Reps seek effective implementation of Free Trade Zone

•Warn NEPZA, others against abuse of trade regulations

The House of Representatives has called for full compliance with extant regulations on the implementation of the Free Trade Zone across the country.

The Chairman, House Committee on Public Petitions, Hon. Jerry Alagbaoso gave the charge during an investigative hearing into a petition against the NAHCO Free Trade Zone (NFZ) on an alleged breach of extant regulatory laws and regulations.

Speaking earlier, a former NFZ Managing Director, Mr. Baba Yusuf who doubles as the petitioner, alleged that the operator contravenes the NEPZA Investment Procedures, Regulations and Operational Guidelines for Free Zone in Nigeria (2004) – Customs Procedures and Regulations.

While stressing that, “it is dangerous to give total control of an apron to such a very powerful opportunity that NFZ has as a Free Trade Zone at that location, especially with the violations of such regulations,” Mr. Yusuf called for strict compliance with the original Free Trade Zone Masterplan.

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The petitioner further harped on the need to ensure prompt payment of all revenues accrued to the government by the regulator, just as he warned against lapses that may endanger the national security at the airport.

Mr. Yusuf maintained that the current allocation where most of the operators occupy was extended beyond the approval granted by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

While presenting their positions before the Committee, representatives of Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), NEPZA, NDLEA, Department of State Security (DSS) and NAHCO dismissed the allegation on breach of national security and economic sabotage.

They argued that on receipt of the petition, various regulatory and security agencies, as well as management of the concerned agencies, set machinery in motion to ascertain the veracity of the issues raised including illegal access, with the view to address the gaps.

On his part, FAAN Director of Aviation Security, Group Captain Usman Sadiq maintained that various auditors from TSA United States of America, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), National Security Adviser (NSA), among others embark on regular oversight of the agency.

He added that FAAN Management had on the same day the petition was submitted set up a committee to arrest issues bothering on the terrorism, economic sabotage to verify the allegation, adding that the agency has deployed machines and security personnel to various entries points with the view to forestall any ugly incident.

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The DSS representative also argued that there was no record of compromise or sabotage as alleged by the petitioner, adding that “it is not easy to take anything out of NAHCO gate,” after bringing them into the area of operation.

On her part, NAHCO Managing Director, Mrs. Adetokunbo Fagbemi explained that necessary steps were taken in response to issues raised by the petitioner, adding that, all immigration-related issues have been sorted out with the operators, relevant regulatory and security agencies.

She further observed that the sum of N125 million requested by the petitioner was unjustifiable as all the purported initiatives never materialize to date.

In his intervention, Dr. Nasir Sani-Gwarzo who commended the petitioner assured the Committee of his resolve to address all the legal and operational issues.

“I was picking some lessons that should be improved,” Dr. Sani-Gwarzo said, noting that “every situation no matter how it is can be improved and one of them is this.”

According to him, the Ministry had earlier held three meetings with most of the stakeholders and drafted strategies on how to improve on the operations.

“I will personally take responsibility as the accounting officer and I assure you Mr. Chairman of you give me a timeline to brief you back on the progress being made, I can take that responsibility upon myself and my team.”

He also informed the Committee of the plans to embark on a physical visit of the facilities at the Free Trade Zone.

While commending the petitioner for being patriotic, Hon. Alagbaoso noted that the petition has some merits especially in the operation of the NAHCO Free Trade Zone.

“Your petition has stimulated some actions in the operations of the Free Trade Zone so we commend you.

“Because what he has just done is to call for the improvement in the operations for us to block all the loopholes especially where we have an illegal business going on, in areas where we have security lapses.

“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.

“As a result of that, we have noted all the observations of the petitioner as it concerns the areas that are designated as the President assigned, names of the operators those you omitted and write. We find the operations of DHL with regard to the duty to government and duty to the Customs, the extended areas the petitioner had mentioned and all the illegal businesses being done.

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“We have also noted the resolution of the NDLEA, we noted the submission of the DSS we also noted the submission of every other person that is connected with the NAHCO Free Trade Zone.

“We have also noted the comments as submitted by the parent ministry, without fear of contradiction and without fear that we are ceding our right to the Ministry, it is not. We have been handling cases here before, the only thing is that I have been so disappointed with the operations of NEPZA,” he noted.

To this end, Hon. Alagbaoso who warned 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 may be recommended if they fail to address all the contentious issues raised.

“We are saying that since EPZA 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 7 months.

“Don’t look at the petition as a malicious one. The patent body, the ministry of trade, investment and industry 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,” Hon. Alagbaoso stated.

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