Business and Economy

Ekiti Knowledge Zone Project gets $80million funding from AfDB

In the core of Ekiti State in Nigeria, a pioneering initiative is emerging – the Ekiti Knowledge Zone (EKZ), a courageous move to convert the area into a center for digital innovation and knowledge-based economy. The African Development Bank has pledged $80 million in loan financing for this innovative special economic zone project led by the state, aimed at promoting connections between educators, researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and industries, all in one place.

Beyond being just a project, EKZ is envisioned to be a space where ideas come together, creativity flourishes, and aspirations soar. The Ekiti State Government is investing $14.8 million in counterpart funding to support the Bank’s financing for the $94.8 million project.

In April 2023, the Federal Government of Nigeria granted “free zone” status to the project under the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) Act. This status offers a range of incentives for private investors, such as rent-free land, tax breaks, and import/export duty exemptions, creating an environment conducive to investment and innovation.

Covering 40 hectares of land, the EKZ aims to boost digital entrepreneurship, with a commitment to creating 26,000 jobs and injecting $14 million annually into the economy upon completion.

The project involves the establishment of top-notch infrastructure, including a 20-hectare green technology park and the provision of roads, electricity, water supply, and wastewater treatment facilities. It also focuses on investing in people, particularly the youth. With plans to offer information and communication technology training to over 19,000 young individuals in Ekiti and neighboring states, the EKZ is planting the seeds for future entrepreneurs and business leaders.

The EKZ aims to attract various types of businesses, such as tech start-ups, business process outsourcing firms, fabrication and production companies, research institutes, and corporate back-office operations, to establish themselves in the Zone. To support promising start-ups, an incubator program will be implemented, providing pre-seed and seed funding through the Ekiti Innovation Fund. Additionally, the project will bring in anchor investors from the private sector to form a special-purpose vehicle, enabling multiple investors to pool their finances and oversee the operations of the Zone.

What distinguishes the EKZ is its focus on not just development, but also innovation. This is achieved by leveraging Ekiti State’s competitive advantage and the presence of five higher institutions within the Ekiti Education Quadrangle. These institutions include the Federal University Oye Ekiti, Ekiti State University, Bamidele Olumilua University of Education, Science and Technology, Afe Babalola University, and the Federal Polytechnic. Furthermore, there are over 30 universities in the neighboring states of Kwara, Kogi, Ondo, and Osun, which provide a vast pool of talented individuals.

The EKZ aligns perfectly with the Bank’s Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy, which aims to foster connections between academia and industry, nurturing entrepreneurial talent and developing a skilled workforce that meets the needs of employers.

Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the former Governor of Ekiti State and former Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, expressed his excitement, stating, “It is gratifying to witness the fruition of our efforts, which began several years ago during my tenure, to establish Ekiti as Nigeria’s knowledge economy and the preferred hub for innovation, technology, artificial intelligence, science, and digital initiatives.”

As the EKZ takes shape, it serves as a testament to the power of collaboration, innovation, and foresight. Ekiti State Governor Biodun O. emphasizes its significance, stating, “It is a beacon of hope for the youth, a testament to our commitment to fostering innovation, job creation, and sustainable economic growth. It represents our dedication to a better future for our State and Nigeria as a whole.”

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