By David Augustine
At the heat of the Onshore/Offshore oil dichotomy, there was tension everywhere. The government of Obong Victor Attah was faced with the challenges of running a government with little or nothing coming from the center. That was the era of zero allocation, with extensive fiscal dislocations. The governor had to find creative ways of ensuring that the machinery of government does not grind to a halt. Governor Attah made one of those smart moves that set his apart as an astute learner of men. He appointed a smart civil servant, whose pedigree predates his own administration, as the finance commissioner. His choice for this difficult job at such a difficult time was Umana Okon Umana, the man he had elevated from his position as the Director of Budget to the position of Permanent Secretary in the ministry of finance. That strategic smart move paid off. The state was able to run smoothly; civil servants were paid salaries and sundry allowances and most financial obligations, miraculously met.
In his years of excellent service delivery to the state, Umana Okon Umana had the privilege of serving military governors and civil administrations, culminating in his appointment as Secretary to the State Government by the Governor Akpabio administration in 2007.
Today, the man is assiduously replicating his administrative accomplishments at Nigerias Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority, where he is currently holding sway as Managing Director. A hitherto unknown establishment, the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority was created to ensure better inflow of investment into the oil and gas sector of the economy. This mandate was hardly realized due to structural and organizational hiccups, as well as a wobbly legal framework, which created loopholes that were exploited by operators to the detriment of the nation and her economy. The story is now changing dramatically.
At the OGFA, Umana has already carved a niche for himself as a man with incredible work ethics, an administrator who understands his mission and a focused captain determined to arrive safely to the shore. He set out with a well-defined roadmap that has helped him navigate the crosscurrents of the roadblocks and deliberate obstacles strewn on the path of the progress of the agency.
He was determined to improve the inflow of investments into the free zones. To achieve this, he engaged the services of PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to lead the investment drive. The consultants are already in talks with local and international investors in the Oil and Gas Sector to promote investments in the free zones in a range of areas, including industrial park development, tank farm, and crude oil marketing.
Already, Notore Chemical Industries PLC, which was licensed in December 2017 as the developer of the Notore Industrial City (NIC) in the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone, and has secured commitments of a number of International Petrochemical Oil and Gas Logistics Support Companies for $5 billion worth of investments into the NIC, with the potential for creating 25,000 jobs in the next four years.
Call him Mister Magic and you will not be mistaking. OGFZA under Umana is collaborating with the International Economic Cooperation Commission (IECC), a Chinese investment agency, to facilitate investments in Green Field projects in Nigeria by 500 companies; and has signed an MOU with AXXELA Limited to provide energy infrastructure in the Oil and Gas Free Zones.
OGFZA is investing in road, bridge and power infrastructure to open up and develop the Ikpokiri Island corridor of the Onne/Ikpokiri Free Zone as a full-fledged hub for Oil and Gas related investments. So far, PwC, OGFZAs investment consultants, has reported investment commitments worth $5 billion for the Ikpokiri Island.
In the first six months of 2019, 10 new companies were licensed to operate in the Oil and Gas Free Zones.
In 2019, OGFZA came first in cumulative compliance at 88.37 per cent, which represents the overall best performance in the ranking in ease of doing business competition among MDAs in the country. The agency had in 2018 also won the first position in the completion organized by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The Umana administration at the OGFZA did not see its commitment to ensuring ease of doing business as a mere competition stunt, but as a vehicle to create enabling business environment that would attract international and local investors into the zones. To achieve this, Management produced a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to drive efficiency. In this regard, timelines were set for treating official requests from clients. By the new SOP, a new licence is delivered in 14 days; a licence renewal takes three days; and clearing of cargo is dealt with within 48 hours. This may sound surreal because in the not too distant past, these seemingly little tasks took several weeks to accomplish.
In 2019, OGFZA received the Award of Excellence in Productivity and Innovation in e-government from the National Productivity Centre. The OGFZA-administered Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone received the following awards from the fDi Magazine (a publication of the Financial Times of London): Bespoke Free Zone Incentives Award 2017 and Free Zone of the Year Award 2018.
Umana Okon Umana remains an incredible achiever, an astute and committed Nigerian patriot and administrator per excellence. He has shown enormous commitment to the establishment of the Jubilee Oil and Gas Free Zone at Ikot Abasi. He is currently working hand in hand with the Akwa Ibom State government to make this dream come true. When actualized, the free zone will open up opportunities for employment and rapid oil and gas investment development in Akwa Ibom State.
Today Akwa Ibom States worthy export to Nigeria turns 61 years. Happy birthday to His Excellency, Mr. Umana Okon Umana. May heaven continue to honour you. May Nigeria continues to find in you answers to difficult administrative and leadership questions.