Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt
The federal government has said oil and gas free zones have created more than 200,000 jobs and attracted more than $20 billion in investments to the country.
The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, made the declaration yesterday at a stakeholders’ forum organised by the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA) at Onne, Rivers State.
He also said the zones have also facilitated the transfer of skills and technology in the oil and gas sector to Nigerians over the years, the Oil and Alex Enumah in Abuja
The trial of a Supreme Court judge, Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, for corruption-related offences suffered a setback yesterday when Charles Adeogun-Philips, the counsel engaged from International Criminal Court (ICC) by the federal government to conduct the prosecution withdrew unceremoniously.
Ngwuta is being prosecuted by the federal government on a 16-count charge of alleged corruption, money laundering and other financial crimes.
Adeogun-Philips was engaged for the high profile corruption case due to his wide experience in criminal matters at the ICC.
He, however, gave no reason for his withdrawal.
But a source however, said the anger of the lawyer might have been provoked by an alleged uncooperative attitude of the federal government which brought the complain of corruption against the apex court judge.
At the resumed trial yesterday, the lawyer informed the trial judge, Justice John Tsoho, that he was withdrawing his appearance in the matter for his client.
Subsequently, Hajara Yusuf, informed the court that she would be appearing for the government pending the constitution of a new prosecution team.
She told the court that the prosecution was prepared for the day’s business which is the cross-examination of the first prosecution witness and which the court obliged.
Although Justice Tsoho did not inquire into what informed the action of the counsel, he however showered encomiums on him for having the courtesy to physically come before the court to announce his withdrawal.
Similarly, defence counsel commended Adeogun-Philips on how he had conducted himself so far in the matter, describing him as a gentleman and wish him well in his future endeavours.
However, under cross-examination by Kanu Agabi (SAN), counsel to the defendant, the prosecution witness, Chukwuebuka Linus, informed the court that he believed the job he was contracted to do by the defendant was legitimate.
He also said he would not have accepted payment for his services if he had suspected the money were proceeds of crime, adding that he went ahead with the job after the defendant explained the sources of his money.
When asked if he reported Ngwuta to the police or any security agency he said no.
Also, when asked if anyone had complained about the vehicles and monies he claimed to have moved out of Ngwuta’s residence, he answered in the negative.
While he told the court that he was arrested and detained for seven days, he however, stated that he has not been charged with any offence, adding that he did not considered his detention justified.
When asked if he made statement during his detention and how many, he said he only remembered making statements in the first and second day of his detention.
When put before him that the job he undertook for Justice Ngwuta was done in the open and that Ngwuta did not attempt to hide his wealth, he said yes, adding that even his own document on the transaction were in the open and there was nothing illegal in them. He also admitted to having trust and respect for the defendant, particularly throughout the period of his engagement.
At this stage, Agabi told the court he had no further questions for the witness.
However, when the prosecution was called upon to re-examine the witness, she however requested for a short adjournment to enable the prosecution constitute a new team.
The matter has been adjourned to February 13.
Gas Free Zones have attracted more than $20 billion in investments and created about 200,000 direct and indirect jobs.
He said the free zones have proven to be beneficial to the country due to their contributions to national development and pledged that the federal government would continue to support the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority and investors.
He restated that the federal government had set aside the sum of N51.4 billion for the establishment of six additional special economic zones in the country.
He explained that the step was taken as a result of the recognition of free zones as veritable engines of growth for the economy.
He said: “In order to underscore the critical role of the free zones as drivers of economic growth, the federal government in the 2017 budget estimates made a strong policy statement in support of the concept of the free zones by setting aside a special provision of N51.4 billion for the establishment of six Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in the country having recognised free zones as veritable engines of growth for the economy.
“For this reason, the Federal Government will continue to support OGFZA and investors in the oil and gas free zones because of their important contributions to national economic development.
“Over the years, the oil and gas free zones have attracted more than $20 billion in investments and created about 200,000 direct and indirect jobs. They have also facilitated the transfer of skills and technology in the oil and gas sector to Nigerians.”
Enelamah, who was represented by the Minister of State, Industry, Trade and Investments, Hajia Aisha Abubakar, described the stakeholders’ forum as significant to the ministry and the current administration and commended the leadership of OGZFA for working out a detailed roadmap and an information-rich marketing brochure, adding that the agency would strengthen investors’ confidence and give impetus to businesses.
“The roadmap we are unveiling today is a critical work tool for OGFZA. It will help to measure economic and social progress in the oil and gas free zones.
“The steps outlined by OGFZA to enhance service delivery, improve on the ease of doing business and automate its operations will help in creating the enabling environment to create and sustain investments.”
In his welcome address, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of OGFZA, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, explained that the forum would show the way in which the authority and stakeholders intended to work together.
Umana assured federal agencies operating within various oil and gas free zones of OGFZA’s preparedness to embrace constructive dialogue and partnership that would deliver a win-win collaboration.
He said: “The path of the new OGFZA is well laid out in our roadmap, which we are unveiling today, along with our marketing brochure to guide existing and potential investors to the array of incentives available in the free zones.
“The roadmap is a product of our vision to be the premier investment promotion agency of government by facilitating the establishment of businesses in the oil and gas free zones with the creation of an enabling environment for investment.”
Umana, however, added that the roadmap would usher in a new era for the oil and gas free zones and improve the ease of doing business.