…Driven by Lagos, Chinese govts, Dangote

By Ikenna Emewu

Going to the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ) that Thursday morning of March 23 was partly engendered by an urge to confirm some facts.

In Beijing, early last year during a visit to the headquarters of the China Railway Construction Company, a prototype architect’s design of the LFTZ raised doubts and questions. But in response, the management of the body clarified as was later verified online that the Chinese and Nigerian partners, including the Dangote Group and the Lagos State government, signed a final agreement around January 7, 2016 for its full commencement with the new partners. That enabled renewed financing by the partners including the Dangote Group and Chinese counterparts.

At the end of October 2016, Daily Sun had visited the Sinotruk head office and factory in Jinan, the capital city of Shandong Province of China where the President of the African market personally admitted that he was to travel to Lagos early the following month for the flag-off of the truck assembly plant. The African Division President/Executive Director of Sinotruk, Zhang Yuzong, had assured Daily Sun that day of the commencement of their production in Nigeria. 

When Daily Sun therefore got an invitation to attend the Nigeria-China Investment Forum recently, it was an opportunity to verify some of the claims garnered in China about this mega economic project.

That facility, located some 85km from central Lagos, didn’t actually disappoint the expectation. There are things already on ground to confirm the seriousness of the stakeholders on the project. 

The event of the day started with discussions indoors and later ended on the field with visits or tour of the facility located in a swamp where the development pushed back the waters and thick canopy of foliage typical of a swamp in the rainforest. For real, something is happening on the site.

On ground and almost ready to commence production is the Yuanlong Steel Company that makes industrial pipes for oil, gas and water. The company was one of the ready outfits visited during the facility tour. Also ready and functioning is the truck assembly plant that has ready Iveco trucks for the road, and work was still on with factory workers coupling the trucks’ components during the visit.

The FTZ that commenced in 2006 is targeted to host an international airport, seaport, factories, service centres like schools, hospitals, ICT firms, housing estate for residences and offices and many others. Also included in the master plan is a refinery.

At the forum of March 23, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, was represented by officials of the Trade and Investment Ministry as well as the Managing Director of the LFTZ Development Company, Mr. Biodun Dabiri.

For its part, China was represented by the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Zhou Pinjian, as well as the Counsel General of the Chinese Mission, Mr. Chao Xiaoliang, and officials of the China Africa Development Fund (CADFund) that came from China.

Chinese assurance

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Ambassador Zhou in his speech urged the Lagos counterparts and the Nigerian governments to, as a duty, do their best to step up their investment drive and efforts as that is the only way the country can get out of recession and also actualise the dreams of the Economic Recovery Plan (ERP) released by the Federal Government early this month with targets for Nigeria’s economic growth between now and 2020.  He said: “Take industrialisation, which is one of the economic recovery plan policies, the Made-in-Nigeria project will go a long way for Nigeria and an initiative of Made-in-Nigeria-with-China might be of some help.

“China hopes to sincerely share her experience with Nigeria and stands ready to provide capital, technology and personnel in support of Nigeria’s industrialisation.

China supports the relocation of labour-intensive industries to Nigeria on a priority basis and the localisation of Chinese companies to create more non-agricultural jobs, especially those suited to the young people. Since each has so much to offer to the other side, the cooperation based on such complementarity and mutual benefits will give an even stronger boost to the realisation of China’s 13th Five-Year plan and Nigeria’s Economic Recovery Plan.”

Ambode raises hope

The LFTZ currently has medical facility, the St. Nicholas Hospital, recreation facilities, well paved roads and street lights with traffic lights at the junction all built in anticipation of long term expectation of creating a mega modern city for the future economy of the state and Nigeria.

When the leaders of the project ended the forum and tour, they paid a visit to the Lagos Governor, Ambode, who also assured of the contributions of the state government towards actualising the dream of the project.

He said the Lagos government would keep its side of the bargain as counterpart funding agency for the project with its outstanding $15 million, to be made available to ensure that work starts at the Lekki Deep Seaport and also to provide road and other vital infrastructure. He assured that the project would not suffer any delay or defect anymore. Ambode said he was aware that until the seaport and airport, which make part of the trade zone are in place, the project would never make profit.

“The port is very critical to us because we are sure of having more investors if the port is completed. It is very critical to the development of the zone and if not developed, there may not be return on investment made into the zone. I also believe that when we invest our share of the fund and the China Africa Lekki Investment Limited (CALIL) does its own, the efforts would foster a major development in the zone,” he said.

Dangote’s big push

In 2016 alone, the zone received financial boost of about $6 billion, which the Nigerian business mogul, Aliko Dangote, was a major contributor. The Dangote Group alone contributed $4 billion of the total sum, and that was one of the motivations Ambode counted on to assure that the state government would not default in its obligation towards the commencement of the Deep Seaport in April, which is actually budgeted to cost $1.6 billion. In total, it is estimated that the volume of investment in the LFTZ since commencement had reached about N110 billion prior to the last visit.

When fully operational, the petrochemical plant the Dangote Group plans to build there is intended to be the largest in Africa with capacity to create thousands of jobs directly and indirectly with the affiliated and allied production facilities.

The LFTZ is legally owned by the Lekki Free Zone Development Company, a joint venture between Chinese firms, the Lagos government and the Dangote Group.