By Laurence Ani
Looking at the Lion Business Park that sits on 2,000 hectares, the margins of its undulating landscape appears to hug the horizon, a view somewhat consistent with the boundless opportunities it offers investors. But the project’s economic potential is not only open to investors; it would benefit the local and national economy as well.
“The Lion Business Park project puts us on the threshold of arguably the greatest stimulus for the socio-economic advancement of our country to be a major fulcrum of international commerce and industry,” Dr. Okechukwu John Mbonu, chairman of Lion Business Park, said during the formal inauguration of the park’s head office complex.
Coming from the project’s lead promoter, this might sound like an embellishing marketing pitch. But no assessment can be more objective than that given by the free trade zones regulator, the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority. “We’re proud of what Lion Business Park has achieved today,” Prof. Adesoji Adesugba, managing director of NEPZA, noted in a goodwill message read by Mrs. Obiageli Obioha, the agency’s assistant director and zone administrator. “We commend the governor for the enabling environment in attracting this project. We pledge to support the promoters. Lion Business Park has taken the bull by the horn through this massive investment. To investors, I say: your investments are in safe hands,” he added.
Located at the 9th Mile area, an important inter-state corridor that is home to major manufacturing companies including Nigeria Breweries’ Ama plant, Lion Business Park couldn’t have had a more fitting site. Its feature as a licensed free trade zone is an added attraction. Operating out of the business Park means being exempt from the many layers of taxes that usually stunt the growth of new businesses. On completion, the business park will feature an industrial cluster comprising business suites, import and export market, warehouses, housing estates, hotels, restaurants, banks, office facilities, truck park, etc.
The choice of location was well thought out. Besides the twin feature of peace and security largely prevalent in Enugu, there is as well the fact of its proximity to major markets and manufacturing hubs in Nigeria’s southeast such as Aba, Onitsha and Nnewi. Its location also offers ample accessibility to air and sea ports, lying just about 20 minutes to the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, about one hour to Asaba airport, approximately three hours to Onne seaport in Port Harcourt and four hours to Calabar seaport.
In 2016, the Enugu State government organized the Oganiru Investment Summit where the state’s helmsman, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, extensively showcased Enugu’s potential to investors, and pledged to provide every necessary legal and policy framework to make investment thrive in the state. The governor reiterated this resolve to always be a business enabler as he inaugurated the business park’s head office recently.
Given the many hurdles that corporate organizations still face across Nigeria, voicing a commitment to enthrone an enabling environment for businesses sometimes sound like perfunctory gestures. Governments across board tend to say it simply because it is the right thing to say and the sort of comments that draw applause. But that is usually where it ends. The void between commitment and action is often the reason MSMEs fail to thrive. Indeed, the emergence of the Lion Business Park clearly shows the commitment to creating an enabling business environment is not mere lip service for Governor Ugwuanyi. This has, in fact, been long evident as an Ease of Doing Business report published by the World Bank in 2019 further indicates.
The World Bank Doing Business in Nigeria 2018 report had ranked Enugu as the third best state – only behind Abuja and Lagos – to start a business in Nigeria. His inauguration of the Enugu State Ease of Doing Business Council early 2018 was also shaped by the understanding that difficult business environment remained a major factor often cited by investors as the reason Nigeria is hardly a choice destination for foreign direct investment despite its huge potential.
Ugwuanyi’s commitment to help businesses flourish is also underscored by his decision, in May 2018, to inaugurate the Land Use Charge Assessment and Appeal Tribunal in response to complaints “that local governments and agencies of state government impose all manners of taxes, rates and levies on land and landed property,” as he had put it while swearing in members of the tribunal. The tribunal’s creation, he added, was consistent with the vision to consolidate Enugu State’s reputation as one of the most investor-friendly states in the country.
The prospects that the still unfolding business park promises is a welcome respite in a time of declining earnings from oil sale and concomitant impact on states’ internal revenue. The Lion Business Park, a public-private sector initiative and concrete fallout of that economic summit convened by Ugwuanyi, can substantially bridge that revenue shortfall through the large scale production of export-driven goods and services, and the numerous job opportunities it would create. Governor Ugwuanyi alluded to that at the inauguration. “The Lion Business Park project is consistent with the federal government’s vision to diversify Nigeria’s oil-reliant economy,” he said at the occasion that also witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the promoters and a German firm for the generation of 800 megawatts of electricity.
The support given by the Ugwuanyi administration is particularly significant given the futuristic goals of the project. Some would have baulked at the mere thought that the benefits of an important investment their administration helped nurture may not be apparent in the immediate, opting instead for concrete behemoths seen by all, but lacking real utility value. No one summed this up better than Professor Osita Ogbu, former economic adviser to ex-president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. “It’s a project the government should take pride in; it’s a project all of us should buy into. When a government invests in a project like this, you’re investing in the future,” he said.
Ani, former editor of ThisDay – The Saturday Newspaper, and Saturday Telegraph, is a senior communications aide to the governor of Enugu State