Ihuoma Chiedozie, Enugu
The governors of Abia, Anambra, Imo and Ebonyi states on Thursday shunned the groundbreaking of the Enugu Free Trade Zone at Emene, near the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, in Enugu.
The Enpower Enugu Free Trade Zone, the first in the South-East, is designed to promote commerce and trade in the zone.
Although governors of the South-East states were slated to make remarks, according to the programme of the event, none of them was present at the groundbreaking ceremony, which was performed by the Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
The governors were also not represented at the event.
In the same vein, the ministers of industry, trade and investment, and transportation, who were equally slated to speak at the event, were also absent.
The ministers were also not represented at the high-profile event, which attracted several captains of industry, especially chief executives of domestic airlines.
However, speaking before he laid the foundation stone of the free trade zone, Ugwuanyi said the project would provide investors an easy link to business in the South-East.
“The Enpower Free Trade zone, Enugu, which is a public-private partnership with the Enugu State Government, was licensed by the Federal Government in December, 2015.
“It is the only free trade zone in the South-East region and offers international and domestic investors an easy link to businesses from the south-eastern cluster which has been acclaimed as the second largest economic cluster in Nigeria after the Lagos cluster,” the governor said.
Highlighting the advantages of the project, Ugwuanyi said, “A free trade zone, as the name suggests, offers free trade conditions and a liberal regulatory environment with the aim of attracting foreign investors, partners and buyers who can facilitate the entry of some of our industrial goods, into the world market thus generating employment and foreign exchange.
“A free trade zone therefore boosts economic activities and helps to stem capital flight by localising skill acquisition among the youths as a way of curbing unemployment and increasing the country’s total productivity.”
The Enpower Free Trade Zone, Enugu, consists of two integrated free trade areas – the Ninth Mile and the Akanu Ibiam International Airport free trade areas.
The Ninth Mile Industrial Park and Free Trade Zone, with an initial 400 hectares, capable of extension to 3,000 hectares, is to be developed at the Ninth Mile Industrial Area, Enugu, while the Airport Free Trade Zone, located at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, is designated for the development of world-class infrastructures, offices, aircraft hangers, as well as warehouse storage and stacking areas for free trade zone operations.
Specialised industrial clusters to be developed within the free trade zone areas include a manufacturing centre and market, the aviation aerospace cluster, the power, utilities and light manufacturing cluster, the health care park, the business and hospitality park, technology and digital media park and the chemicals and agric business cluster.
Ugwuanyi added that the Enugu Free Trade Zone was positioned to take advantage of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, as well as proximity to the commercial cities of Abakaliki, Aba, Nnewi, Onitsha and Owerri, among others.
The governor equally urged the Federal Government to construct a second runway at the Enugu airport “in order to accommodate the expected increase in air traffic” that would be occasioned by the Free Trade Zone.
He also called for the extension and resurfacing of the existing runway, and installation of facilities that would improve night operations and accommodate heavier aircraft that are normally used for international and intercontinental travels, at the Enugu airport, as well as the upgrade of facilities at the Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri, Imo State – the other airport in the South-East.
Ugwuanyi also spoke of the need for the rehabilitation of the federal roads in the South-East, especially those that linked the state capitals, as well as the revival of the railway network that connected the states in the zone.
The Chief Executive Officer, Enpower Enugu Free Trade Zone, Mr. Emeka Eneh, in an address at the event, said the project would be developed according to demand.
But he disclosed that there were plans to develop railway infrastructure, in order to move containers from the coast to the runway.
“The free trade zone will stimulate trade beyond oil – Africa is the next global investment opportunity and Enugu is ready for business,” Eneh said.
The Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority, in a presentation at the event, canvassed immediate commencement of construction as a follow up to the laid down plans for the take-off of operations in the free trade zone.