Rivers State entrepreneurs and investors have accused the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, of playing out a script that could destroy the budding Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone in Rivers State, an action which they said could force the oil majors to exit the Niger Delta region.
Speaking with journalists in Port Harcourt at the weekend, the President of Rivers State Entrepreneurs and Investors Forum (REIF), Ibifiri Bobmanuel, said a recent terminal decategorisation policy of NPA under Usman was done deliberately to remove â€œthe attraction and business verveâ€ enjoyed by investors at Onne Free Zone, which is the fastest growing free zone in the world.
He said the policy would lead to an â€œexodus of businessâ€, thereby crippling the zone.
According to him, â€œOil companies have their head offices outside the Niger Delta. The only thing that forces them to domicile some aspects of their operations in the oil regions is Onne Port because of the status it enjoys. Otherwise, most companies would prefer to stay in Lagos to interface with the oil multinationals, especially when it has to do with major oil deals.â€
Bobmanuel said most fabrications done for the oil majors were being done in Onne because of the equipment shipped there, else, they would prefer to do it outside the oil region, in the absence of the force of law.
He said the decategorisation of terminal and removal of the oil and gas status enjoyed by Onne Free Zone â€œis going to harm the Nigerian economy when the time comesâ€.
He added: â€œWhen the impact comes, I wonder if the people may revolt because of hunger and this may affect many things. The presidency needs to review the situation and redress the Onne matter.
â€œIf you say anybody can clear anything anywhere, you are simply saying, Onne, you are dead,â€ he said.
He wondered why the federal government through the Acting President would order oil majors to return to the oil region, only to also remove the advantage of Onne as a dedicated oil and gas hub.
â€œI wonder why some people cannot smell the coffee. All of this is deliberate. Give Onne another four years at most, it dies,â€ he said.
â€œWe in the region expect that for the singular fact that Rivers State is closest to the industry in the region, the FG (Federal Government) would make seaports here very functional. This would automatically boost buying and selling. Importing from Lagos with additional eight hours would shoot costs up. I think the FG needs to rescind the Onne decision, think through it properly. Otherwise, they would create further alienation of the region.â€