What impact will Lekki Free Zone have on the economy of Lagos State?
OTUNBA Olusegun JAWANDO The Lekki Free Zone is modeled after the free zones in China. We were especially impressed by the free zone in Nanjing in China, which is a mixed development free zone, which operates as a town with residential, commercial, industrial and recreational facilities. That is where the concept originated and why we choose Lekki. The land was largely undeveloped space before we moved in. The state government wanted to use it as a catalyst for developing the eastern part of the state. It will develop into an economic base and secondly, it will raise the social-economic standards of that area and create employment. We hoped to generate industrial investment to establish industrial manufacturing enterprises that generate employment and income. The state government is a major shareholder with the Chinese partners, so the state should receive revenue after some time, but primarily, the zone exists to develop the state's economy and initiate technology transfers. A lot of these companies will bring new manufacturing techniques and will employ Nigerians of differing skill levels. We also hope the zone's companies will utilize some basic raw materials from the community, the state, and the country in general, developing the wider economy. It will provide three levels of advantages; firstly, generating employment, secondly generating technological know-how and finally, triggering raw material production.
Could you outline how the Lekki Free Zone came about and how it has developed Chinese-Nigerian bilateral relations?
DING YONGHUA In 2006, an agreement was signed between Lagos State Government and Lekki Worldwide Investment. This agreement brought together a Chinese consortium, including the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), the Nan Ging Chow Ning Developers and the China Africa Development Fund. The fund is directed by the China National Development Bank, and it represents the Chinese government's investments in Africa and supports Chinese investors on the continent. The Chinese government promised African countries that it would establish cooperation zones in Africa and ask Chinese producers and manufacturers to invest in a country and help African countries raise standards, providing employment and technical transfer. We formulated a master plan, most of which was approved by the state government. Our urban design is ongoing, and the plan for the tech farm area nearby is ready. When we first came here, this area was covered in forest and felt separated from Lagos. In China all the development zones are close to the city, so you can use the utility services, such as water and electricity; but here there was nothing, not even roads. We overcame a lot of difficulties to build necessary infrastructure, and this year we have completed a power plant and office buildings. There are some other projects that are under construction such as a police station, a custom processing center, an office complex, banks, supermarkets, coffee shop, and all the necessary facilities required by the investors.
What is your outlook for the Lekki Free Port development?
OSJ The Lagos, the Apapa, and Tin Can ports are already congested. The Lekki Free Port is going to be the deepest seaport in West Africa so it is going to be a major hub for port activities. A lot of the congestion at Apapa and Tin Can will be absorbed by the Lekki Free Port. In addition, a lot of the industries and establishments in the zone will depend on direct access to their freight. The proximity also has tremendous advantage in terms of avoiding delays, so we expect a symbiotic relationship between the port and the Lekki Free Zone. It is one of our selling points to investors, that we are just a few kilometers from the port.
DY This year we have already had several investors sign agreements with us. These include Yulong Pipe, the steel mill, and other investors like the Truck SKD project, food factories, and a cotton mill. Next year, we expect even more. This year we have five newcomers, and next year, I expect 10 since the country's situation has improved. Currently we have some investors from Germany, the US, and Dubai negotiating with us. Today we are busy manufacturing factory components in China and shipping them here by container to assemble. By the end of next year they will begin construction.