The Federal Government of Nigeria recognizes trade as the driving force of the economy. For this reason, it has developed a national trade policy aimed at keeping pace with global trends and standard in the facilitation of commerce and industrial activities across borders.
To showcase its vast potential in the energy sector for investment opportunities in the country, the Federal Government established the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority (OGFZA), in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State, as an investment promotion agency saddled with the responsibility of attracting direct foreign investment into the oil and gas sector of the nation’s economy.
With about 37 billion barrels of crude oil reserves and 187 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, Nigeria has a vast energy resource base. This is why it is seen generally as the single largest market in the Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Onne OGFZ is therefore, a tax-free centre for the processing, manufacturing and assemblage of goods, which ultimately encourage the acquisition of skills, promote transfer of technology, boost local content development, enhance foreign exchange earnings, and facilitate backwards integration of the country.
Indeed, the Onne OGFZ falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and is expected to leverage incentives from the ministry to attain its set objectives. But the question is: Has the Onne OGFZ taken advantage of the litany of windows provided by the various policies of the ministry in a bid to meet set targets?
Well, it was to ascertain the agency’s efforts to realize its mandates that the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Senator Martins Kuye, recently paid an official visit to the headquarters of the oil and gas free zone at Onne, for an on-the-spot assessment of achievements made so far, and challenges facing the free zone. Kuye, who was accompanied by top functionaries of the ministry during the visit, recognized that to unlock the potentials of the country, “strategy had to be added to policy to make it deliverable”.
Perhaps, it was to show the strategic steps taken to add value to government policy, that the Chairman, Governing Board of the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority, Ambassador Adamu Aliyu, in his address during the visit, listed the fundamental challenges faced by the authority in course of its operations. Although the free zone has recorded scores of achievements within the short period of its existence, the board chairman disclosed that the free zone has faced some basic problems such as confusion over jurisdiction of land.
He stressed that across the globe, the concept of free zone is anchored on the premise that once an area is declared a free zone by the government, powers over management of the entire land mass so declared are vested on the free zone authority. However, he noted that at the Onne free zone, there was confusion on who has jurisdiction over the zone’s land in view of the non-implementation of the provisions of section 7 of the law establishing the authority, and appealed to the minister to wade into the matter, and ensure the justice is done.
Other teething problems faced by the free zone, according to Aliyu, are the dearth of standard infrastructure, such as durable roads and a solid link bridge to Ikpokiri Island, which is a designated part of the free zone. He described the inaccessible Ikpokiri Island as the most suitable site of the free zone for most downstream industrial projects, such as refinery, petrochemical and fertilizer plants. To fully develop the Ikpokiri Island to the desired standard, the chairman said a deal has been sealed with the Rivers State Government, which has also shown considerable interest in the partnership arrangement with the free zone to develop an energy city in the island.
According to the free zone’s chairman, the non-streamlining of the functions of the Nigeria Export Processing Zone (NEPZ) and that of the Oil and Gas Free Zone (OGFZ), is one of the lingering problems impeding effective operations of the authority. To address this conflict, the free zone authority is seeking the interpretation of laws establishing both NEPZA and OGFZA to specifically identify the designated duties of the respective agencies.
“He noted thus: “We wish to inform the minister that despite the interpretation given by the Federal Ministry of Justice, nothing has been done substantially to sort out the issues raised in respect of the distinct roles of the two agencies”. To structure the fee zone to enable it achieve its strategic goals, the board also requested government support in the provision of power supply and telecommunications infrastructure to aid rapid industrialization.
The Managing Director of the authority, Dr Noble Abe, took the session through a thorough explanation of the objectives of the free zone vis-à-vis, the challenges of direct foreign investment. He said the OGFZ, Onne enjoys an unrivalled strategic position in West Africa and the world at large, and stressed that there was need to exploit the comparative advantage of the vast oil and gas resources to attract investment to the zone.
According to the managing director, the free zone, which became active in early 1997, has attracted the major oil field operators, who recognized the apparent advantages and tax benefits associated with the unique facility. From a humble beginning of eight registered companies, the free zone boss explained that the OGFZ now can boast of more than 122 functional companies.
Although the OGFZ has the prospect of being the largest growing and dedicated free zone in the world, Abe said such potentials, which are anchored on the vast natural energy reserves can only yield the desired impact if the necessary logistics and incentives are provided. For him, “the mere use of the term free zone without employing our area of comparative advantage can not lead us to achieving our strategic goals. Nigeria is the largest producer and exporter of oil and gas in Sub-Saharan West Africa. Nigeria is the natural hub for distribution of oil and gas materials in the sub region while in Nigeria; Onne is at the heart of the oil and gas industry, with all necessary facilities in place. The free zone authority has the potential to attract great investments and creating job opportunities for the people”.
Excited by what he saw on the ground, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Senator Martins Kuye, commended the board and management of the free zone for their strategic vision in transforming to realistic terms the objectives of the free zone. He emphasised that the concept of free trade in Nigeria should be made attractive to woe potential investors to not just the zone and Rivers State but also the Niger Delta and the country at large.
The minister lamented the poor state of infrastructure at the free zone, and assured that the federal Government would make provision in next year’s fiscal allocation to revamp the area, and make it attractive for foreign direct investment. He described the oil and gas free zone as a veritable tool for the development of the nation, which must not be allowed to droop into palpable decay and institutional rot.
But in a show of the state’s commitment towards the realization of the goals of the free zone, the Rivers State Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Mr. Ogbonna Nwuke, assured that the state government would complement the efforts of the federal Government to promote investment drive in the oil and gas free zone, essentially through the creation of enabling environment for business to thrive. Nwuke explained that Rivers State Government’s commitment to make the free zone succeed was reflected in the already existing partnership between the government and the free zone authority in the Ikpokiri Island development project.
However, the extent to which the free zone will succeed largely depends on government determination to fully implement policies that directly fast track the achievement of set targets for the free zone authority. To be seen to have taken a lead in this direction, government needs to take a bold step in providing the desired logistics and incentives to accord the free zone the required international colouration in operations and standards.
Besides, the government needs to address, frontally, the burning question of conflict of duties between the OGFZA and the NEPZA, so that there is a clear cut distinction in functions and duties. The issue of jurisdiction over land also deserves urgent government intervention to remedy the spectre of confusion already enveloping the area, and which, of course, is capable of creating doubts in the minds of stakeholders on the sincere objectives of the free zone.
The issue of upgrading of infrastructure in the free zone to meet international standard is very crucial if the zone is desirous of attracting more foreign direct investment into the area.
This is because companies in the industry are looking for investment opportunities that give them the cutting-edge advantage to rake in quick returns on investments.
And given the competitive zest that the discovery of oil and gas in other parts of Africa, including West Africa provides, Nigeria needs to create and sustain a template that is unique for investors, esepcially by the demonstration of government’s commitment to ensure the safety and security of their investments while guaranteeing stability in economic policies. This way, it is possible to expect the flurry of foreign direct investments to the free zone, and efficient and quality service delivery to Rivers people in particular and Nigerians in general.
Buhari Thumbs Up For NLNG As NNPC Reviews Activities
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) held its head high as it commenced activities for the week following commendation from President Muhammadu Buhari for rallying shareholders to make Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited (NLNG) a company to reckon with.
Buhari who is also the Minister of Petroleum Resources gave the commendation at the ground breaking of the NLNG Train 7, recently.
He said that the NLNG had always been associated with success and had become a global company.
“The NLNG Train 7 represents another historic milestone in the history of NLNG. NLNG story has been associated with success,” he said.
The president also said that the NLNG had contributed 114billion dollars in taxes to Nigeria, and tthat with NLNG Train 7, there would be more jobs that would touch the lives of everyone particularly the host community.
He expressed joy how the NLNG had transformed from just a project to a very successful company in about 30 years.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, urged all shareholders to work hard to ensure the successful completion of the project which he said would boost government’s efforts to make Nigeria a fully industrialised nation.
Sylva also said the project would help the nation’s gas development aspiration.
NNPC’s Group Managing Director, Mallam Mele Kyari, that there was consensus among shareholders and board members to take the next step towards providing additional capacity which should be greater than what was on ground.
The NNPC GMD thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for his quick intervention which ensured the eradication of all pre-existing stumbling blocks on the path of NLNG Train 7 project
Also in the week under review, Minister of State for Petroleum, Sylva commended President Buhari at a ceremony to mark the execution of Shareholders Agreement between the NNPC, the Nigerian Content Development & Monitoring Board (NCDMB) and Zed Energy.
Total Nigeria Advocates Petroleum Subsidy Removal
Managing Director Total Nigeria, Plc, Mr Imrane Barry, says removal of petrol subsidy will help government to redirect its earnings to support infrastructure development for economic growth and development.
Barry made this known when he featured on a roundtable on Downstream and midstream at the Nigeria International Petroleum Summit (NIPS) in Abuja.
He spoke on the topic “The down/midstreams: Paths to the future through holistic and integrated solution”.
He said that signing of the Petroleum Industry Bill would help to unbundle the oil and gas industry and encourage development, private investment and create jobs.
“The petrol subsidy regime costs the country approximately 2.6 billion dollars (N1 trillion) per year and the country can no longer afford it.
“The removal of the subsidy will allow government direct more of its earnings towards infrastructure and social development,” he said.
He said that since government had declared decade of gas, there was need for Investment in Natural Gas.
He added that government needed to continue to push policies that would favour private participation and investment in the gas value chain, production, storage and distribution.
“Also, government needs to give incentives for investors in the sector, tax rebates etc to encourage long term participation.
“In the B2C sector, the government should put in place incentives for customers to switch from white fuels to gas powered machines for road transportation.
“They should continue investment in the nation’s critical infrastructure that aids trade and commerce,’’ he added.
He further called for the fixing of Apapa ports and other ports in Nigeria, development of interstate road network, fixing of rail lines for human and cargo transportation
Commenting on impact of COVID-19 pandemic to global oil market, he said that it made the market volume shrank by 30% while margins became weak(Losses) with aviation sector mostly affected for the following reasons.
He added that the global economy was badly affected generally due to airport closure, drop in international prices of jet fuel platts which , led to a huge loss in aviation business due to contractual agreement with international airlines coupled with large amount of “old stock” in tank.
“PMS is a regulated product, with the price fixed by the government; resulting in fixed margins.
“The devaluation of the Naira from N360 to N380 during the pandemic, coupled with rising inflation in the country further eroded this “fixed margin” for the players in the downstream sector,” he said
He urged government to ensure speedy passage of the PIB to help the sector play its part effectively.
Partners Execute Shareholder Agreement For Brass Products Terminal
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), along with their partner, the Nigerian Content Development & Monitoring Board, NCDMB, and Zed Energy have executed a shareholders’ agreement for the establishment of a 50 million litre Petroleum Products Terminal in Brass, Bayelsa State.
The N10.5 billion Brass Petroleum Products Terminal project is expected to deliver an automated 50 million litre depot with two-way product jetty, automated loading bay, and 6 automated tanks for storage of 30 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS)and 20 million litres of Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) and Dual Purpose Kerosene (DPK).
While speaking at the signing ceremony, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his giant strides in the Niger Delta which is making a huge impact on the people of the area.
“I make bold to say today without any fear of contradiction that no President has impacted the people of the Niger Delta like President Muhammadu Buhari. Aside from what we are witnessing today, remember there is also the Brass Fertilizer & Petrochemical Company, the Oloibiri Oil and Gas Museum and the Oil & Gas Park in Ogbia, all under Mr. President,” the Minister stated.
Sylva added that the establishment of the Terminal further demonstrates Mr. President’s commitment to the enhancement of the livelihood of the Niger Delta people particularly, the riverine communities in Bayelsa State where people purchase products at exorbitant prices due to logistics challenges associated with transporting products to that area.
Speaking shortly after signing the agreement, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mallam Mele Kyari said the Corporation was proud to be part of the project which aside ensuring products availability in all nooks and crannies of the Niger Delta, will also guarantee the nation’s energy security and generate employment.
“This Terminal will create 1,000 direct jobs during the construction phase, and over 5,000 indirect jobs during its operation. Considering the potential for employment when completed, this will definitely reduce youth restiveness in the Niger Delta area and will also address the problem of illegal refining in the area,” Kyari stated.
In his remarks, the Executive Secretary of NCDMB, Simbi Wabote stated that this milestone was as a result of strong interagency collaboration and public-private sector partnership.
“The NCDMB will continue to drive such partnerships across the industry to bring development in Nigeria,” he noted.
Earlier, the Coordinator of the Project and Group General Manager, National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), Mr. Bala Wunti stated that the project would enhance the economics of marine petroleum products distribution.
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