The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, has promised to engage the Infrastructure Corporation of Nigeria Limited (InfraCo), relevant agencies of the federal and Lagos State governments, as well as the private sector for the development of road infrastructure in the Lagos Free Zone to support the growing industrial activities at the Lekki-Epe axis.

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He said this became expedient given the growth of industries in and around the Free Trade Zone, notably, Dangote Refineries and Tolaram Group, which have attracted economic activities and created heavy traffic in the area.

Emefiele spoke on Sunday, during a tour of Tolaram Group’s industries, which occupied 850,000 acres of land with industrial investment pegged at $2.1 billion within the Lagos Free Zone.

According to him, InfraCo, in aiding the road construction, would decongest the environs of the Lagos Free Zone with the active collaboration with the federal and Lagos State governments.
Specifically, he said the commencement of the Lagos Free Zone will help overcome the Apapa-Tincan Island port congestion.
Emefiele also said that the apex bank would partner the federal and state governments to see how InfraCo could ensure cargo evacuation from the port area, describing it as a big issue.
He said the CBN had raised about N23 billion to fund road infrastructure, to facilitate smooth evacuation of cargo out of the port.

“The entire idea is that with this Lagos Free Zone Port, we should be able to see a total decongestion of Apapa and Tin Can Island Port purely from the standpoint that it would take the traffic away from Apapa.
“And we are also afraid that with the single road that we have, which is the Lagos-Epe-Lekki road, which is already congested with traffic, the situation is going to worsen, even with Dangote Refinery. Yes, it is something that we are seeing and I, coming here today and I’ve been to Dangote Refinery several times and I know how long it takes to drive by road.

“So, what I’m trying to say is that we have realised the problem.  InfraCo, luckily, is chaired by the CBN; the InfraCo board has been formally constituted; there is a CEO in InfraCo and as soon as we leave this meeting, I will be calling on InfraCo to begin the engagement. I will also be involved in engaging the Lagos state government, as well as the federal government through the Federal Ministry of Works to see what can be done on evacuating out of Lagos, but also how we decongest the traffic for people living around this axis.
“I want to give assurance that this is something that would be dealt with. This would be middle to a long-term plan,” he said.

The CBN governor encouraged entrepreneurs and business owners to key into apex bank’s various interventions, stating that the CBN was keen on promoting industrialisation with long-term single-digit loans.
“For any entrepreneur that wishes to do business in Nigeria we will provide both Naira funding and will always advise that particularly if your revenue stream is in naira, I will not advise taking dollar loans. Take cheap Naira loans at single-digit interest rates with two years moratorium. I don’t think that you would ever find this again. I always encourage people to take advantage of it because it’s available as we want to drive industrialisation in Nigeria and get a manufacturing business back alive again.

“We would support not only the Tolaram Group or the Dangote’s or the BUAs; once you mean well and you want to do business in Nigeria, we would give you all the support you need,” he explained.
Emefiele noted that the Tolaram Group had made immediate plans to evacuate their products through the port to Ikorodu, Festac, and Warri to trucks, which for the immediate time don’t have road congestion impact. According to him, road expansion is a much-needed investment that would also aid export.

He said: “We are happy that this port infrastructure is here, it would have to deal with our problem of ease of doing business. Part of our problems about ease of doing business or in this case, ease of export, is that we find Nigerians want to export, they can export their goods out of Lagos Tin Can or Lagos Apapa port. People prefer to drive by road to transport their products and goods to neighbouring countries and ship them out of those countries and the implication is that Nigeria loses the benefit of being called exported from Nigeria.”

“I believe with this port and we are going to be engaging them, I’m happy the Customs and the Nigerian Ports Authority are involved; we would seek to also work with the Lagos Free Zone by having a dedicated export desk that would make it easy for goods to be exported out of this port. That is a very essential thing that we need to deal with because again, talking in a very selfish mode, we need foreign exchange.  If we export, we earn foreign exchange, and I am going to start working with them to ensure that we designate the Lagos Free Zone as an export zone,” he added.

On how much CBN has supported the group, Emefiele said: “Certainly, over N100 billion has gone from CBN intervention under CRR or through agriculture credit route to the Tolaram Group.  Don’t forget that this project is about $2 billion, which is about N1 trillion, and N100 billion is just 10 per cent. So, we have sowed a seed as well.  At least N1 trillion has gone into this project and we have done about N100 billion, which is just around 10 per cent,” he stated.

The CBN governor further said that the bank would ensure it did everything possible to make the environment friendly for companies and businesses to thrive.

“So, we’re looking into how to make sure that the policy regulations are reviewed; we have our concerns about how free trade zones operate either tax exemptions or duty free exemptions and the rest of them.

“We would like to work with you to see how we would create a clear demarcation that separates companies that operate as free trade zones or operating in free trade zone from those that will not operate as free trade zone.
“Whereas you will also find that a company may want to operate as a free trade zone and at the same time operate the other way. So, we need to demarcate how this will work, such that it will not result in loss of revenue,” he said.