By Jonathan Nda-Isaiah
An Abuja-based legal practitioner and international management consultant has demanded that regulation should be the exclusive preserve of lawyers and that all regulatory agencies should be led by qualified lawyers, at the very least.
Kachi Okezie, who is a Principal Consultant at United Kingdom-based training and consulting firm, CTP International, made the call today at a seminar organised by his firm in collaboration with the Abuja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, to review the legal framework for regulating Free Zones in the country.
In a statement he said, “Two fundamental misconceptions are to blame for the present tussle for territory between two the two government agencies charged with oversight and control of free zones in Nigeria. First, we seem to see free zones strictly as a physical place rather as an abstract concept where the needs of the rapidly growing knowledge economy are serviced through the use of the virtual office. Secondly, there is a misconception as to the difference between management and regulation.”
Okezie submitted that in amending the current law, legislators should be more explicit on who regulates what.
“The issue of who regulates a free zone as between Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) and the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority (OGFZA) can be easily resolved with a clear and explicit demarcation between managing as used in the current law and regulation, which is concerned with rule making.”
Drawing on his personal experience of incorporating his firm in the United Arab Emirates, he disclosed that majority of free zone companies operating out of Dubai are not actually incorporated in Dubai but in the other Emirates, as a way of spreading the inflow of foreign investors to all seven Emirates.
“My company is incorporated in Fujairah and a portion of the fees I pay for the privilege goes to the Government of Fujairah, but I’ve never been there. Dubai is the destination for hundreds of thousands of foreign investors, particularly from Europe and Asian sub-continent, but the law allows the Department for Economic Development to designate selected buildings in the various Emirates as free zones, in return for a share of the inflowing revenues.
“If only we could think as creatively, nothing should stop us empowering the Trade and Investment Ministry, as the appropriate agency of government, to designate offices, factories and business parks in Houston, Aberdeen or Vienna as free zones, providing virtual office services. That way, anyone interested in invested in our economy, can do so by incorporating in any of those locations for a decent fee, as I do in Dubai, without the need for a physical presence in Nigeria.”
Also speaking at the seminar, another lawyer and former member of the House of Representatives, Samson Raphael Osagie, advocated a single regulatory authority for all free zones in Nigeria pointing to the need for a one-stop-shop, which he argued would enhance the ease of doing business in Nigeria and appeal to most foreign investors.
In his own contribution, Professor Ken Ife, Consultant to ECOWAS on trade facilitation, traced the history and highlighted the macroeconomic and policy rationale of free trade zones and their evolution in both EU and Africa, describing it as “the melting point of a range of policy options, whose success is a mix and balance of these policy options and the systems of incentives and governance conditions.”