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Mischief makers wanted to frustrate our Special Economic Zones Initiative — Enelamah

  1. Okechukwu Enelamah was Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment in President Muhammadu Buhari’s first term. The medical doctor turned financial expert came into the cabinet with a rich private sector background, coming from African Capital Alliance, ACA, where he was co-founder and chief executive officer, CEO.

He said in a chat, at the end of the president’s first tenure that everything was set for the nation to join the league of industrialized nations, using the Special Economic Zones Model to create the necessary infrastructure for the nation’s industrialization. He said, however, that mischief makers tried in vain to frustrate the most important initiative for the achievement of that goal.

By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief

INDUSTRIALISATION as pillar of policies

On policies to industrialise the nation, he said, “Industrialisation is the pillar of our five-point agenda in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. Under industrialisation, there are three policies that we are pursuing, that we think will make an impact on industries or industrialisation overtime. The first one is that we have established an industrial council, something called Nigerian Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council, which the membership is made up of leading stakeholders in the private sector and senior members of government, ministers, CBN governor and it’s chaired by the vice president and I am the vice chair.

Enelamah
Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah

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“The whole idea of this industrial council is that we look at the critical issues affecting industry, with a bias for implementation. There are six broad areas we focus on which are critical – infrastructure, financing for industry, policy stability, skills acquisition and vocational training, trade and market access; and finally working with the states.

“From the point of view of basically making sure that those things that industrialists and manufacturers want from the state, whether it’s in terms of land, addressing multiple taxation and so on, those things are addressed. The second area which is where this question is focused on is that we also decided that we would do industrial infrastructure.

“First, we look at all the countries that have been industrialised, in fact, the rapidly industrialised countries in the last 30 years. We saw a common trend; we recognised that when it comes to infrastructure, it’s simply too complex.

“We also understand that industry is so important that they prioritise infrastructure for industry, and they concentrated their efforts in terms of power, transportation and logistics, to make sure those places became very competitive centres of excellence and that does a lot when it comes to rapid industrialisation. Nigeria has talked about it for 30 years, but we have never really added concerted effort to break the back of this problem. So, one of the things we focused on is doing it.

Sector reforms within the industry

“These are sectors or areas within the industry or commodities or products where we have a comparative advantage. Where we ought to have specific policies that will help grow those things here and produce them here. And normally, agro-processing- you know Nigeria is very endowed when it comes to agriculture and petrochemicals. In those two areas, we have come up with various policies to address particular commodities or products. So, tomatoes, cassava, oil palm, cashew nuts, cocoa, are things that we did in the past and the point is that how do we ensure that we produce them in sufficient quantities and quality and also process them? And we have done a number of things.

How the Special Economic Zones will make a difference in the industrialization

“When the president went to China in 2016, I went with him. He visited a number of Special Economic Zones in China and it was an eye-opener. While there, we met one of the top advisers who is a chief economist at the World Bank, who is now in the business of advising other countries on what to do. We invited him, he came and shared experience with us. When we came back, we now decided to launch project Made-in-Nigeria for Exports.

“This is because if you can produce to the point where you are competitive enough to export, then you will be competitive enough theoretically as well and addressing problem of importation. In order to do that, you come back to industrial infrastructure, and knowing that we can’t afford the resources, the know-how or capacity to do it all alone, we decided to pursue a strategy of public and private partnership with other players who are interested.

“We targeted raising $500 million in the first instance to just build this industrial infrastructure but in a way that will be done to world class standards, using world class governance, management and policies and operations. We called that initiative Nigeria Special Economic Zones Investment Company, NSEZIC.

Investment company not a single individual’s firm

“I’m sure you have heard the talk about a private company. The so-called private company uses private-public partnership which the president supervised a signing ceremony with these other investors on February 8. It was a high point of more than one year of work. So, trying to dismiss that effort as the main effort of one man is mind-boggling. It’s just one of those surprises which you have to deal with operating in Nigeria, because it raises the question of what more could you have done.

“If the president of a country sits over a ceremony where investors come in, we are talking about the likes of Afrexim Bank, AfDB, African Finance Corporation, Bank of Industry and Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority. Now, these five players with the federal government owning 25 per cent through the Ministry of Finance Incorporated were those that came together; two of them came as observers, two signed the agreement. Afrexim Bank and Bank of Industry and one signed an MoU to complete their work. That work has progressed since then.

“The reason that is important is because you’re targeting raising $500 million with the federal government providing 25 per cent and we have been working on that, and we are looking to establish world class modern industrial parks across the country. We are also looking to revamp two existing industrial parks that the government owns – Calabar industrial park and the one in Kano.

“And all that is on-going because we have gotten approval. What we are doing now is attempt to establish three more as a model. We have one in Lekki where we are trying to do one for export of textile, garments and another one in Abia State and it’s a huge site – about 9,000 hectares and another one in Katsina for cotton and all these things have received approval and we are now going through the budget process which has been a subject of media attention in the last several weeks.

We can achieve $30bn from exports

“What do we want to achieve with these? We believe that if we do this right, we will be able to generate over $30 billion of exports. And this could become an annual stuff once it reaches maturity. The research also showed that we will create 1.5 million direct jobs, and for each direct job we create, you create six or more indirect jobs. So, we are basically looking at 10 million jobs.

“We also want to move manufacturing industry from 10 per cent of GDP to 20 per cent. This is an extremely important initiative of the government and it is important it’s reported right so that people can understand and support it.

“First, we have worked with the senate on this. They actually helped to select some places where we are doing the feasibility studies and expansion. So, if you go to 2017/2018 budget, you will see it. What happened was I believe that some mischief makers went to the Senate and told them to watch it; that it looks like a private thing. That made them raise the question that how come we are trying to establish Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company, whereas for example, Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority, NEPZA, can do it. And if you are partnering with the private sector you can’t tell them to come and buy shares, they cannot buy shares, it’s an agency.

“So, telling NEPZA to do it is ill-advised unless NEPZA will register a company. And we are working with NEPZA; we have a steering committee where we included them. “However, mind you, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that questions are being asked. The important thing is those questions need to be addressed and we need to stay focused and achieve the result. And my recommendation to the government will be that the engagement must continue and also the investment must continue. We have passed the point of no return; the president has supervised the signing agreement and they are legal agreement. Work is ongoing and I believe we will implement them the right way.”

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