- Firm drags state, NEPZA to court over termination of mgt contract
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The new management of the Ogun Free Trade Zone, Igbesa, has dispelled insinuations that the multi-million dollars investment at the zone is at risk following the take-over by a new team of Chinese managers. They stated: “Not only are the current investors not leaving the zone, the new management under the New South Group are already in the process of attracting more investments to the zone.”
Speaking at a press conference in Lagos wednesday, Chairman of China-Africa Investment Ltd, the new owners of the controlling shares Mr. Chen Yuejin, said recent claims by former managers that investors were threatening to leave the zone were untrue and unfortunate. Yuejin was joined at the briefing by other investors: Mr. Gao Jian Zhong, Mr. Abbey Onas and Mr. Jiang Qingqing.
A former Administrative Manager of the zone, Mr. Qianmy Dalu, recently alleged that Zhongfu International Investment Nigeria who were former managers of the zone was forcibly ejected by the officials of the federal and Ogun State government to pave the way for the new management.
Speaking wednesday, the new foreign investors, New South Group stated that the claim by the former managers was to discourage several foreign investors who have indicated interest in bringing investments to the zone under the new management.
“We know that these disparaging remarks are, primarily, designed to achieve the unsavoury measure of discouraging potential investors from investing in the zone by creating a siege mentality within the zone as to cause an investment flight away from the zone,” Yuejin stated.
According to him, “It is also very important to state that, contrary to the falsehood in Zhongfu’s press conference (addressed by one Mr Qianmy Dalu), Zhongfu did not make any investment in the sone. The physical structures erected therein and the amenities therein were put in place by China Africa. On the contrary, Zhongfu depleted the assets and infrastructure they met on ground and up till date, are yet to account for all revenues made during the period of management.. It is therefore no surprise that Zhongfu was only able to express its investment in vague terms in the press conference.
“Since the termination of Zhongfu’s management of the zone, the existing investors registered several complaints on the inability of Zhongfu to address the needs of the investors within the zone. In the same vein, due to the fact that most of the investors within the zone are aware of the managerial pedigree of the New South Group, they have expressed their support for the new management and readiness to work with the new management under New South Group.
“It is also worthy to note that the Government of Guangdong Province in Peoples Republic of China is also looking into the activities of Zhongfu within the Zone and in its interface with Ogun State Government with a view to prosecution in accordance with the applicable Chinese law.”
Meanwhile, Zhongfu International Investment Limited, has dragged the Ogun State government and the Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA) before a Federal High Court in Abuja to challenge its removal as the manager of the multi-billion naira Ogun-Guandong Free Trade Zone.
In a suit with No, FHC/ABJ/CS/60/2016 filed by Professor Gbolahan Elias (SAN) on behalf of the plaintiff, the court was asked to stop NEPZA from giving effect to the purported action of the Ogun State government against the company.
The court processes show that the Ogun State government was said to have on March 15, 2012 appointed the company as the manager and administrator of the trade zone and the appointment was subsequently endorsed by NEPZA on behalf of the federal government to enable the firm carry out the day to day management of the zone.
The court was also urged to stop the defendants from harassing, intimidating and hindering the company and its workers from carrying out their lawful duties based on the agreement executed in respect of the management and supervision of the trade zone by the company.
In an affidavit of urgency in support of a motion on notice deposed to by one Timilehin Ehibuzor Wigwe, the plaintiff claimed to be a free zone enterprise in the Ogun-Guandong free trade zone at Igbesa, Ogun State and duly registered by NEPZA.
In the 36-paragraph affidavit, the plaintiff said that prior to 2008, the Ogun State government in a bid to promote economic activities and develop the state, approached it along with other investors for collaboration for the purpose of developing a multi-purpose free trade zone in the state.
Plaintiff averred that it was appointed administrator of the zone in 2012 and that the appointment was consequently approved by NEPZA on behalf of the federal government on April 10 same year.
Within months of the appointment, the deponent claimed that the plaintiff attracted foreign investors and tenants at the trade zone from five to fifty while it also invested $65,800,000 on provision of infrastructures at the zone due to the growing number of tenants.
The plaintiff company claimed that another $1,013,000,000 worth of investment was being attracted to the zone because of its wide international business connections.
The affidavit averred that the Nigeria Customs Service has been generating a monthly revenue of N50m for the federal government through imports and exports control.
To its chagrin, plaintiff averred that the Ogun State government by a letter dated May 27, 2016 purported to have terminated its appointment as the manager of the trade zone without a just cause other than a letter said to have been written by the Economic and Consulate Section of the Consulate General of China on March 11, 2016.
The deponent averred that NEPZA in collusion with Ogun State government no longer recognised the company as the trade zone manager while its directors and other workers were being harassed, intimidated and humiliated in breach of the valid agreement.
Ogun State was said in the affidavit to be taking step to forcefully eject its facilities installed at the zone.
However when the matter came up ywednesday, the plaintiff’s lawyer, told Justice Okon Abang of his difficulty to serve court process on the defendants and urged the judge to grant him a short adjournment.
However, Justice Abang in his short ruling ruled that his tenure as a vacation judge would expire on September 9 and that he would not be able to complete the matter.
He subsequently referred the suit to the Chief Judge of the court, Justice Ibrahim Auta for a re-assignment to another judge after the vacation that will end next week.