10,000 INTELS work­ers pe­ti­tion pres­i­dency over OGFZA saga

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - FRONT PAGE - By Su­lai­mon Salau

NO fewer that 10,000 work­ers in the Onne Free Trade Zone have reg­is­tered their dis­plea­sure to the pres­i­dency over the lin­ger­ing cri­sis be­tween INTELS Nige­ria Lim­ited and Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone Au­thor­ity (OGFZA).

The work­ers, who are ap­par­ently wor­ried about their fate in the whole saga said it is ca­pa­ble of bring­ing the zone to its knees, wipe out the jobs of over 10,000 Nige­ri­ans who earn their le­git­i­mate liv­ing from the zone and neg­a­tively af­fect the econ­omy of Nige­ria.

“The Onne Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone was founded over 20 years ago and has since grown in leaps and bounds. At its peak, the zone was home to about 200 com­pa­nies, pro­vid­ing jobs to over 24,000 Nige­ri­ans. Th­ese num­bers have how­ever re­duced to less than half due to eco­nomic re­ces­sion in the coun­try and also mostly due to the un­guarded ut­ter­ances and ill-ad­vised ac­tiv­i­ties of a politi­cian turned OGFZA Man­ag­ing Direc­tor, Umana Okon Umana. “OGFZA was es­tab­lished by Sec­tion 2 of the Oil and Gas Ex­port Free Zone Act No. 8 of 1996 to reg­u­late Nige­ria’s Oil and Gas free trade zones. The Au­thor­ity be­gan opera- tion in Onne, Rivers State in 2001. The first oil and gas ex­port free zone to be es­tab­lished was the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone in Rivers State. Sub­se­quently other oil and gas free zone were es­tab­lished by the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment in part­ner­ship with pri­vate sec­tor op­er­a­tors. “Suc­ces­sive man­age­ments of OGFZA worked very hard to po­si­tion the agency as the premier agency of gov­ern­ment re­spon­si­ble for pro­mot­ing, se­cur­ing and sus­tain­ing in­vest­ments in the na­tion’s oil and gas free zones. Lit­tle won­der the op­er­a­tions of the Onne Free Zone grew in leaps and bounds at­tract­ing much needed for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment, aid­ing tech­nol­ogy trans­fer and pro­vid­ing thou­sands of jobs for oth­er­wise un­em­ployed Nige­ri­ans, es­pe­cially youth and women,” it stated.

The work­ers al­leged that the story was dif­fer­ent un­der the present OGFZA man­age­ment be­cause the dis­po­si­tion of Umana since his ap­point­ment in Septem­ber 2016 af­ter los­ing the Akwa Ibom State Gov­er­nor­ship elec­tion in 2015, runs con­trary to the roles, func­tions and vi­sions of the found­ing fa­thers of the zone.

“Turn­ing OGFZA and the Onne free zone into a politi- cal bat­tle­field against a per­ceived po­lit­i­cal foe is not only un­for­tu­nate but is alien in the his­tory of the zone,” it stated.

The let­ter reads fur­ther: “To be pre­cise, the un­guarded ut­ter­ances of Umana and the im­po­si­tion of friv­o­lous charges by Mr. Umana’s OGFZA is al­ready tak­ing its toll as some op­er­a­tors have dumped their free zone li­censes with sev­eral oth­ers, who are our em­ploy­ers, get­ting set to exit the zone. To make mat­ters worse, his im­po­si­tion of charges has been se­lec­tive. For in­stance, the land charges he im­posed on op­er­a­tors at the Onne and Warri Free Zones were not im­posed on other free zones, thereby cre­at­ing an un­even play­ing turf for in­vestors.

“Umana is act­ing like an Em­peror at the Onne Free Zone, rid­ing roughshod over his per­ceived sub­jects and mak­ing non­sense of much-taunted in­cen­tives in­sti­tuted to at­tract in­vestors to the zone. Th­ese in­cen­tives in­clude un­lim­ited time limit on cargo stor­age, zero cus­toms duty, un­lim­ited ex­pa­tri­ate quota, in­def­i­nite stor­age and sales pe­riod of goods, zero im­port and ex­port li­censes, re­duc­tion in over­all project costs and in­vestor-ori­ented poli­cies,” the work­ers al­leged.

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