The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, has reportedly rejected a ministerial committee report on reforms of free zones in Nigeria over emerging reports linking former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to the reform proposals as well as alleged bribery allegations rocking the committee.
A ministerial committee had proposed the scrapping of Nigerian Export Processing Zones [NEPZA] while proposing the Oil And Gas Free Zones [OGFZA], Onne to take over the responsibility of NEPZA. Atiku”s INTELS is however a principal shareholder in OGFZA, a public private partnership zone now recommended to take over federal and private investments worth over 30 billion dollars.
Stakeholders in the free zones however opened the lid on the whole deal when they alleged in their response that the Minister and the ministerial committee are serving the interest of Atiku’s company INTELS. This was reported to have embarrassed the Minister who reportedly queried the committee for lack of due diligence on the ownership structure of OGFZA.
The disclosure was followed by another damaging revelation that the committee report was allegedly induced by an alleged N700 million naira bribe from an oil and gas interest pushing for the transfer of NEPZA mandate to OGFZA.
The report of the alleged bribe reportedly created tension within the committee as most members claimed ignorance of such development. Some members were reported to be bitter that such a deal happened without the knowledge of the majority of members.
By the time the news filtered to the minister, he was said to be livid with anger, directing immediate stop to the forwarding of a ministerial memo to the Federal Executive Council as recommended in the draft report.
The Minister had come under increasing pressure since the content of the report was leaked as the Kano Business Forum in a statement issued in Kano and signed by its Secretary, Babayako Abdulahi, accused the Minister of threatening northern interest by stopping the issuance of license to new zone zones in the north and by working to transfer a national body to a Niger Delta based organisation.
Aside the Arewa dimension, investors in the zone have also kicked against the proposed reforms, describing it as ‘” a ploy to create divestment in Nigeria and dissuade potential investors from considering Nigeria as an investment destination’
A source within the ministry described the development as ‘messy’’ as the Minister is ‘’ a due process leader who expects his team to conduct due diligence”, adding that “the committee report has suffered many setbacks as it offers enemies of the minister avenue to turn the heat on him.
“How can you imagine a federal ministry working to handover federal and huge private sector investment to an Atiku controlled company? Why would a minister stop issuance of free zone licences to key northern states? Why will a ministry ever contemplate decapitating Nigeria’s drive to meet AFCFTA challenges? I guess the Minister noticed the huge ramifications of what his team is proposing.’’, the source said.
Calls to the Chief Press Secretary to the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment was not returned as at the time of filing this report.