Managing Director, Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority, Mr Umana Umana, has expressed optimism that the nation’s economy will be boosted through Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs).
Umana told newsmen in Abuja that the agency had been repositioned to promote and sustain FDIs within the zones.
According to him, the agency has been repositioned to be a revenue earner because the challenges affecting it have been addressed.
He stated that the free zones had the responsibility to provide the right environment in terms of ensuring that existing incentives in their domains were known to investors.
Umana explained that the authority’s new disposition stemmed from a management retreat, where a roadmap to deal with foundational issues of the agency was initiated.
”Within the roadmap are issues on how to promote and sustain FDIs within our zones, providing the right environment in terms of ensuring that existing incentives in the zones are known to investors.”
”We are able to do that and have also produced a brochure to help potential investors have documented records of what we offer and their obligations.”
”I want to state that the incentives we offer compete well with that offered by other free trade zones globally.”
“Since I took over, we have taken steps to look at operational deficiencies such as the period it takes to renew licenses,” he said.
Umana said that before assumed office in September, 2016, it took about 14 days to renew licenses, but that the process had been reduced to three days under him.
”If our investors meet the requirements for the renewal of licenses, which include payment of renewal fees and submission of annual returns among others, they will have their licenses renewed within 48 hours.”
”I believe that the agency has gone a long way to promote the `Ease of Doing Business Policy’ of the Federal Government,’’ he said.
He explained that some of the foundational issues he met had to do with capacity of staff to deliver on the core mandate of attracting FDIs and promoting economic development.
”After we addressed that, we had stakeholders meeting with all the other agencies of government that operate within the zone – Customs, Immigration, the NPA, and of course, the investors.”
”We had a roundtable and made our commitments to improve on service delivery and assured that it would no longer be business as usual because we needed to improve on the Ease of Doing Business.”
”I also discovered when I took over that the authority didn’t have operational presence even in Nigeria. It was barely visible and not known even by Nigerians.”
”We have now made it known to Nigerians and its values to fast-track development because Nigerians will benefit from increase in employment and transfer of technology,” he explained.
Umana said that over the next four years, the agency would grow FDI by over 40 per cent and upscale its strength and capacity to play its role as a regulator to players in the free zone.
”We are also looking at how to establish new zones in partnership with the private sector.”
”Onne is a good example of a Public Private Partnership (PPP) that has worked.”
“I have presented it at global events as one of the free trade zones that are based on the PPP model that has worked.”
“It is also based on a cluster model because its activities are centered on oil and gas.”
”It has given the Federal Government through the NPA over two billion dollars revenue between 2010 and 2016.”
”The tool of the free zones as a strategy to drive investment and development has been used successfully in Dubai and Malaysia.”
“There is a budget of N43 billion in 2017 for six special economic zones and this goes to underscore the importance the government is now according the free zones as economic tool.’’
He said that though the economic downturn had impacted on the activities in the zones, the prospects were bright.
Umana disclosed that there were threats from countries like Mozambique, which was creating real incentives for oil and gas investments.
”The attraction of investment is not a domestic affair; it is an international one because investors have options to choose from.
”Nigeria is just one of the options; that is why we are trying to work hard to put our free trade zones before the world with good incentives.
“This is because if people don’t know about what you have, they won’t come around.
”We are trying to market our free trade zones as we recently did at the last World Free Trade Zones Convention in Doha.
”Nigeria has a very strong market due to our population; we must be taken serious as a destination for investors who are looking at free trade zones around the world.’’