIs into the country through these zones,’’ the Executive-Secretary said.
Elegbede further explained that the leadership of the national assembly and its relevant committees should abide by the tenets and the legal framework that guided the free trade zones concept, adding that while NEPZA and OGFZA were accountable to the National Assembly, zones operators and enterprises in the zones were only accountable to the two regulators.
“As much as no entity is above the law, the practice and the law are that companies operating in the special economic zones exist under special arrangement with their activities regulated by the regulator. It is not the intention of the law for lawmakers to bypass the regulator to summon companies in the zones.
“Such action will amount to a violation of the terms under which the foreign investors entered and invested several billions of US dollars in the Nigerian economy.
“The practice, according to the law and according to international best practice, is for the lawmakers to interface with the regulators to address any issue within the zones”, Elegbede stated.
While acknowledging the powers of the national assembly to investigate and expose corruption, the Executive Secretary stated that its members regularly file annual audited reports with NEPZA and OGFZA, affirming that queries on such reports were always promptly handled.
According to him, there is a difference between foreign investment within the economic zones and the ones outside of the zones, noting that investors within the zones operated under a special law that conferred certain privileges while the host country enjoy benefits of employment creation, wealth creation, industrialisation, backward integration, among others.
The Executive-Secretary, however said that a free zone was not a place to press for revenue generation, adding that the country stood the chance of reaping quantum benefits at long term if properly supported.
“Our members are law abiding entities operating within the laws and regulations of the country. The benefits these entities have contributed and are still contributing to the national economy remain unquantifiable.
“We know, President Muhammadu Buhari is elated with the ongoing developments at Dangote Refinery, Lekki Deep Sea Port, Eko Atlantic, Alaro City, and the entire Lekki Free Zone Quadrants in Lagos, as he has at several fora described them as national assets. These are the tangible gains derivable from the zones concept.
“The association, therefore, calls for the protection of investors and their investments by not using the country’s regular laws to interfere with their operations, so that we can encourage new ones to invest in the country,’’ he said.
Elegbede further said: “we want to particularly appeal to the relevant committees of the national assembly to engage the regulators if they have issues with operations within the zones which would be in accordance with existing laws.’’
Mr Toyin Elegbede
Executive Secretary, Nigeria Economic Zones Association (NEZA)