Major Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) locally and the continent's largest trade bank- Africa Export-Import Bank, were recently spotted in Abuja, committing to funding the development of Nigeria's special economic zones.
Already, in Abia State, the Enyimba Economic City project has taken off.
Indeed, the accelerated pre-development work had been carried out by a multi-disciplinary team of consultants including Surbana Jurong of Singapore; CBRE, India; Allott Nigeria Limited; Roughton International, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, among others.
The Managing Director of the Bank of Industry (BoI), Kayode Pitan, said it is a mutual agreement "to be part of the project because it's been long-overdue. We have no doubt that it will succeed"
For Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu and the communities that donated land, it was hope kept alive as the management of Nigeria SEZ Investment Company Limited (NSEZCO) and the chief executive officers of Afreximbank, BoI and Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) sealed the deal at an event presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari in the Council Chambers of Aso Rock.
According to Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, whose ministry - Industry, Trade and Investments, is implementing the development of the special economic zones, "the initial projects such as the Enyimba Economic City, are underway and feasibility studies are going on in eight states."
So far, the three DFIs are among the five to partner with NSEZCO and the Ministry of Finance Incorporated.
NSEZCO intends to raise at least $500 million in equity over the first five years to develop special economic zones in the country. The other investment partners are African Development Bank (AfDB) and Africa Finance Corporation (AFC).
Nigeria's President had described the ceremony as another landmark in the journey to industrialise Nigeria and create jobs for people; and thanked the DFIs for "their strong demonstration of support for this important initiative.
Ikpeazu had earlier enthused in an interview: "Most of our people don't bequeath legacies that are futuristic. I am from the South-east and I am pushing for the Enyimba Economic City.
"This project will blossom and create 200,000 jobs because of the sheer enormity of the positive effects on my people. I see the concomitant impact on the life of my people and area.
"I know my people want to create things, so all you need to do is to make them neighbours to people who are actively manufacturing."
The Enyimba Economic City project is believed to be capable of sparking industrial revolution in the South-East, with 9, 803 hectares of land, spanning three local government areas of Ukwa East, Ukwa West and Ugwunagbo.
It is located at the centre of the five South-east and four South-south states and it is to be designed to drive massive economic expansion of the region and by extension Nigeria. By the agreement, NSEZCO holds 20 per cent stake, with the Abia State Government and Crown Realities Plc.
Abia State Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Planning, Uche Ihediwa, signed the agreement on behalf of the state government; Mr. Femi Edun, a director of NSEZCO signed for the Federal Government, while Mr. Darl Uzu signed for Crown Realities Limited, the private sector developer.
Uzu, who is also the Managing Director of Enyimba Economic City Development Company Limited, noted that "the investment will facilitate the development of the economic city in line with government's policy objectives and have a transformational impact in the entire South-Eastern and South-Southern area of the country."
And further to the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment in June 2018, Shandong Ruyi Group of China had announced an investment commitment of $2billion to the cotton, textile and garment industry in Nigeria by way of anchor investments in manufacturing facilities in Enyimba Economic City, via Funtua Cotton Cluster and Lekki Free Trade Zone.
In Lekki, the Lagos State Government has allocated a parcel of 1,000 hectares of land in the North East Quadrant of the Lekki Free Zone to the project company to be owned jointly by its holding company, Lekki Worldwide Investments Limited and NSEZCO.
Project Made in Nigeria for Export (MINE) is designed to position Nigeria as the pre-eminent manufacturing hub in sub-Saharan Africa, and a major exporter of made in Nigeria goods and services regionally and globally.
The project was indeed envisioned by the Federal Ministry of Industry Trade and Investment and the Nigeria Export Processing Zone Authority.
According to NSEZCO, countries, have used special economic zones to overcome infrastructural disadvantages and constraints; mobilise substantial domestic and foreign direct investment; increased technology penetration; attracted new skills and technologies; integrated into global value chains; created large number of quality jobs; increased export earnings; and achieved structural transformation of their economies.
Currently, Project MINE seeks to aid structural transformation of the Nigerian economy by increasing the manufacturing sector's contribution to GDP to 20% by 2025; contribute to sustainable inclusive growth by creating 1.5 million new direct manufacturing jobs in the initial phase of Project MINE; and increase and diversify foreign exchange earnings to at least $30 billion annually by 2025, by increasing manufacturing sector exports.
It also aims at creating local models of global best practice in provision of world class infrastructure at competitive costs connecting SEZs to international and regional markets with transport links, uninterrupted power, ICT, water, sewage and other services to ensure smooth and efficient operation of SEZ businesses; promote the "cluster" effect to be gained by locating similar export-oriented manufacturing businesses within the same locality; and attract world class investors with strong positions in global supply chains and investors with potential to increase the scale of operations rapidly to set up operations in SEZs.
At the signing ceremony, President Buhari said the Federal Government set up NSEZCO as a vehicle for participating in Public Private Partnerships, involving state governments, local and foreign private investors to develop new special economic zones all over the country, offering world class infrastructure and facilities at competitive costs.
"When we decided to continue with the implementation of the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan of the previous administration and launched our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan to fast track implementation, we had a vision of Nigeria as the pre-eminent manufacturing hub in Sub-Saharan Africa and a major exporter to our immediate West African sub-region, the rest of Africa and indeed, the World.
"Under my direct supervision, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment is implementing Project MINE as a Presidential special priority intervention using Special Economic Zones to achieve the objectives of: boosting manufacturing's share of GDP to 20%, generating $30bn in annual export earnings; and creating 1.5 million new jobs all by 2025."
On his part, President of Afreximbank, Dr. Benedict Oramah, expressed the appreciation of the bank to the Federal Government for the opportunity to be part of the project.
He said the objectives of the bank align with that of the project and they are pleased with the ability of the project to grow industrialisation.
The Managing Director of NSIA, Uche Orji, added: "The board saw it as an opportunity to help SEZCOs lift the country through industrialization. It is a good platform for attracting investors and we look forward to its implementation," he said.