Umana Okon Umana is managing director/CEO of Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority [OGFZA] – a strategic concept to attract investments and spur economic growth. A free zone is a designated geographical area where financial obligations applicable in the customs areas are removed. Operators are exemptions from all federal, state and local government taxes as well as export/import duties. Employment generating activities attract 75% rebate on expenses incurred in the process and companies enjoy a special process of issuing immigration visas.
The free zone concept is a critical element of Nigeria’s economic recovery and growth strategy that centres on minimizing foreign exchange outflow and maximizing inflow. Realising the objective of the initiative depends largely on the zeal and commitment its leadership puts up on the job. Umana has laid bare his commitment to fully align with the ease of doing business reforms of government, vowing to ensure that all the oil and gas free zones in Nigeria become prime investment destinations.
Umana has come to OGFZA with a dream shared by his team – doggedly working to re-position the authority as a premier government agency for the promoting, securing and sustaining investments in the Nigerian oil and gas sector thereby fostering the vision of the government.
He has unveiled a roadmap to strengthen partnerships between the government and private investors in the free zones towards recreating the operational force of OGFZA and rebuilding prosperity for the nation. “The roadmap is a product of our vision to be the premier investment promotion agency of government by facilitating the establishment of businesses in the oil and gas free zones with the creation of an enabling environment for investment”, Umana said.
The roadmap, he said, is designed to usher in a new era in the oil and gas free zones, improve the ease of doing business and match global best practices in service delivery to clients. He is betting to make the free zones the first ports of call for investors looking for the best business opportunities in Africa whether for expansion of existing businesses or start-up ventures. He has reduced the maximum period for licensing operators from 30 to 21 days and licence renewal within three days.
Umana sees Nigeria as being at the threshold of a new future and he is quite convinced that he is at the driving wheel of a major strategic thrust. He is ably flashing Nigeria’s credentials in OGFZA and trumpeting the nation’s potentials far and wide for the investing world to see, hear and respond.
His message is painting Nigeria in attractive colours. His marketing brochures show that the free zones offer round-the-clock operation, providing a central location in the sub-Saharan region to hold duty-free stocks. This offers streamlined procurement logistics with computerized free zones inventory management system and reduced inventory requirement.
There is direct access to sea, which permits same-day turnaround of supply vessels operation. There is single-point responsibility in all operations and facility and service sharing that afford increased efficiency in exploration and production activities. These are in addition to robust tax incentives and 75% duty rebate.
A free zone under OGFZA is a concentration of companies offering oil and gas related services. It offers a one-stop shop to make it easy for investors in the sector to secure all they need to set up and all they require to operate on a continuing basis. Facilities provided offer economy of scale benefits that reduce operating cost.
The number of companies operating in the zones reached a peak of over 200 but the number has gone down to 134 due to the economic decline, according to Umana. He is however expecting that the number will rise again. The good news, he said, is that fresh applications have begun to come in, which are being processed for licensing.
Umana’s target is to use the free zone concept to drive employment creation that is made possible by increased inflow of foreign direct investments. He also expects to achieve a stimulatory effect in the economy generally, as new investments in the zones create operating linkages to other sectors and industries. Transfer of skills and technology is another key aspiration of the authority and Umana is working closely with the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board to ensure that the companies in the zones comply with the local content Act.
Onne is the biggest oil and gas free zone in Nigeria, ahead of Warri and the newly licensed Brass zone. Umana is working to expand the zones through public-private sector partnerships. He plans to establish three additional free zones in Ibaka, Ibeno and Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom State in addition to another location being considered in Delta State.
Onne Port has the largest thru-put among all the sea ports in Nigeria, beating Tin Can Island Port, which attests to the benefit of free zones. It is ranked the largest oil and gas service centre in the world at the moment by Financial Times of London. The free zone concept is an acclaimed strategy to drive economic growth and development.
Umana has set a target for himself – which is to achieve a growth rate of 50% in three years to 2019. Development of the three new zones will get priority over the period and the pursuit of FDI inflow will get aggressive, according to him.”We are going to be visible globally and we are determined to ensure that Nigeria would benefit maximally from it”, he assured.
Umana is named one of the top 10 CEOs of the year, 2017 for revolutionizing his organization within the short time of his appointment.