By Maduka Nweke
As policymakers and investors explore all options available to revive the post-COVID-19 economy, a group of experts recommend an increased focus on the industrialisation and vibrant trade flows found in Nigeria’s free trade zones.
Senior government officials and business leaders, speaking at an event organised by Alaro City, the mixed-use city being built in the Lekki Free Zone, discussed the role of free zones in driving economic growth through business-friendly incentives.
Launched in January 2019, Alaro City is planned as a 2,000-hectare mixed-income, city-scale development with industrial and logistics locations, complemented by offices, homes, schools, healthcare facilities, hotels, entertainment and 150 hectares (370 acres) of parks and open spaces. Alaro City is a partnership between Rendeavour, Africa’s largest new city builder and Lagos State, the economic and financial nerve centre of Nigeria.
More than 30 companies are operational, designing or building their facilities in the city, and 3.5km of initial road networks and a modular 50MVA power plant are under construction. One of the companies in Alaro City, Ariel Foods FZE, is the largest and most technically advanced ready-to-eat therapeutic foods producer in Africa, with an annual production facility of 18,000 metric tonnes.
Speakers at the event – “Free Zones as Engines of Growth: A Spotlight on Alaro City” – included Managing Director of Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority, Prof. Adesoji Adesugba; the Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs Dr. Patience K. Iferi;
Managing Director of Rosettee Construction, Mr Maroun Awad; Managing Director of Omar Gardens, Mrs. Mimi Ade-Odiachi; and the CEO of ASB Valiant, Mr. Ayo Ikumapayi.
An avid campaigner for increased cooperation between the government and private sector in free zones, Prof. Adesugba told that audience that free zones provide protection against the disruptions and strain on global transportation and logistics systems caused by COVID-19. He urged the business community to partner with Nigeria’s 42 free trade zones to reduce the economic impact of the pandemic.
“The pandemic, as we are aware, continues to distort business logistics globally, and so global investors are looking for workable free trade zones to move into,” Prof. Adesugba said. “Doing so would guarantee the preservation of the supply chains and their investments. The supply chain management is going to be critical as COVID-19 has changed business logistics, but if we can take advantage of the various incentives which include tax holiday, absence of customs duties and absence of several other multiple taxes charged outside of the zones, then our businesses can stay afloat.”
Chairman of Alaro City, Ayo Gbeleyi, said the event was organised as part of efforts to sustain conversations, especially between the government and private sector, on effective ways of urgent economic revitalisation.
“We must think of our economy beyond oil, and that is why we need free trade zones to generate export revenue,” he said. “We need to expand our industrial base in a strategic way, and I think that the place to be is in the Lekki Free Zone, where the Lagos State Government and all relevant agencies are present to breakdown all bottlenecks. Alaro City is a product of a great partnership, a partnership that has achieved remarkable success in such a short time. Alaro City is serving as a major attraction for foreign direct investment to the state and the country.”
“Every day at Alaro City, we see how the numerous benefits of a free zone and our work in building the perfect home for businesses have catalysed growth,” added Mr. Gbeleyi. “As Alaro City grows, it is becoming a model for effective urban development and a demonstration of how how free zones benefits aggressively engineer industrialisation, employment and economic development. Our partnership with Rendeavour is one of which we are proud and will continue to work hard to sustain.”
Stephen Jennings, Founder and CEO of Rendeavour, said, “Alaro City is a symbol of our commitment to Nigeria, and of the continuity of a partnership anchored in three administrations of the Lagos State Government. The progress we have seen at Alaro City as underscored by the number of businesses and individuals we have welcomed to our city in such a short time. It is also evidence that the market is ready for high-quality, inclusive city-scale developments designed for business and living. We at Alaro City and Rendeavour believe free zones will play – indeed are playing – a pivotal role in accelerating economic growth and development in Africa. In fact, we believe our cities across Africa will be home to the entrepreneurs and enterprises that will propel Africa into a new age.”