Protection file

NEZA calls for protection of $25 billion investment in free trade zones, warns NASS against interference

The Nigeria Economic Zones Association (NEZA), an umbrella body for free zone operators and enterprises in the zones, has urged members of the National Assembly, Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the federal government to take only actions that would most protect the $25 billion in foreign direct investment attracted to the country through the Special Economic Zones program.

The association’s executive secretary, Chief Toyin Elegbede, gave the notice on Monday in a statement issued in Abuja.

The statement was a reaction to the relentless invitation of private area owners and their businesses by National Assembly committees for questioning.

He said, “With all intent and purpose, this Association is concerned at the frequent breaches committed by National Assembly Committees aimed at undermining the laws which established both the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) and the Oil and Gas Free Zone (OGFZA) without recourse to their limitations as set forth in the two Acts.

“While acknowledging the watchdog functions of our lawmakers, we urge them not to breach existing laws that could erode the gains already made in attracting FDI into the country through these zones.”

Elegbede further explained that the leadership of the National Assembly and its relevant committees should respect the principles and legal framework that have guided the concept of free trade areas.

He added that while NEPZA and OGFZA were accountable to the National Assembly, zone operators and zone companies were only accountable to the two regulators.

“As much as no entity is above the law, the practice and the law is that companies operating in special economic zones exist under a special arrangement with their activities regulated by the regulator.

“It is not the intent of the law for lawmakers to circumvent the regulator to summon companies to zones.

“Such an action will amount to a violation of the terms under which foreign investors have entered and invested many billions of US dollars in the Nigerian economy.

“The practice, in accordance with the law and international best practices, is for legislators to interact with regulators to resolve any issues in the zones,” Elegbede said.

While acknowledging the powers of the National Assembly to investigate and expose corruption, the Executive Secretary said its members regularly file audited annual reports with NEPZA and OGFZA, saying queries on these reports were always processed quickly.

According to him, there is a difference between foreign investments inside the economic zones and those outside the zones, noting that investors inside the zones are governed by a special law which confers certain privileges while the host country enjoys the benefits of job creation, wealth creation, industrialization and backward integration, among others.

The executive secretary, however, said a free zone was not a place to lobby for revenue generation, adding that the country stood a chance of reaping long-term quantum benefits if properly supported.

“Our members are law-abiding entities operating within the laws and regulations of the country. The benefits that these entities have brought and still bring to the national economy remain unquantifiable.
“The association therefore calls for the protection of investors and their investments by not using the ordinary laws of the country to interfere with their operations, so that we can encourage new ones to invest in the country.

“In particular, we want to call on the competent committees of the National Assembly to engage regulators if they have problems with operations in areas that would comply with the laws in force,” he added.