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Presidency explains N42b Special Economic Zones fund

By Terhemba Daka, Abuja
15 April 2019   |   4:08 am
The Presidency yesterday explained operations of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ), which raised concerns at a recent public hearing in the Senate.

Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah.

The Presidency yesterday explained operations of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ), which raised concerns at a recent public hearing in the Senate.

Its clarification followed concerns that Federal Government’s plans to facilitate the country’s industrial development through SEZs, was being misrepresented in the public domain.

Informed sources disclosed at the weekend that the concern was even a topic of discussion at a recent Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting where President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo reportedly spoke on the matter.

Besides, it was learnt that the Executive had resolved to clarify issues and keep the SEZs plans and strategy adopted and had already been approved by FEC.

The issue, according to top sources, is the discovery that a government agency, Trade & Industry Ministry, Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA) created confusion when their top officials misinformed Senate about funds allocated for the implementation of SEZs.

Senate was informed that the funds wound be administered through establishment of a public private partnership (PPP) special vehicle firm named the Nigeria Special Economic Zones Investment Company (NSEZCO).

While NEPZA had argued that the allocation of N42b to NSEZCO ought to be allocated to it, rather than the NSEZCO, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had clarified the law and explained that it was proper for the money to be allocated to NSEZCO.

He explained that NSEZCO was formed specifically for the purpose, as the Industry, Trade & Investment Minister, Okechukwu Enelamah, had done.

But in spite of the Attorney General’s ruling and minister’s direction, NEPZA officials were said to have taken the matter to some Senators, which caused a misunderstanding of the strategy adopted for implementation of the SEZs.

President Buhari and Osinbajo are said to be concerned that the conduct of some NEPZA officials, if proven, would be a flagrant disobedience to clear presidential directives and initiatives.

At the recent FEC meeting after Senate’s public hearing, sources said the Council, headed by Buhari had reaffirmed the plans and strategies designed by the Ministry of Industry.

Also, clarification from the Executive to the Senate on issues raised about the interim company directors and the need for NSEZCO, may have been delivered.

When Enelamah presented the ministry’s 2019 Budget details to the Senate Committee recently, questions were asked on the creation of NSEZCO with 25 per cent Federal Government interest, retention of three government officials as directors, and allocation of funds to the company.

Between the Federal Government and institutional investors, NSEZCO is expected to raise a $500m equity by 2023, while most of the strategic investors have already signed on the MINE project, which the NSEZCO will be delivering, have already secured significant international partnerships.

For instance, China’s leading textile and garment group, Shandong Ruyi, had announced its commitment to invest $2b in the cotton, textile and garment industry for the SEZs, which NSEZCO will establish in Abia, Kano and Lagos states.