By Steve Agbota       

Nigeria may lose $27.29 billion funding for the Escravos Seaport Industrial Complex (ESIC) project in Delta State and seven beneficiary states by the end of June 2024, the lead promoter of the project, the Mercury Maritime Concession Company (MMCC) has warned.

The company attributed the feared loss to prolonged delay of the federal and the Delta State governments in giving a final approval for the project to take off.

The chairman of the MMCC, Rear Admiral Andrew Okoja (rtd), whose firm is the concept developer and lead promoter of the ESIC project, said that the investors are ready to commit funds for its commencement. He noted that the slow pace in providing the necessary approvals may see Nigeria miss out of the investment.

“EDIB International of Hong Kong had early this year expressed its willingness to invest $27.29 billion to develop the ESIC project whose deep seaport will be located in Escravos (Gbaramatu Island/Omadino) Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State; a development to be effected through Joint Venture Partnership (JVP) with a Nigerian firm Mercury Maritime Concession Company Limited (MMCC).

“In its first commitment letter dated 19/01/2024 communicated to MMCC through the chairman of EDIB International Ltd, the financing company and their consultancy Blue Dot Wealth Limited, outlined EDIB International group’s risk assessment and requirements for successful funding to be granted demanded the securing and protection of their investment by a guarantee of the federal government to control the proliferation of Free Trade Zone in the country.

“It will be recalled that the development of the ESIC project commenced in 2019 and aims to develop 31,000 hectares of Delta State land into a deep seaport, crude oil refinery, gas complex, Independent Power Plant (IPP), airport, nature park, etc,” the statement reads.

However, Okoka said the project is a development that promises to massively open up Delta and seven other states including FCT – Abuja to international investment in trade, commerce and industry.

“ESIC will transform Delta’s economy and those of ESIC beneficiary states from a rural-driven economy with sprinklings of urban development to a metropolis driven economy of international dimension.

“ESIC is a Public – Private Partnership (PPP) driven project regulated by Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC). It is modeled after the Lekki Deep Seaport/Free Trade Zone (FTZ) to serve the marine/economic interest of the Niger Delta, South East and some northern states, to solve the perennial port congestion problems in Nigeria,” he said.

He further noted that the ESIC project is complimentary to the ongoing Lagos – Calabar coastal road in the country, adding that the protection sought is a 50 year renewable concession lease, which must be extended to 99 years for all other infrastructure and land to Build Own Operate and Transfer (BOOT) of ESIC deep seaport – Free Trade Zone project; which the Federal Government (FG) provisional approval was granted to MMCC in November 2020.

“It is instructive to note that by virtue of this deal, the ESIC ownership of deep seaport will revert to FG at the expiration of the renewable 50 years concession. Secondly, it is also consequent upon the May 2022 Delta State Government (DTSG) expression of willingness (Provisional Approval) to lease a 31,000 hectares of land located at Escravos and Omadino to MMCC to host the entire ESIC project.

“The uniqueness of ESIC/ESIC deep seaport/Free Trade Zone (FTZ) development is that it incorporates the development of road, rail and marine connectivity approach to the hinterland destinations in order to optimize cargo flow through to ESIC/ESIC deep seaport that will see (1). The construction of road from Warri Sapele Expressway linking at a point near Koko junction – (45 kilometers). ROAD: ESIC seaport – Warri Sapele Expressway to linking at a point near Koko junction – (45 kilometers). (2).

“The construction of  rail   from ESIC seaport to Warri – (45 kilometers) to join the existing Warri – Ajaokuta – Itakpe and the construction of Itakpe – Abuja (New 90 kilometers rail construction) to terminate at a port district which will host the development of Abuja Dry Port.

“Marine Highway: the opening of   marine high way (River Niger Canal) from ESIC seaport to Baro in Niger State (600 kilometers). This will includes the construction of (7) seven Inland/Dry Port that will be serviced by rail and located thus: Bayelsa State (Nun River),  Imo State (Oguta lake), Delta State (Okegbele), Ebu – Inyele Edo/Delta State (Idah), Kogi State and Dry Port (FCT – Abuja). These States will have equity ownership in ESIC project by virtue this shareholding status,” he explained.

The retired Nigerian Navy officer pointed out that all the EDIB International Limited seeks as the development partner and financier of ESIC project is the Presidency’s reconfirmation of erstwhile approval of ESIC project by its previous administration, confirmation of all privileges of FTZ and capital repatriation of ESIC project as well an approved letter of comfort to MMCC to enable the financier to release ESIC project funds.

“We advise the federal and Delta State governments to take advantage of these three weeks grace period before the expiration of this deadline to act else the funds set aside for ESIC will be diverted to other needy African nations,” he said.

The ESIC project is presently supervised by the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (FMIT&I). Due to the concern about the absence of response from FG and DTSG to EDIB International demands whose fulfilment are precedent to the release of funding to develop ESIC project, the Chairman of EDIB Int’L visited the Minister, FMIT&I and functionaries of DTSG to have discussion with them on ESIC project funding on May 15, 2024.  Among the subject discussed were the ESIC project funds diversion to other African states if Nigeria was not ready yet to commence the ESIC project.