House Warns NEPZA, Others against Abuse of Extant Free Trade Zone Regulations

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Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

The House of Representatives has warned the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) Free Trade Zone (NFZ), Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA), and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) against the abuse of extant regulations on the implementation of the Free Trade Zone across the country.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Public Petitions, Hon. Jerry Alagbaoso, gave the warning thursday during an during an investigative hearing into a petition by a former Managing Director of NAHCO, Mr. Baba Yusuf on the alleged breach of extant regulatory laws and regulations by NAHCO Free Trade Zone.

The chairman said that what the petitioner has done is to call for the improvement in the operations and for the government to block all the loopholes, especially where there are alleged illegal business going on, in an areas where there are security lapses.

He said: “I want to tell all the operators that this committee has a right even for the sacking of any MD, sacking of any worker who is found guilty of any breaches, but it is not our intention to do that when we have some of us who are willing to work for Nigeria.”

Alagbaoso therefore called on all the parties joined in the petition to address the issues, just as he warned that various sanctions including fine and imprisonment term stipulated in the Act might be recommended if they fail to address all the contentious issues raised.

He added: “We are saying that since NEPZA is the regulator you should go back to your parent ministry, invite NAHCO and NAHCO Free Trade Zone, invite all the enterprises in the NAHCO Free Trade Zone. Go back to the drawing board look at all these issues but not excluding the demand by the petitioner, not exuding his welfare concerning that seven months.

“Don’t look at the petition as a malicious one. The parent body, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment liaise with NEPZA, liaise with NAHCO Free Trade Zone and NAHCO, liaise with FAAN and all the operators and come up with an agreeable settlement and report back to this committee in two weeks’ time”

Earlier, the petitioner and a former Managing Director of NAHCO, Yusuf, told the committee that the operator contravenes the NEPZA Investment Procedures, Regulations and Operational Guidelines for NAHCO Free Zone (NFZ) in Nigeria (2004) – Customs Procedures and Regulations.

He said that during his tenure, he discovered some gross violations of various extant government laws and corporate governance stipulations, which he said compromised national security and promote economic sabotage.

Yusuf noted that these violations included operating non-free trade zone businesses in a free trade zone, smuggling activities, cargo diversion to avoid payment of Customs Duties resulting in the protracted initialised airway bills issues, leading to the loss of billions of naira that should accrue to government as revenue; illegal access and crossings from air-side to landside and vice-versa through gates in the airport.

He explained that he took some initial steps to stop the nefarious activities, which triggered some tacit internal resistance and threat to his life, adding that even though he carried his former Board of Directors along on the clear and present dangers of the multi-dimensional situations.

Yusuf stressed seven months into his tenure, he had to voluntarily resign his position when the breaches continued and the activities of the new Board of NAHCO clearly could not allow him to continue with reforms and controls that he felt he should put in place.

He explained further that over the past five years, NFZ had been collecting rent fees from DHL without any form of payment to the federal government.

Yusuf added: “DHL is not operating as a Free Zone, DHL is not paying any form of statutory fees to government for operating in the Free Zone over the years, neither has NFZ been paying any income or fees to NEPZA from the rent income collected and/or based on DHL operations.

On his part, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Nasir Sani-Gwarzo who commended the petitioner, assured the Committee of his resolve to address all the legal and operational issues.

He said the ministry had earlier held three meetings with most of stakeholders and drafted strategies on how to improve on the operations.