• Investors wait on Buhari’s policy thrust, cabinet
By Tope Templer Olaiya
It’s the end of the magical September that the nation waited for with baited breath for President Muhammadu Buhari to name his ministers and constitute his cabinet nearly four months after steering the ship of Africa’s most populous nation and the continent’s biggest economy.
While the ship of state has sailed on undeterred amidst the wail song of political brickbat within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), there have been strident calls for the present administration to kick-start its economic blueprint, first with the constitution of Buhari’s team of economic advisers.
This all-important subject was the kernel of discuss at the recently concluded United Kingdom (UK)-Nigeria Economic Forum organized by the Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF) in Kingsway Hall Hotel, London. With the theme ‘Partnership for Mutual Benefits, the Metrics that Matter,’ business managers, political leaders and representatives of strong business interests of the two countries met in a no-holds barred interactive session to espouse on the beneficial bilateral relationships between Nigeria and the U.K.
The key objective of NILOBF is to promote and attract trade and investments, support or oppose legislation or other policies and measures, capable of affecting trade, investment, and business between Nigeria and the U.K., as well as representing the opinion of Nigerian business community on those issues and the economy as a whole.
As the biggest economy in Africa, (and 26th in the world) in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and population of over 170 million, Nigeria offers a great investment climate and opportunities to investors from all spheres of life. Its re-emergent, though currently underperforming manufacturing sector, is the third largest on the continent, and produces a large proportion of goods and services for the West African region.
As a result, Nigeria wants to see the U.K. more engaged in trade and industry with it. The U.K. also wants to increase its trade and investment in the country. A target to increase trade between the two countries has been reset to £15 billion. The last, which is £8 billion, was easily achieved ahead of the 2015 deadline. The forecast for investors then is that the climate is set fair for partnerships for mutual benefits.
While kick-starting the talk-shop, Maryanne Jemide, board member of NILOBF and publisher of Nigerian Watch, a U.K.-based newspaper, said there was the need for the two countries with a shared history to create partnerships that would achieve mutual benefits. “That is how business is done. This is the third year we have held this forum. It is one of its kind; Nigeria wants to do more business with the U.K. and we are the ones who can ensure that it happens,” she said
The snag, however, is that many British companies and investors, including the Forum, say their members are biding their time, and waiting to see what policy areas President Buhari will prioritize and who he will appoint to his cabinet to deliver those policies.
In spite of the delay in constituting a full cabinet, there have been some modest gains in the last 100 days of the administration. Since being elected, the president has acted in a way to give confidence to those seeking to undertake trade and investment in and with Nigeria. In pre- and post-election speeches, the president has assured investors that Nigeria’s core liberal economic policies will remain.
THE fight against corruption and leakages from the revenue account is underway. Plans have been announced to revamp agriculture and cotton output. The cost of government is being reduced, with the president and vice president leading the way by voluntarily halving their salaries and there has been improvement in electricity and power generation.
“Just imagine what Nigeria and Nigerians could do with constant supply of electricity. We would be the powerhouse of the global economy, a manufacturing powerhouse. Buhari’s government has suggested it is ready to privatise its transmission grid in line with international best practice. There is much potential for investment here to interest U.K. companies,” Jemide noted.
Continuing, she added that the need for diversification of the economy has never been more evident. “It is how Nigeria will tackle its chronic problems of unemployment and poverty, and these two issues, important in themselves, will help it tackle the big tumbling block to growth and investment: security. The situation is tragic, but our President has been rapidly building an international coalition force to fight the insurgency.
While the problem manifests itself in the north of the country, the terror unleashed there is part of an international problem. Nigeria is too big, too strategically important to fail. We can be confident that this is a battle that will be won. We can be confident that Nigeria will flourish and the U.K. is Nigeria’s preferred partner.
Among those represented include the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Kano Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Abia Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), Credit Business Services Global (CBS Credit), Nigeria High Commission, London, British High Commission, Lagos, UK Trade & Investment, Lagos, Exports Credits Guarantee Department U.K. and BEN TV.
In his presentation on the investment opportunities in Oyo State, governor of the state, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, said in his second term in office, he was resolved to reposition the state to a fiscally functional, economically vibrant, socially harmonious and aesthetically delightful preferred destination for investors. He listed the priority focus of his administration as agriculture, wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, real estate, building and construction, hotel and restaurants, and solid minerals among others.
In a passionate plea for more investments, the governor harped on his state’s potentials and opportunities, which he said are vast untapped farmlands and forest reserves, large pool of skilled and low-cost labour, proximity to Lagos seaports, key transport route between the Southwest and Northern Nigeria, key transport links to West African markets through its border with Benin Republic, high market demand for hotels and hospitality services and discounted land prices for establishment of businesses compared to Lagos.
From right: Dr. Chris Onalo, Director of the forum; Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, wife of Oyo State governor; Governor Abiola Ajimobi; Maryanne Jemide, Publisher, Nigerian Watch Newspaper, UK; and Alistair Sorodoye, CEO/Founder, BenTV, UK during the presentation of Honorary Member Award to Oyo State governor.
The Nigeria High Commission in London also played a pivotal role in the success of the business forum. The combination of these two efforts goes to show how determined the two countries are to promote strong bilateral relations. Our aim is to provide the platform for excitement, enthusiasm, and satisfaction to the already established business, trade and investment relations, while charting the course for new possibilities and opportunities.”
Submission made by a cross-section of participants at the forum was that Nigeria’s economy has the potential to develop if President Buhari-led government takes the necessary measures.
Lead sponsor of the conference, Heritage Bank, admitted that though Nigeria’s relation with its trading partners is a mixed bag of risk and opportunities, Nigeria remains an investor’s delight despite the seeming unfavorable business climate such as insecurity, infrastructure deficit and slow pace of economic and political development.
Group Managing Director (GMD) of the bank, Ifie Sekibo, said Nigeria, though a middle income, mixed economy and emerging market, has the capacity for expansion in the areas of financial services, telecommunications, entertainment and other non-oil sectors with an ambition of becoming one of the top 20 largest economies by 2020.
It is in this respect that I kindly introduce Heritage Bank as your bank of choice in determining where and how to make your investment decisions. Feeding off this, Heritage Bank has identified strategic partnerships in the offering of financial services, especially in financing projects to enhance infrastructural development. Amongst the key sectors currently focused include Telecommunication, entertainment, education, oil and gas, power and other priority sectors.
Within three years of operations, Heritage Bank has transformed from being a regional player to a top tier player through the recent strategic acquisition of a national commercial bank – Enterprise Bank Limited. Gladly, the market has responded positively to our value preposition albeit within a very short period of being recognised, as the most innovative bank, most customer focused bank, and a generational bank of first choice.