TOMIWA IDOWU is the marketing manager of the Lekki Free Zone, a $40billion facility situated along the coast of Lagos, Nigeria. It is a project that aims to provide millions of jobs and drive increased Foreign Direct Investment into Lagos, Africa’s fastest growing city, through incentivized support for manufacturing, international trade and skills acquisition. In this chat with OBINNA EMELIKE, he speaks about the positive impacts and potentials of the Lekki Free Zone to Nigeria’s economy.
As the marketing manager of Lekki Free Trade Zone, how have you and your team been able to woo potential investors?
We are constantly engaging investors through referrals, networking at trade shows and conferences and through open calls for specific investment opportunities. The response as you can imagine has been awesome as the Lekki Free Zone is the leading Special Economic Zone in Nigeria, today. It doesn’t take much convincing to get investors to key into the opportunities that abound. Owing to the huge consumer market already in Lagos, coupled with its strategic location in West Africa, it’s really a no-brainer for investors looking to make a quick return on their investments.
What are the incentives being offered to investors at the zone, including policies and do you think they are taking advantage of them so far?
Well, as with any Free Zone anywhere in the World – we avail investors various tax benefits and waivers. We also have a single-window policy whereby investors don’t have to deal with a myriad of government departments and agencies, they interface only with us, and we take care of all the hassles on their behalf through NEPZA – from registration to conduction of business. Within the Zone, we have a dedicated Customs Processing Centre, a Police Station, Immigration Desk, and other necessary government agencies integral to the Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria. All enterprises registered within the Lekki Free Zone are taking full advantage of all the above.
A lot has been happening along the Lekki corridor, what are some of the big developments?
Some of the major developments within the Lekki Free Zone are the Dangote Petrochemical Complex, where you have the largest single train crude oil refinery in the world as well as Africa’s largest granulated Urea Fertilizer plant and the world’s second largest fertilizer plant. We also have the Lekki Deep-sea Port, which at 16.5meters deep is able to receive the world’s largest vessels and make-up for a lot of lost business and drive down shipping costs. The New International Airport is also in the works as is the Fourth Mainland Bridge.
Beyond the Dangote Refinery and the Deep-sea Port, what are the other investments that are probably being overshadowed by the big ones?
In addition to the Deep-sea Port and Dangote Refinery, we also have other significant investments such as the $250million Pinnacle Oil & Gas Single-Point Mooring (SPM) facility, which is one of the largest bulk terminals in Africa situated within the Southwest Quadrant of the Lekki Free Zone. This SPM facility provides rapid and low-cost import and export of refined petroleum products. The country benefited hugely from Pinnacle FZE’s terminal during the recent contaminated fuel crisis. There is also the $100 million mixed-use Lekki World Trade Center set to be within the Southwest Quadrant of the Lekki Free Zone and will comprise of residential, commercial, and retail units for investors from all over the world. We also have a $50million consumer goods manufacturing plant as well as another $70million rubber processing plant within the zone.
We want to bring everyone into a room in order to answer questions, discover opportunities, create jobs, spark synergies and trigger growth in the local economy
Considering the harsh economy, high bank interest rates, high inflationary and forex rates, do you think investment in the Lekki Free Trade Zone is being slowed down at the moment?
We are seeing continued interest in the Lekki Free Zone, as we are inundated with calls daily from prospective investors across the globe. Even from Russia, Ukraine, North Korea, and Israel we are still getting proposals on a daily basis, despite the heated polity in these regions. Nobody waits for the perfect time to make investments as they say time and opportunity wait for no man. The current administration of Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos State, has demonstrated good governance, which is boosting investor-confidence as they continue to support the Lekki Free Zone with the much-needed infrastructure for it to thrive. The Federal Government is also doing what needs to be done with plans underway for railways to be linked to the Port upon the President’s most recent directive. Regarding bank interest rates and FX, many of our investors bring in Foreign Direct Investment and access debt at single digit rates. In terms of FX, it’s the same they bring in a lot of FX into the country through their consistent export proceeds. We are also working closely with the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority and the Minister for Industry Trade & Investment to set up offshore banks within the Lekki Free Zone.
What do you hope to achieve with the Trade & Investment Summit you are planning later this year?
The Lekki Trade & Investment Summit is an opportunity for prospective local and international investors to meet and deliberate among themselves as well as with other members of the Trade & Investment ecosystem; from lawyers to investment bankers, entrepreneurs to government regulators and development finance institutions to multinational organisations. We want to bring everyone into a room in order to answer questions, discover opportunities, create jobs, spark synergies and trigger growth in the local economy. Lagos is already 5th largest economy in Africa, with further enablement we see Lagos becoming Africa’s largest economy by the year 2040 if we can keep the momentum and stick to the current pace of Mr. Sanwo-Olu.
With the increasing insecurity, 2023 election uncertainties and low purchasing power, do you think foreign investors and trade managers from all over the world will attend your planned summit?
As I mentioned earlier, we are inundated with calls and emails that we cannot keep up with nor continue to answer everyone individually, this is the main purpose of bringing everyone together. It will be a hybrid event, that is both physical and virtual so the man in Shanghai or Mumbai can log into his sessions from his room at the Four Seasons or his private office and join his peers in Lagos. We are going to have the likes of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Adeniyi Adebayo, Minister for Industry, Trade & Investment; Aliko Dangote, founder and president of Dangote Industries; Godwin Emefiele, governor of Central Bank of Nigeria; Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum; Abimbola Ogunbanjo, chairman, Nigerian Exchange, among other notable captains of industry. So, why would any serious-minded investor want to miss this?
What about local investors, is the summit all about foreigners and their FDI?
Not at all, we expect a healthy number of local investors to attend as well. Remember, that the local investors are the ones who will effectively drive the economy. The foreign ones are just supporters, if you like. Bear in mind, we have a lot of entrepreneurs who are looking for ways to key into the plethora of opportunities along the Lekki corridor and tap into the trickle-down effect from Dangote’s refinery and the Tolaram’s deep-sea port projects.
Environmentalists and host communities around the Lekki Free Trade Zone are concerned about pollution, traffic congestion, safety and health of residents, what measures are the managers of Zone putting in place to ensure win-win for all?
The Lekki Free Zone is a $50billion project, which is on course to create millions and millions of jobs for Nigeria’s teeming youth and over the next decade will inject over $500 billion into the local economy. It is our plan for the host communities to be primary beneficiaries of these investments. We also have various CSR and training initiatives to equip them with the much-needed support and skills to be partakers of all the development going on. We are in talks with environmentalists to preserve the ecological landscape and wildlife in the area. The state and federal government are also playing their respective roles in expanding or building new roads, investing in multi-modal transportation, healthcare, and education.
What is the Lekki Free Trade Zone doing differently from other zones that have made it sought-after by investors?
You see, if you have been to China, you will realise that almost everywhere is a Free Zone or an Industrial Park. The Chinese Government understands how to build up an economy and create jobs provided the people are ready to work. The Lekki Free Zone is a partnership between a Chinese consortium and the Lagos State Government. I don’t think any other Free Zone understands the operations as much as we do, and this is evident in our profitability and the profitability of enterprises within the Lekki Free Zone.