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Beaming Buhari’s anti-corruption Searchlight on NEPZA

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The alleged corruption trailing the operation of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) was a subject of debate at the House of Representatives last Thursday, following a petition by a former Managing Director of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO), Mr Baba Yusuf.

In his petition to the lawmakers, Yusuf had alleged abuse of extant regulations on the implementation of the Free Trade Zone across the country.

Investors familiar with NEPZA’s operation had raised concerns on the agency’s notoriety in the breach of extant laws.

Indeed, NEPZA is yet to explain the controversial transfer of N14.37billion from its capital account to a private company, Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company.

The Acting Managing Director of NEPZA, Mr Bitrus Daniel Dawuk had disclosed that a committee had been set up to probe the transfer, but analysts have faulted the composition of the committee.

According to them, by appointing officials of the agency into the committee to be the judge in their own case, whoever set up the committee has tainted the integrity of its final report.

Free zones’ managers have argued that with the mind-boggling revelation on the alleged corruption trailing the agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should have handled the work of the committee.

In what the observers of the unfolding events at NEPZA have described as a very poor attempt to exonerate the officials of the agency and lay the blame on the former Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, the spokesman of the agency, Mr. Simon Imobo-Tswam, had claimed in a recent advertorial that the MD has been cooperating with the new minister to resolve the matter.

What the spokesman did not tell the public was that the new MD was also an insider who was neck-deep in the financial transactions of the organisation, given his position as the then head of finance unit.

The consensus among the other free zone managers is that the new MD as the head of the finance unit of the agency when the fraudulent transfer was made should be cooperating with EFCC and not the new minister.

Analysts have contended that Imobo-Tswam demonstrated a very poor understanding of his job when he claimed that an article entitled “NEPZA’s Perceived Sabotage of Buhari’s Anti-Corruption Efforts,” was published on February 23, 2020 edition of the Vanguard Newspaper.

The said article was published in at least six reputable Nigerian newspapers, including Vanguard, but none of the publications came out on Sunday, February 23 edition of any of the newspapers.

The spokesman also embarrassed himself and his organisation with the display of his ignorance of the publications in the other papers.

Having been carried away by the institutional arrogance associated with some federal government agencies that have refused to key into President Buhari’s anti-corruption agenda, the spokesman descended heavily on Vanguard for doing its professional job of providing a veritable platform for whistle-blowers.

The poorly-equipped spokesman reacted to the allegation against his company from a position of ignorance and poor knowledge of the media.

While he was busy boring the readers with what he ignorantly thought is the dictionary meaning of ‘perceive,” he was dancing naked in the market place.

He failed to address the issues and merely poured invectives on Vanguard, which he erroneously thought was the newspaper that published the article.

Did Total complain to NNPC that NEPZA asked it to pay illegal management fee in respect of the Ofon project into a private account, instead of the TSA?

Did the NNPC, respond to NEPZA through the then Group General Manager in charge of NAPIMS, Mr. Dafe S. Sejebor, questioning the basis of this management fee?

Did NEPZA ask the promoters of Egina project to pay one per cent Free on Board (FoB) charges on the Egina Floating Production Storage Offloading (FPSO) unit, which amounted to $33million into a private account?

Did Total finally pay the FoB after the $33million was reviewed downwards following the oil giant’s protest?

Instead of providing clarifications to these posers, NEPZA’s spokesman made a poor attempt to silence critics by claiming that some of these issues are in court.

It is not certain if any investor has dragged NEPZA to court, but by claiming that some of the issues are already in court, NEPZA has indeed demonstrated its penchant for scaring away actual and potential investors.

It is a common knowledge that multiple litigations not only kill existing investments, they also drive away potential investors.

Having sanitised the NNPC, NPA, FIRS, Nigeria Customs Service and NIMASA, President Buhari should not ignore a critical regulator like NEPZA, whose alleged corrupt activities can mar his campaign for foreign investments.

…Udumebraye writes from Warri, Delta State


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