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FG killing Free Zones concept in Onne, 16 firms leave

More industry players are still looking at the emerging after effects of government’s onslaught on Intels Nigeria Limited, core concessionaire of Onne Free Trade Zone, in Rivers State.

Already, some of the 16 companies that have decided to exit the free zone are Prodeco International Limited, West Africa Machinery Services (WAMS), MGM Logistics Solutions Limited and Orlean Invest Limited. These firms before now, employ well over 150,000 Nigerians.

Trouble had started with the group linked to former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar when the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), fired the first shot by cancelling existing Pilotage management agreement on grounds of legal advice from the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami due to unremitted revenue belonging to the government.

The contract agreement remains the key business of Intels at Onne Free Zone.

Shortly after, the operatives of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) sealed strategic sections of the company’s operations on grounds of pillage of unremitted tax revenue.

Whereas Intels was working to see how it would come out of the two troubles, the third emerged. This time, the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA), came with its script and played it wrongly by giving very bad signals to foreign investors after all.

When Intels is working on handling the three agencies’ onslaught, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), came calling and announced the revocation of foreigners work permit in Intels.

Giving an insight on the meaning of the government’s coordinated attacks on Intels in a press conference in Port Harcourt, Dr. Austin Obieze, a Port Harcourt based oil and gas industry expert, accused OGFZA of damaging the concept of free trade zones with what he termed “rogue behaviour” towards free zone operators in the country.

He revealed that “no fewer than 16 companies have decided to withdraw their operations from the Onne Free Trade Zone”.

Obieze argued that the recent wave of attacks by others and mainly OGFZA against a leading free trade zone operator, Intels Nigeria Limited (INL), has sent the wrong signal and created panic among businesses operating in the zones.

To him, “It was a very bad move by OGFZA, which was set up to promote trade and attract investors into the country through the oil and gas free zones concept. OGFZA is doing the direct opposite of what it was established to do”.

“The Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) and the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA) were specifically set up by the Federal Government to encourage investments in Nigeria in line with the country’s economic growth aspirations.

“Several incentives were instituted including 100% repatriation of capital investment, remittance of profits and dividends with no import or export licenses required.

“Companies operating in the free zones also enjoy immigration non-quota regime and are exempt from taxes such as value added tax, corporate tax, withholding tax, capital gains tax and customs duty on export of goods to other countries.

“It was these incentives that attracted several companies resulting in over five trillion Naira investments in the zones, with several thousands of jobs created.

“NEPZA and OGFZA were set up to serve as enablers of trade, but unfortunately while NEPZA has remained on course, OGFZA has obviously lend itself to becoming an object of political vendetta and consequently derailed from its set objectives and the intents of its enabling Act,” Dr. Obieze noted.