Buhari Administration is Desirous of Turning Around Our Free Trade Zones(FTZs) for Foreign Direct Investment- Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Jime, MD NEPZA.
Barrister Emmanuel Lyambee Jime, the Managing Director/CEO of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority(NEPZA) was born on the day 20th of June, 1962 to the family of Pa Jime Tsav of Anter in Mbalagh Council Ward of Makurdi Local Government Area, Benue State. His father was a police officer who served his nation with honor and pride. As it were, Emmanuel Jime grew up in the barracks – a completely secular society or mini-Nigeria where he found himself interacting freely with people of diverse tongues, cultures and religious beliefs. He began his quest for knowledge at St. Williams Primary School, Keffi from 1968-74 where his young and curious mind was activated to prepare for the world ahead.
He then proceeded to Community Secondary School, Makurdi (1974-79) where he got his WASC and was ready to launch into the deep. At this point the young and grateful Emmanuel Jime also learnt the importance of community and communal service. He understood what a people can achieve by simply coming together and rallying around one another through every circumstance.
His journey of quest for knowledge took him to the famous Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where he studied law from 1980-83 obtaining an LLB at graduation. After graduation he moved on to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos from 1983-84; he obtained a BL and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1984.
Upon successful completion of his mandatory national youth service in Port Harcourt, he began a career at LUWA Chambers, Makurdi which was owned by the late Barr. Gbihi Vembe, a renowned legal giant. Again his choice of where to work was not based on sectional considerations but rather on the need for quality and a sound experience; it was simply the desire for a place that could help him grow into a sound lawyer. Everyone who was around at the time will agree that LUWA Chambers offered one of the best option8s. It never took long for the head of the chambers to discover the content and quality of Hon. Jime. Consequently, Barr. Vembe encouraged him to start his own chambers, a challenge he accepted gladly. This development gave birth to LOBI Chambers where Hon. Jime was a principal partner. At the same time, he served as Legal Counsel to Makurdi Local Government for six months prior to his launch into the world of partisan politics.
It is said that the gold fish has no hiding place. Same is true of Hon. Jime. While he was settling down to nurse the vision of growing his chambers into one of the most prestigious legal institutions in the country, his people back home had already identified him as a worthy son and ambassador who could represent them. So it was that when in 1992 the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) was formed, he was called to run for a seat in the Benue State House of Assembly (BNHA) on the ticket of the SDP which he did and won. On getting into the House to commence the business of executing the mandate of his people, his colleagues also identified the leader in him. This led to his election as the Speaker, BNHA at the age of 30 years making him one of the youngest in the country at the time.
When the military took over, Hon. Jime returned to his legal practice and moved to Abuja where he continued his legal practice in a fresh and new firm known as AMINCI Chambers in Garki area of Abuja. He was beginning to settle down when once again his people came calling as Nigeria began another democratic experience. He ran on the ticket of the People’s Democratic Party for the Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency in 2007 and got overwhelming victory. After his first term in the National Assembly, he was returned in 2011 for the 7th National Assembly whose tenure expired on 29th May, 2015. Emmanuel Jime is married to Comfort Jime nee Oklobia and the marriage is blessed with three kids: Emmanuella; Emmanuel and Cynthia.
In an interactive session with Media Executives recently, he bared his minds on the prospects ahead of NEPZA in the face of increasing budget by the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in its determination to diversify the economy via the Free Trade Zones in the country. Economic Confidential Managing Editor, Mr Ewache Ajefu was there. Excerpts:
We learnt that N50 billion was earmarked for NEPZA IN 2017 Budget and would still be replicated in 2018. That should be an improvement over the last few years when you had N2 billion yearly?
Let me mention at this juncture when I went to Ethiopia and visited a facility called the Awasa Free Trade Zone(AFTZ). It is sector specific zone dedicated to garments and textiles. That facility was built in Nine (9) months by the Ethiopians. And they spent altogether about N150 billion equivalent. So, when a mention is made about N50 billion voted for NEPZA in 2017 budget, that underscores the challenge we have as a country.
You will now understand that the model of development which we have chosen for ourselves in this country. It is not expected that we can develop anything tangible from budget line items. It will never happen. What we are going to do, and we have started doing is in these areas of partnerships. The Ethiopians put all that resources from government coffers. There are some countries that have taken a decision that one item at a time be taken and developed. You can see they have the Ethiopian Airlines and now they are focusing on Free Trade Zones(FTZs). So they have moved a notch higher and focusing on it. Here our kind of development style suggests that we pretty want to do many items at the same time. And sometimes because of paucity of resources. That, to me, explains the reason why we have a lot of abandoned projects. We start something and the next minute we are off to something else.
But with regards to Free Trade Zones(FTZs), I am making a point categorically that we are working in partnerships with our foreign partners. Some of the funding is also coming from facilities that we are able to access through international funding mechanisms. The Federal Government has appropriated N50 billion for the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority, NEPZA in the 2018 budget to build key infrastructure that will attract foreign direct investments (FDI) into the country. Same amount was granted to the Authority in the 2017 fiscal year thus putting the agency on the right track to attract investment to the country.
So it’s certainly will not be enough to depend on N50 billion budget line funding to develop our infrastructure in these zones. If you have continued to give me N2 billion which has been the case over the years up to 2016. That means that the N50 billion is a sort of willingness to move in the right direction.
Are we going to see an improvement in infrastructure in the FTZs soon?
Once we start developing these zones and restore confidence especially in the international community, then the prospects for diversifying our economy would have been on the right path.
Let me quickly mention with regards to infrastructure and notably power which you alluded to earlier. Now we have a partnership with General Electric(GE), and all of you know who GE is. GE is right now located in Calabar, Cross River State. Because they are in Calabar, it’s a massive boost as to what Calabar Free Trade Zone would be turning to. We are already discussing power with GE in conjunction with Genesis. The idea is to provide our own sources of power, not in the way that has been done in the past where every power generated was released to the national grid. With the kind of partnership, we are into with GE and Genesis, we will be in the position to generate the kind of power that would be sufficient to run our Free Trade Zones especially Calabar and Kano respectively.
Can you let us into why State Governments are venturing into Industrial parks when there are so many parks that are moribund?
I would like to talk about state governments and establishments of industrial parks. Yes, that is a new phenomenon. In the era of politics where literally everything goes, these are means to reach political aims. It may not necessarily bear on the reality on ground. Now the truth of the matter is that, we operate a federation and in the federal system we find ourselves, there is limit where the federal government can check the excesses of the state governments. But at NEPZA, we have been privileged to make a presentation at some of the National Economic Council meetings and tell them that there is only one authority known by law that regulates and administer the necessary incentives that can attract foreign direct investment in the industrial parks. Let me give you an example of an incentive we administer. When you import raw materials into the industrial parks covered by NEPZA license, you do it zero tax-rated as such there are no taxes paid. The only agency that can administer that zero tax rate to anybody who wants to invest in the Nigerian economy is NEPZA under the NEPZA Act of 1992.
Therefore, if a state wishes to establish an industrial park, how will that state be able to administer that kind of incentive without having NEPZA to cover you? Therefore, the basis for a partnership becomes imperative as the state would have no alternative than to partner with NEPZA so that the incentive that are available under the NEPZA Act would then apply. Otherwise the state government would pronounce that the investor is free not to pay local government taxes. I do not know whether that may incentivize the company. Part of the problem before now was that there had not been a real forum for us to engage ourselves. But once I had an opportunity to speak to the Governors, quite a good number of them have taken it to heart and have even invited us and started some discussions. Like Ogun state FTZ is a partnership with NEPZA, Ogun state Government and the Chinese. Once NEPZA is involved in this kind of partnership, then the incentives can apply. But if a state wants to go their way by establishing the parks without talking to us, I wish them good luck, but I doubt whether they will succeed.
What about the Moribund Industrial Parks?
On the moribund industrial parks, there are two kinds. Those that are managed by the federal government and there are only two of them, Kano and Calabar. All other ones established are private and NEPZA only license them and by no way do we provide infrastructure for them as we do to the two earlier mentioned. Our job there simply is administration and regulation. As far as costs is concerned, we do not spend a dime. As a matter of fact, it is even a drain on us because revenue that are supposed to come to us in their operation will no more come as they are moribund and that is what we suffer. Unfortunately, the sanctions mechanisms are what we are now talking about with the National Assembly leading to amendments of the Act. The Act has been there since 1992 and it was established by the military and has not been amended because not much details went into that Act of 1992. But right now, at the National Assembly, we are at the second reading stage and we are optimistic that it will be done soonest. Once we are through with the regulatory and legal framework in the amendments, sanctions would have been included.
Now we are incapacitated. Once a license is given, you cannot withdraw it. NEPZA has no role to play that for now until the amendments. As for new ones springing up, you cannot say because a zone is not functioning should prevent other investors from coming in.
Do you agree that many in this country do not understand the concept of Free Trade Zones?
Now on the understanding of the concept of Free Trade Zones, let me say that majority of Nigerians, including sister-government agencies, do not understand the concept of Free Trade Zones (FTZs), and I believe that only a massive public awareness programme can remedy the situation, just like as I am doing with you now.
My familiarization tours of FTZs across the country as well as my interactions with key stakeholders since assumption of office have confirmed this position. It worrisome that decades after the advent of the FTZ concept, NEPZA was still at the level of explaining its mission to Nigerians when it should be concentrating its energies on its core-mandate of economic diversification and fast-tracking the nation’s industrial development.
The misunderstanding or ignorance about our mandate is a serious matter. It even extends to the legal framework that defines our scope and guides our operations. And because of this pervasive misunderstanding, our work is meeting with needless frustrations or bottlenecks.
And it doesn’t help matters at all that even those who should know about the mechanics or the dynamics of the Free Zone innovation and should be helping us to achieve its mandate of accelerating industrial growth are among the critical stakeholders that need being enlightened about who we are, why we are doing what we are doing and why they should be cooperating with us rather than what appears to be the competition that we are seeing.
How many Free Trade Zones do we have in the country?
Nigeria currently have 34 free trade zones but only 14 are active. To stimulate investor confidence, the country needs the right infrastructure in place so any investor can just walk in with his brief case and install his machines and begin operations.
We understand that Staff morale was low on your appointment. Any Improvement?
All our staff are being paid regularly, while no staff is owed promotion arrears. The ones we met in six years of arrears have been cleared by this management to stimulate productivity and dedication.
We have worked quite hard to improve Inter-agency cooperation between the Authority, the Immigration and the Nigeria Customs Service(NCS),with a recent visit to the Controller General of the Customs.