By CHIKA IZUORA, Lagos
Stakeholders in the maritime and oil and gas sectors have raised serious concerns over attitude of LADOL towards investors.
They recalled that on assumption of office on May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari had hit the ground running in a global campaign to attract local and international investors.
In his efforts to make Nigeria a preferred investment destination, President Buhari initiated a raft of measures to improve Nigeria’s ease of doing business ranking by the World Bank.
His efforts paid off in 2017 when Nigeria moved up 24 places and was also listed among the top 10 reforming economies in the world.
More gains were also recorded in subsequent years as the country moved up by 24 points from 169th position on the 2017 ranking and also 170th position on the 2016 ranking to 145 in the World Bank’s 2018 report.
The World Bank had also named Nigeria one of the top-20 improvers in doing business out of 190 countries.
However, as President Buhari’s government showed increasing commitment to encourage investments, some local players that loathe competition have continuously frustrated these efforts through unending hostilities towards local and foreign investors and partners.
Speaking on the issue during a media parsley in Lagos Onome Okoromadu, managing director of marine and boat oil serving company said for instance, the unending wars waged on foreign investors at the Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics (LADOL) base in Lagos are strong indications of the lack of capacity of the free zone manager to manage the zone.
Okoromadu said that LADOL’s reputation of non-tolerance of fair and healthy competition is the driving force behind its series of attacks on foreign investors operating in the zone, which forced a US company to exit Nigeria.
The management company of the LADOL free zone has been accused of effectively deploying lockouts, cancellation of operating license, excessive charges and frivolous litigations as tools to frustrate investors out of the zone.
There were media reports that the NPA, which is the landlord of the free zone, was investigating an allegation that the free zone manager (LADOL) had neither informed nor obtained an official approval for the additional 30 hectares of sand-filled area from the landlord.
Federal Government agencies were also said to be investigating the legality of its jetty, following an allegation that it was not dully licensed.
Engineer Michael Onoja oil and gas analyst in his reaction raised concern that even if the allegation of expanding the land turns out to be true, it will serve no useful purpose, except that it has added to the empty fallow lands grabbed by LADOL with no prospects of hosting investments because of its hostility to potential and actual investors.
The zone manager’s incompetence to operate a free zone was manifested in its lack of capacity to attract foreign investors who will invest in the disused, empty swamp.
For more than 20 years of operating the free zone, only 6 hectares was able to host tangible investments out of 76 hectares, while the rest remains largely empty land.
Other investments for which LADOL has claimed to have spent millions of dollars are only visible on the pages of newspapers, and not at the free zone.
It once claimed that the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) supported it with $25million from the Nigerian Content Fund, while the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) supported it with N6.09billion facility. It was not clear what the loans were meant for.
The free zone manager, rather than build partnerships and alliances to attract investors, has focused on signing frivolous memorandum of understanding (MoUs) with portfolio investors, while engaging reputable and credible investors in unnecessary fights and frivolous litigations.
LADOL’s lack of capacity to attract investors has denied the Federal Government huge revenues and also defeated government’s objectives of creating free zones to boost investments, create job opportunities and improve the economy.
Its alleged violation of the terms of the lease did not go unnoticed as the NPA wielded the big stick in 2019 by revoking its lease as widely reported by THISDAY, The Guardian, Vanguard, The Nation, Daily Trust, Leadership and other major print and online platforms.
As part of her audacious reform to sanitize the areas under her supervision and reposition Nigeria to attract foreign investors, the NPA Managing Director, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman had defied political pressure and revoked the lease via a letter dated November 14, 2019 and addressed to the Managing Director of Messrs. Global Resources Management Limited (GRML), the parent company of LADOL.
The letter accused LADOL of violating the terms of the lease and shortchanging the Federal Government.
NPA, however, granted a fresh lease under new terms to LADOL for 5.7574 hectares of developed land and 69, 2874 hectares of undeveloped land.
Analysts, as well as foreign and local investors, including the international oil companies (IOCs), had heaved a sigh of relief by NPA’s actions and hailed Hadiza Bala-Usman for mustering the political will to do the needful.
It was believed that NPA’s action would send strong signals to other free zone operators that holding a free zone licence does not just amount to grabbing several hectares of government land but bringing investors to develop the land.
LADOL’S continued stranglehold on several hectares of land at Tarkwa Bay in Lagos has been widely condemned because it has hampered the Federal Government’s efforts to attract investors to the free zone.
There was shock and panic among investors when LADOL in its characteristic use of political maneuvers to intimidate foreign investors, claimed in a media report that its lease had been restored via a presidential directive.
However, the oil and gas industry, as well as maritime industry operators were consoled by the fact that it failed to produce the said presidential directive duly signed by President Buhari.
Being a leader with strong reputation for his uncompromising adherence to the rule of law and due process, President Buhari does not encourage political interference in the functions of not only the NPA but also other regulators such as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), among others.
It is expected that President Buhari would continue to protect these regulators from influence peddlers and their friends who are close to the corridors of power.
Watchers of the unfolding events at the LADOL free zone have pointed out that the use of political machinations to intimidate reputable foreign investors under the guise of protecting a portfolio local investor who is not even committed to actual investments would amount to sabotaging the Nigerian economy.
Operators have experienced relief that the NPA did not allow itself to be cowed and ridiculed by the so-called presidential directive since it acted within the limits of its regulatory powers.
It is becoming increasingly evident to both the NPA and other analysts that the promoters of LADOL did not have any previous track record in the management of free zones.
It merely used their powerful contacts in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led government to obtain the license from the previous managements of NPA.
To divert attention from its deficiencies, it has deployed its connections in the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration to frustrate investors.