Reviving Nigeria’s ailing Free Trade Zones

Nigerian Content Initiative05 November 2013, Sweetcrude, Lagos – I was asked to comment on the pronouncements of the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments at the recently concluded Nigeria Oil & Gas Trade and Investment Forum 2013, which was organised by the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade & Investment in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources and Orlean Invest West Africa Limited, and supported by the Federal Ministry of Transport. I wondered why, but upon reviewing the programme and addresses, I concluded that my comments should focus more on real issues.

For a nation that does not have accurate data and statistics on income generated and retained in Nigeria, jobs created and indigenous companies empowered through the $200 million (N32 billion) that had been invested in Onne Oil and Gas Free Trade Zones in 2013 (month 10) and the $4 billion capital investment reported in 2012, I was not sure if there was justification for the amount of joy displayed at the event. A refinery and petrochemical plant was missing !!!!!. I made this note because of the Minister‘s statement: “Indeed our national aspiration is to be the petrochemical hub in Africa”. I wondered if this is the intent of the Federal Government of Nigeria or the Ministers. To have made such a pronouncement on behalf of the Federal Government implies that the Ministers of Industry, Trade and Investment, Petroleum Resources, Works and Housing and Transportation are working tirelessly to actualize this aspiration. I am almost certain that this is not the case.

The Eleme Petrochemical idea was conceptualized in 1978, established in 1988 and commenced operations in 1995. For over 25 years, Nigeria has not deemed it fit to establish other Refineries and Petrochemical plants. This really should be the focus of our FTZ’s Wealth and job creation Agenda. The Minister of Petroleum should take the bulk of the blame because the Nigerian Petroleum industry has become more of a paradox in this dispensation. We have so much yet so little and the more we look the less we see. I ask some more pertinent questions, how can we become the petrochemical hub of Africa if real National issues such as the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, deregulation of the downstream of the Nigerian petroleum sector, creation of a conducive environment and fiscal regimes to make the private sector find Nigeria a safe haven to build refineries and petrochemical plants in the Free Trade Zones are not addressed. When would we put the necessary infrastructure and policies in place to grow the economy? It baffles me that we have a President and a Minister of Petroleum Resources from Bayelsa State and they have not come through with a transformation agenda that would leave their foot prints in the sands of time.

What Nigeria needs is less of Summits, Conferences, Workshops and Seminars but more of Strategy sessions. A strategy session with the relevant groups brainstorming to resolve issues on how Nigeria as a country (not a few companies) can move forward or create jobs and wealth for many would have been a more useful exercise. To have brought the Governor of Rivers State, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Minister of Petroleum Resources, Group Managing Director, NNPC, Executive Secretary, Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, various Country Ambassadors, Managing Directors of International Oil Companies and Chief Executives of Major Oil Companies together under a fanfare atmosphere is quite a feat. Unfortunately, these seem not to be as strategic for the nation as it is for some individuals..

Nigerian Content implementation should encourage inward reflection more than fanfare activities. It should be centered on value creation and addition, forming linkages between the Nigerian Hydrocarbon industry and the impoverished Nigerian populace, creating jobs and wealth in Nigeria. At each point in time we need to ask ourselves what exactly are we celebrating and who are the true beneficiaries of the celebration? It bothers me that our national problems are escalating and not much is being done to address real issues like infrastructure development. With many of the FTZ’s non-functional, my advice to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment is to review the 21 odd FTZ’s and work very hard in his tenure to resurrect the failing and ailing ones whilst allowing Onne to continue doing what it does best. Our focus must remain on creating jobs and wealth for Nigerians and reviving FTZ’s which were established to restore vibrancy in the Chemical/Petrochemical Sector, Metallurgical/Engineering Industries, Construction Sector and Agriculture (Forest based/agro allied) industries and thus restoring hope in the Nigerian economy.

About the Author