New lease of life at OGFZA

Sunday Trust - - VIEWPOINT - By Aite Ehiemua Aite Ehiemua, Prin­ci­pal Me­dia Of­fi­cer (Po­lit­i­cal Matters), Of­fice of the MD, OGFZA

But the 2017 World Free Zones con­ven­tion in Doha, Qatar, pro­vided a plat­form for Umana to set the record straight now that the cogs in the wheel of progress of the oil and gas trade zones had been re­moved.

Two years may not mean much in the life of a coun­try or a gov­ern­ment agency but it cer­tainly means a lot at the Oil and Gas Ex­port Free Zones Au­thor­ity (OGFZA) un­der the lead­er­ship of Obong Umana Okon Omana.

Yes, it is slightly over two years ago that Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari made a mas­ter­stroke de­ci­sion by ap­point­ing the Akwa Ibom tech­no­crat to head a paras­tatal that was any­thing but spec­tac­u­lar in spite of hav­ing a ma­jor role to play in an in­dus­try that is the main­stay of the na­tion’s econ­omy.

Umana may have had a dis­tin­guished pub­lic ser­vice ca­reer in Akwa Ibom State span­ning 32 years where he rose to the pin­na­cle as Sec­re­tary to the State Gov­ern­ment (SSG) but he also has an un­be­liev­able ex­ec­u­tive train­ing that he has since brought to bear in his first ma­jor ap­point­ment at the fed­eral level.

Aside from at­tend­ing a Se­nior Ex­ec­u­tive Pro­gramme at the pres­ti­gious Lon­don Busi­ness School in 2009, he had be­fore then at­tended a sim­i­lar course at the Columbia Univer­sity Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness in New York.

So, it should not be a real sur­prise that he is ex­celling at OGFZA in such a short time.

A clear tes­ta­ment to the new lease of life in Nige­ria’s oil and gas free zones is the fact that within few months of un­veil­ing a road map to guide OGFZA’s op­er­a­tions, the agency was ranked the 6th amongst 44 gov­ern­ment agen­cies in terms of com­pli­ance with the Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy on Ease of Do­ing Busi­ness in 2017.

The agency went a step bet­ter by top­ping the rank­ing in 2018 and in do­ing so sent a clear sig­nal that in­deed it would no longer be busi­ness as usual un­der Umana’s watch.

Be­fore the com­ing of Umana Umana, Nige­ria had re­ally not fared well so much so that it was clas­si­fied as one of the least com­pet­i­tive in a 2016 in­vest­ment.

But the 2017 World Free Zones con­ven­tion in Doha, Qatar, pro­vided a plat­form for Umana to set the record straight now that the cogs in the wheel of progress of the oil and gas trade zones had been re­moved.

He seized the mo­ment at the Doha con­ven­tion in a pa­per en­ti­tled “Clus­ter and FDI pro­mo­tion strate­gies - Nige­ria in Per­spec­tive” which show­cased the true fact about Nige­ria as an in­vest­ment des­ti­na­tion that can­not be ig­nored.

Umana was em­phatic that there are now changes in in­vest­ment in­di­ca­tors in the last two years due to the Buhari ad­min­is­tra­tion’s busi­ness friendly poli­cies from what it used to be to a brisk dy­namism one ca­pa­ble of re­spond­ing to the global de­mand for speed and ef­fi­ciency.

One ma­jor step is that OGFZA un­der Umana Umana has cut the turn­around time for the li­cens­ing of a new busi­ness in the free zones from 14 days to 28 days, and the time for li­cense re­newal from 14 days to 48 hours.

An­other in­di­ca­tor that the old lethar­gic or­der is grad­u­ally giv­ing way to a new dis­pen­sa­tion of dis­patch in busi­ness trans­ac­tion is the strength­en­ing of OGFZA law.

On as­sump­tion of of­fice, Umana’s first as­sign­ment was to lobby the Na­tional Assem­bly to re­view the ob­so­lete act to meet the 21st cen­tury global de­mand.

It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing that al­most ex­actly a year ago OGFZA wrote the fi­nance min­istry that it could con­ve­niently meet its staff salaries and over­heads from in­ter­nally gen­er­ated rev­enue (IGR).

It there­fore re­quested that the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to sus­pend the fund­ing of the re­cur­rent ex­pen­di­ture of OGFZA from trea­sury funds.

OGFZA said in a state­ment that fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence that per­mits self-fund­ing was one of the six goals that Au­thor­ity set for it­self un­der the Umana-led management in its three-year roadmap which be­came op­er­a­tional at the be­gin­ning of last year.

The memo by Umana read: “Fol­low­ing the mea­sures taken by the new management of OGFZA to in­crease IGR, I write to in­form the Hon­ourable Min­is­ter of Fi­nance that with ef­fect from the 2018 fi­nan­cial year, the Au­thor­ity will no longer de­pend on trea­sury fund­ing to meet her re­cur­rent ex­pen­di­ture re­quire­ments (salaries and over­heads). The re­cur­rent ex­pen­di­ture of the Au­thor­ity will be funded with our IGR.”

This was barely 18 months af­ter he as­sumed of­fice and has since earned lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional ac­co­lades, in­clud­ing but not lim­ited to one by the Fi­nan­cial Times of Lon­don which ranked Nige­rian’s oil and gas free zone at Onne as the most suc­cess­ful in Africa.

Surely, OGFZA is on track and Obong Umana Umana has proved him­self as a round peg in a round hole, a very busi­ness minded Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer who leads by ex­am­ple.

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