Nigerian Airport SEZs: Catalyst For Growth Or Security Threats
A new debate bothering on economic growth and national security risks has been birthed as Nigeria recently announced the designation of four international airports as Special Economic Zones (SEZ). The four airports comprised the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, the Port-Harcourt international Airport, and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano.
The Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika also said that the facilities at these airports would be upgraded to meet international standards in order compete effectively with the best facilities in Africa.
Federal Government identified the SEZ scheme as a key policy instrument in the realization of the industrialization agenda following a visit by President Muhammadu Buhari, to the Peoples Republic of China in 2016. This is in the context of the experience in China where the deployment of SEZs in 1980 propelled her GDP from $191 billion at the time to $11 trillion in 2016, a staggering increase of 5,764%.
SEZ or Free Trade Zone (FTZ) are special geographical creations that propel the growth and advancement of many economies worldwide. The SEZ’s usually have different economic regulations than other regions within the same country and are used as a means to increase the employment and trade balance of a nation’s economy, increase Foreign Direct investment (FDI) etc.
Despite it’s economic gains, some industry observers and stakeholders are of the opinion it could also aid economic sabotage and can be a risk to national security and economic development. They opined this based on the petition written by a former Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) FTZ, Mr Baba Yusuf following his resignation from the firm.
According to Yusuf, he resigned from the company because he found evidence of economic sabotage in which the board are not ready to implement reforms. He added that the location of the zone in the international airport left loopholes for smuggling of contraband and security breaches in areas where aircraft are parked.
Mr. Yusuf wrote to President Muhammadu Buhari and copied 25 government agencies on issues bothering on corruption, wastages, national security and economic sabotage by the firm.
The former NAHCO boss also made references to the arrest of one Zainab Aliyu, a young girl that was arrested in Saudi Arabia with drugs planted in her bags by NAHCO staff operating in Kano and how the Nigerian Customs Service (NSC) intercepted $8 million at Lagos airport in a vehicle belonging to NAHCO.
Recall that the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col Hameed Alihas also raised concerns in 2017 over the increasing smuggling activities taking place at some FTZs in the country.
Imagine these volume of cash leaving the economy of the country day-in-day out, you’ll wonder what the economic magician can do turn things around or the number of innocent people that have been arrested in possession of drugs which they don’t know about.
An international airport where cargo and human are crossing technically can be said to be a border and must be manned properly to avert illegal access. If Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA), the sole government agency responsible for establishing, licensing, regulating and monitoring of Free Zones/Export Processing Zones in Nigeria can’t deliver on it’s mandate then it’ll become a platform for economic sabotage and risk to national security.
To avert an impending economic and security sabotage, the Heads of government agencies and institutions must have the political will to ensure compliance with set rule of law in Nigeria’s aviation sector.