It seems to be when help is around the corner that victims cry louder after many years.
The road to the Onne Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone said to habour over 120 companies has been deplorable at the best, forcing one of the stakeholders in the place to think of building a helipad to fly in and out.
Now, there seems to be an administration that wants to use trade and investment to drive Nigeria’s economic turnaround, and the point man of that sector has been dispatched to Onne to see things and draw an action plan. The most important prong in this plan seems to be to get the exact problems and design their solutions because Onne is capable of attracting over $15Bn in the next three years.
Mr John Ugochukwu Uwajumogu, Special Adviser (SA) to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, visited the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority on Monday, August 7, 2023, to see things for himself, and the door of complaints were opened. It poured in torrents.
When the MD of the Free Zone, Tijjani Kaura, flagged off the interaction after the SA had made remarks detailing Tinubu’s plans and dreams with free trade zones and free trade and investments, the outcry began.
One of the piercing cries came from the Onne Multipurpose Terminal (OMT) group represented by Igwe Ogbonnaya who said he was the Commercial Manager of OMT.
Submitting a letter detailing the problems, he said the problems affect all and stifle the economy. He said: “Onne has deteriorated. We need time line from the SA to solve the problems and restore Onne. Explaining later to newsmen, Ogbonnaya said: “We highlighted four problems. The first is the bad road you all saw. It has cut off access to many facilities. The next is power: we operate on diesel and the cost is very high. It is not commercially viable to us as businesses. We feel that joining the power grid is the solution.”
He urged the SA to restore the confidence of the investors in the ability of the system to solve the teething problems so the investors can focus on businesses.
The officials from the West African Container Terminal (WACT) described the interaction is as very good.
Officials from INTELS said they were ready to move forward with the plans of the presidency as articulated by the SA. They however pleaded for the cooperation of the government.
Some sources in the meeting said efforts to capture business in Gulf of Guinea were lost over the years.
Officials from Brawal seemed more anxious. An official said Intels seemed to get better treatment than Brawal. He said vessels to eastern ports had more challenges and thus prefer Lagos ports.
“They spend less in Lagos on duties, etc. We wonder if the Customs are different here. Is Onne outside Nigeria? There is no level-playing ground.
The official said a special road is always opened to Intels but locked against Brawal for large vessels and that Brawal always begged for key and passage from Intels.
An Intels official responded, saying they too apply for key from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). Officials of the OGFTA intervened, saying Intels had no key, and that they OGFZA usually wrote to support any application for key. They explained that for security reasons, not all vessels have to pass there, except vessels that are too large.
Other stakeholders raised the issue of high costs and differential costs in eastern ports. A Customs official explained that factors like War Risk Insurance (WRI) are factored in.
He also mentioned low business in eastern ports. “PH is not a hub. Lagos exporters join goods and achieve volume to get discount. Some exporters are charged $9 per unit in PH but $3 in Lagos. Vessels coming to PH charge more.”
Reacting the SA said: “This interaction is good and is needed maybe quarterly. It will be natural, and investors may have to meet with the President regularly to address issues
“Onne and Port Harcourt should work out competitiveness and work with stakeholders on this. You must find out your areas of advantage as offer to the market.
“Power is critical. I have gleaned over the paper you submitted and I can say right away that power is critical in all matters. The president is keen on tackling this holistically.
“This is an investment corridor so roads, power, security, etc, are critical. It is wrong for businesses to produce their own power. In days and weeks to come, results (of this interactions) will start.