· Investors list challenges such as power, pollution, decayed roads, Customs menace
By Ignatius Chukwu
So far, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has shown huge inclination to refocusing of Nigeria’s economy. In doing this, he has shown signs of boosting trade and attracting investment.
His appointments also show where his heartbeat goes. As ministers are still being screened, he used some special advisers to initiate actions because he does not believe time is on Nigeria’s side.
He has dispatched the SA on trade and investment, Mr John Ugochukwu Uwajumgu, to kickstart the revival of free trade zones, especially in oil and gas.
On Monday, August 7, Uwajumogu stormed Onne at the Oil and Gas Free Zone to ignite hope and prepare the investors for action.
An urgent mission may have been commissioned by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to the free trade zones to prepare for quick intervention required to re-start the economy.
The president may have resolved to carry out the intervention through the office of his Special Adviser (SA) on Trade and Investment, Mr Uwajumogu, who has already held a quick visit to Onne Oil and Gas Trade Free Zone regarded as the biggest and fastest growing in the world.
The SA held an interactive meeting with investors in Onne where he learnt that some $15Bn investments are heading to Onne but that teething problems are an obstacle.
A group of investors known as Onne Multipurpose Terminal (OMT) that manages and operates berths numbers 9, 10, and 11 of the Federal Ocean Terminal has submitted four major challenges asking the SA to reach the president for urgent attention.
The group said providing power for themselves eats deep into their product budget and erodes all the benefits and incentives in the OGFZA.
The group appeared very influential because the OMT is said to be designed to handle containerized and non-containerized cargo. OMT is indicated to provide value-added service to Nigeria’s oil and gas industry. As the first terminal of call at the port, it is further stated, OMT serves as an efficient gateway to the country’s hinterland markets.
OMT is operated by International Container Terminal Services Nigeria Ltd. (ICTSNL), a subsidiary of International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI).
Other investors also mentioned their own challenges and pleaded for attention, saying collapsed road has made movement of trucks in and out of Onne a nightmare, increasing cost and east of doing business.
The management of the OGFZA led by Sen Tijjani Kaura summarized the problems in a brief presented to the SA by a top official, Morgan Mmahi which included collapsed roads right from the East West Road and internal roads to the port.
Mmahi also mentioned what he called frictions with Customs command who he said has been unable implement the directives of the Ministry of Finance (though the MC/CEO later said solutions have been worked out), power issues and pollution.
Responding, Uwajumogu (SA) notified the investors about the president’s plans to begin immediate revamp of the booster points of the economy starting with the free trade zones.
He said the free trade zones have been handpicked because of the agenda of the new administration to use trade and investment to fight back and puck back poverty.
He said Onne was an important place where $15Bn investments are around the corner, saying such investments would spike production and job creation as well as touch the gross domestic products (GDP).
Answering reporters’ questions on what makes this visit different from many others in the past over the years, Uwajumogu said Tinubu turned the Bar Beach area in Lagos around after collecting it from the federal government during the Olusegun Obasanjo era and today, the place is a sought-after hub.
“The president has done it before, he knows what to do, he is eager to do it”.
He said he would compile a report and actions needed and get it to the president who he said is eager to start revamping such sensitive economic centres because there is no time.
In his welcome address, the managing director (Kaura), said the Onne oil and gas community was very excited because the place was hosting the president himself.
“The SA is very versed in trade and energy matters in Nigeria. For the president to pick him means a lot. The man we have been looking for is here. He can listen to investors and talk with the president because he has the ears of Mr President.
“Tell him what your problems are and he will build it into his blueprint”.