NEPZA’s perceived sabotage of Buhari’s anti-corruption efforts
Since President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration waged an unprecedented war against corruption in 2015, the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) has by its actions and inactions demonstrated unwillingness to break away from the past and adjust to the new order.
The agency has consistently dragged itself into questionable transactions that have fueled concerns over the willingness of its managers to adapt to the anti-corruption stance of this present administration.
For instance, on December 23, 2019, the federal government set up a committee to look into the transfer of N14.37billion from the capital account of the agency to a private company, Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company.
The Acting Managing-Director of NEPZA, Mr Bitrus Daniel Dawuk, who reportedly confirmed the development to journalists in Abuja, said the committee would look at some of the issues surrounding the controversial N14.37billion NEPZA fund currently domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The fraudulent transfer of the fund from NEPZA account had been a source of controversy in the last one year.
Apart from its perceived hostility towards foreign investors, the alleged questionable dealings trailing the operations of the agency can scare actual and prospective investors away from any dealings with the agency.
Before the allegation of fraudulent transfer of N14.37 billion became public knowledge, investors that had dealings with NEPZA had their fingers burnt.
One of the core functions of the agency, according to Section 4 (d) of the NEPZA Act is “the supervision and co-ordination of the various functions of various public sector organisations operating within the export processing zones and resolving any dispute that may arise among them.”
However, rather than resolving disputes, NEPZA’s activities have fueled disputes that had threatened investments in the free zones.
For instance, the French oil giant, Total E & P was forced to complain to its senior partner, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that NEPZA was demanding payment not backed by law in respect of the company’s operation in one of the free zones.
The French oil major had complained to the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), a subsidiary of the NNPC, that NEPZA imposed one per cent management fee running into millions of dollars on its equipment meant for its Ofon Project without any legal basis.
In line with President Buhari’s clamour for investments, Total is implementing the Ofon Project to boost Nigeria’s oil and gas production.
Total suspected fraud because the payment demanded by NEPZA’s agent, SIMCO, was not meant to be paid into the Federal Government’s Single Treasury Account.
A Project General Manager of Total E & P, Mr. Christophe Remoue, had on behalf of the multinational oil company rejected NEPZA’s request “(a) in the absence of formal confirmation of legal basis (b) and the seeming contravention of processing of such payment through a foreign bank to SIMCO rather than through Single Treasury Account with the Central Bank as required of all government agencies.”
On receipt of Total’s letter, the NNPC, through the then Group General Manager in charge of NAPIMS, Mr. Dafe S. Sejebor, acted swiftly by informing NEPZA that the basis of this management fee was not clear.
NEPZA also courted another controversy when it asked the promoters of Egina project to pay Free on Board (FOB) charges on the Egina Floating Production Storage Offloading (FPSO) unit, which amounted to $33million or one per cent of the value of the $3billion FPSO.
NEPZA had also directed that the money should be paid into an account of a private company instead of the TSA.
Curiously, Dawuk who is now the acting MD was the head of Finance at the agency when all these perceived infractions were alleged.
While Buhari’s administration has successfully sanitised the NNPC, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and other strategic agencies, it has allowed NEPZA to continue with the pre-2015 order.
The Egina deepwater project developed by Total has added 200,000 barrels per day of crude oil to Nigeria’s daily production and NEPZA’s demand for the promoters of the Egina to pay $33million before the FPSO sailed away from the Lagos Free zone to the Egina oil field almost frustrated the investors.
It took the intervention of the NNPC and other regulators for NEPZA to review the charges downwards before Total paid the FOB.
Udumebraye writes from Warri, Delta State.