The recent unveiling of the Lion Business Park (LBP) at 9th Mile Corner, Enugu has raised the hope of the business community and the state government to rekindle the industrial potentials of the state in particular and South East in general, writes Kenneth Ofoma
The South East during the pre and post-independence era in Nigeria, especially under Dr. Michael Okpara as Premier of the Eastern Region, was said to be the fastest growing economy in the world. In those golden years, giant companies like the Nigeria Cement Company (Nigercem) Nkalagu in today’s Ebonyi State, and Niger Steel Company, Emene in Enugu State (said to be the first steel company in Africa) were established. Other companies like the Anambra Motor Manufacturing Company (ANMMCO), Niger Gas, Sunrise Flour Mill and Eastern Plastic Company all in the Emene Industrial layout were equally all established during the glory days of the region.
Sadly today, all the companies are moribund. It was therefore with joy and great expectation that the people of the region welcomed the designation of the area stretching from 9th Mile Corner, in Udi Local Government Area, down to the Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu (Enugu East LGA) as a Free Trade Zone by the former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2013. The Free Trade Zone was divided into two: Free Trade Zone 1, located at the end of the International wing of the Airport; and the Free Trade Zone 2, located at the 9th Mile Corner Enugu.
It is instructive to note that 9th Mile Corner was already playing host to a number of high profile companies such as Nigerian Breweries Plc, Nigerian Bottling Company (which later left) and a couple of other companies. It was therefore expected that while the Free Trade Zone 2, would boost the 9th Mile Business hub, the Free Trade Zone 1, will take advantage of the International Airport at Enugu to promote establishment of industrial clusters that would export and import goods and services.
However those dreams remained a mirage following delays in the operationalization of the airport as well as lack of infrastructure and the uncoordinated planning and development of 9th Mile Corner. But with the unveiling of the Lion Business Park recently, the realisation of the dream of re-enacting the industrial energy of the late 50s to early 80s has become so very real.
The business park, located within the Enugu Free Trade Zone 2, is public-private partnership initiative conceived by the promoters, Lion Business Park in collaboration with Enugu State Government to facilitate the development of an industrial hub that would help address the problems of manufacturing and trading in Nigeria by creating an enabling environment through the provision of state-of-the-art infrastructure, etc.
The free zone was expected to boost foreign direct investment and increase socioeconomic activities in the state and region. From what the promoters said, Enpower- FTZ offers investors the benefits of huge business opportunities from a potential market of 1.033 billion people on the African continent, the second-largest and second most populous continent on earth with 54 recognised sovereign states and countries, nine territories and two de-facto independent states. Also, Enpower-FTZ gives access to markets covered by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the thriving Nigerian market, (the largest economy in Africa) and a direct unparalleled connection to the untapped industrial heartland of South-Eastern Nigeria, home to the Onitsha, Nnewi and Aba industrial centres.
The Enpower Free Trade Zone in Enugu State is expected to attract up to $500 million (about N240 billion) worth of foreign direct investments from leading global manufacturing companies and the activities of the industrial clusters hosted in the free zone are also expected to create over 20,000 jobs across three major regions in the country. But all that hope and great expectations had long gone cold as the new free trade zone seemingly became a lame duck since nobody had envisaged that it would take that long to operationalize the zone.
Emeka Ene, Chairman, Enpower Free Trade Zone, Enugu, had expressed the hope that the zone would begin operation without much further delay. He had expressed enthusiasm that the cogs in FTZ’s wheel of progress had been removed with the flag off the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu after it was shut down for rehabilitation for months. Like other export processing zones in the country, the Enpower processing zone is under the supervision and management of Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA).
Giving a further insight into the creation of the free trade zone, Ene said: “Former President Jonathan gave the initial approval, but President Muhammadu Buhari ratified it around December 2015. We started the processing of this zone in the dying days of former President (Olusegun) Obasanjo; it took seven and half years, so it has nothing to do with the individual president. It started with Obasanjo, it went through President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, from Yar’Adua to Jonathan and then finally to President Buhari,” he said. It was therefore with enthusiasm that stakeholders welcomed the unveiling of the Lion Business Park recently.
It is expected that the business park will catalyse economic development of the zone and like a lion, the industries in the region will roar again. Speaking at the unveiling ceremony, the NEPZA declared that the Business Park has the potential to jump-start the economic and industrial revolution of the South East geopolitical zone of the country in particular and Nigeria in general. The Managing Director of NEPZA Prof. Adesoji Adesugba, who made the assertion, stated that the park was a well thought out project designed to create jobs as well as serve as an integrated industrial hub comprising manufacturing and commercial businesses.
The management of the park, as a major plank of the commissioning ceremony, also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the General Manager, Asia and Africa, Langenburg Technology LLC, Mr. Wilfred Keller, for a 200 megawatts power plant/water project for the Industrial Park. But, Prof. Adesugba, who was represented by the Mrs. Obiageli Obioha, the Assistant Director and Zone Administrator of Enugu Industrial Park Free Trade Zone, stated that the construction work at the site was enough to attest to the absolute readiness of the promoters to commence full business.
“This is what other countries such as the United Arab Emirate and China to mention but a few have used to greatly advance their trade and industrial developments. I see this project as one that holds the key to the speedy recovery of the economy in this area. “We encourage captains of industries, local and foreign investors, other individuals, groups and governments to take advantage of the Initiatives which the scheme offers to bring about rapid socio-economic and industrial development in the South East Region and by extension Nigeria,” the MD said.
The NEPZA MD listed some of the benefits of doing business at the free zone just like the other free zones in the country to include; exemption from the payment of all federal, state and local government taxes, levies and rates; one-stop-shop approvals for all permits, OPL and incorporation papers, and non-requirement of import or export license.
Earlier in his address, the Chairman of the Park, Dr. Okechukwu Mbonu stated that development started in 2016 when the Enugu State government under Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi organised an investment summit which attracted participants from within and outside Nigeria, where the government conveyed her resolve to place the state at the disposal of well-meaning investors, professionals, partners and entrepreneurs.
He said: “Lion Business Park is a publicprivate partnership initiative conceived by the promoters in collaboration with Enugu State government to facilitate the development of an industrial hub serviced with state-of-the-art infrastructure i.e. power, security, ICT facilities, road infrastructure etc.” Mbonu said that investment areas in the park included; small, medium and large industrial plots; light and heavy assembling plants; import and export markets; as well as hotels and central boulevard plots for commercial activities.
He said that the Business Park, located at the intersection of major transport corridors linking the South-South/South-East and whole of South-West and Northern Nigeria as well as the rest of Africa through the Trans-African Highway, guarantees seamless penetration of the West African market.
“The 9th Mile location of LBP is a confluence of North Central up to other Northern states, South East, South-South and on the East- West, this makes it attractive for movement of goods and services,” he said. He highlighted some of the benefits of the LBP to include; duty free import of capital equipment, machinery raw materials components and spare parts; up to 100% foreign ownership of businesses; that container terminal at the park makes for ease of clearing and shipment of goods. Unveiling the park, Governor Ugwuanyi said the industrial hub was a game changer as it would guarantee jobs for the youths, promote production and industrialization, even as he enjoined investors and entrepreneurs to invest in the park.
“This is a novelty especially in Eastern Nigeria and is in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision for diversification of the economy through industrialization for export promotion,” he said. Speaking further he said: “We have strived to transform the economy of the state through the implementation of several economic projects and various development agenda. We organised the first-ever Enugu State Investment Summit in 2016 (Oganiru Enugu) wherein we opened up Enugu State to investors and showcased the investment opportunities in the state.
“Thereafter, Enugu State government continued to play its role as a business and investment enabler through provision of robust infrastructure, peaceful/secure operating environment for business/investment, consistent and favourable policies, facilitation of all bureaucratic processes required for starting and doing business through open One-Stop- Investment-Centre (OSIC) under the Enugu State Investment Development Authority (ESIDA), friendly tax regime and professional regulatory oversight as significant co-factors for investment inflow.”
On his part, the Director General of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), Dr. Dan-Azumi Mohammed Ibrahim, lauded the governor for his foresight towards the actualization of the gigantic investment project in Enugu State, saying: “I am really impressed with this vision.” Dr. Ibrahim maintained that NOTAP was committed to any effort to reduce unemployment and grow the nation’s economy, stressing that the agency will support and assist Lion Business Park to realize its set objectives.
The former Economic Adviser to President Obasanjo, Prof. Osita Ogbu pointed out that the governor’s vision to partner the Lion Business Park was clear and should be applauded, stressing that “it is an important project all of us should buy into”. Noting that the vision of the project was in line with the mandate of “Alaigbo Stabilisation Fund”, Prof. Ogbu thanked Ugwuanyi and all those who are leading it for their philanthropic vision and zeal towards the progress of Igbo land.
The former President of the Senate and Secretary to the Federal Government, Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim, the former Economic Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Prof. Osita Ogbo, members of the state House of Assembly, council chairmen, former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Arch. Ferdinand Agu, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Free Trade Zone, Mr. Martin Orakwe, local and foreign investors, were among the dignitaries at the event.