Stakeholders Urge New NEPZA Boss to Sanitise Agency

Adesoji Adesugba

Peter Uzoho

Stakeholders in Nigeria’s export free zones have charged the newly appointed Managing Director of Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA), a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment, Professor Adesoji Adesugba to clean the rot at the agency.

In their separate interviews with journalists, the operators also hailed his appointment, saying that as an accomplished specialist in investment promotion and economic development, he will boost the ongoing efforts of the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Niyi Adebayo to reform NEPZA and incentivize investments at the export free zone. The operators charged Adesugba to use his proficiency in organisational development and institutional reforms to clean up the massive corruption in NEPZA, which has eroded investors’ confidence in the agency and denied Nigeria massive investments at the export free zones.

One of the stakeholders, who is a maritime investment advisor, Mr. Akpan K. Akpan, told journalists that NEPZA has seemed to have defied President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war.

“President Buhari has reformed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and other critical regulatory agencies, including NEPZA’s sister organisation, Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA).

“But efforts to clean up NEPZA seem to have achieved no results due to the institutional incompetence of the top managers of the agency and their penchant for questionable deals, which most investors, especially foreign ones, abhor.

“It is all over the news that since 2015, NEPZA’s name has become synonymous with corruption because those managing its affairs connive with few monopolists in the zones to cut corners in fraudulent deals that defeat the federal government’s ambition of attracting investments,” Akpan explained.

Lagos-based maritime analyst, Mr. Bolaji Akindele also charged Adesugba to investigate all alleged corruption cases in NEPZA and bring the culprits to book.

“The task ahead of Prof. Adesugba is huge. Only in December 23, 2019, the federal government set up a committee to look into the transfer of N14.37billion from the capital account of the agency to a private company, Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company. The Acting Managing-Director of NEPZA, Mr. Bitrus Daniel Dawuk, confirmed that the committee would look at some of the issues surrounding the controversial N14.37billion NEPZA fund currently domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Unfortunately, many of the committee members are staff of NEPZA. Even Dawuk himself was the head of accounts of the agency when the fraudulent deal was made. Nobody knows if he was involved or not but the impression among maritime operators is that they have killed the case. Prof. Adesugba has to reopen the case and bring in independent investigators to restore confidence of investors,” Akindele explained.

Also speaking on the issue, another maritime investment advisor, Mr. Thompson Jacob condemned NEPZA’s hostility towards foreign investors, saying that NEPZA colluded with few free trade zone managers to scare foreign investors.

“NEPZA is supposed to supervise and co-ordinate the various functions of various public sector organisations operating within the export processing zones and resolve any dispute that may arise among them but NEPZA has been the one generating dispute, which threatens potential investments,” he added.

Jacob recommended a total overhaul of NEPZA and the removal of the current management staff and other senior officials who have imbibed the culture of corruption.