Onalo: Unmasking Nigeria’s Mr. Credit

• How He Founded Credit Management In Nigeria
By Tope Templer Olaiya
Dr. Chris Onalo is not your usual Nigerian, who relishes in hugging the limelight, but he is definitely a man adept at multi-tasking. He is one of those very few individuals around who are known to possess more than one business call cards, as he is at present the Registrar/CEO of the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), President/CEO of the Postgraduate School of Credit and Financial Management which is Nigeria’s frontline credit management higher educational Institution for credit professionals, Managing Director/CEO of Credit Business Services (CBS), Director of Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF), and General Overseer of the House of God Fellowship Church (HGF).
While Onalo will go down in history books as the man who saw tomorrow and brought credit management to Nigeria just the same way Mr. Akintola Williams introduced accountancy to the country, the heights attained today began with small steps.
“Life is a journey from the known to the unknown. The unknown; is what makes it riddled with so many uncertainties,” he said while recounting how his voyage to become the doyen of credit management started. “You never can tell what is planned ahead. It is only God that knows that.”
However, the conviction to trudge along in the unknown path was triggered by a dream he had many years ago. “Whether you like it or not, human existence embodies body, spirit and soul. I recall vividly one of those dreams I had, I was on a journey and suddenly I came across two directional roads – the proverbial broad and narrow way.
“I came to that fix and paused for a while, then I heard a tiny, slim voice saying ‘keep going and take your right,’ which is the narrow way. Immediately I heeded the voice, I entered a ditch of thorns, and the more I was going, the narrower the pathway became. At a point I encountered a door opening to a seaside, I was a bit afraid of what lay in store beyond the door. I became fearful, but I had an uncommon courage to go on despite being alone except for the voice that kept nudging me to keep going.”
“I kept going. When I woke up, I knew I was in a tough terrain in Nigeria and that what I was doing to bring the culture of credit management was going to be a tough one. I had this dream during the period of then President Shehu Shagari’s austerity measure and the government propaganda then was this: ‘Andrew, don’t check out, stay in your country and let’s salvage it together.’”

Ona 2 Obviously, like the fabled Andrew at the time, Onalo was tempted to return to the United States of America, where he got his training in credit management. To enforce his conviction, he subsequently had other dreams, which instructed him to stay and help transform Nigeria from cash to credit system.
“I knew I had to tighten my belt to face up to the task. I didn’t know where it came from, but I suddenly had the power of creativity, resilience, patience and adaptability and all these kept me going when it was tough. Several people were discouraging me and advising that I should change course since our economy will always be cash driven and it will never change in the next 50 years.
“Besides, credit management is not in the educational curriculum nor in the knowledge skills of Nigerian professionals then, you will never read it in any university. It was tough for me. I received rejections from CEOs, executive directors and people who were not thinking beyond their present circumstance. I battled this frustration between 1983 to the early 90s.”
All these sacrifices came at a huge personal cost to ‘Mr. Credit’; one of which was that for most part of his adult life till date, Onalo has found it extremely difficult to keep any savings. “I couldn’t have any savings because I was running a graduate school of credit administration, which name was later changed to Postgraduate School of Credit and Financial Management. I also introduced the first magazine on credit management in Nigeria because it was strange to the media at the time; yet I needed a mass media platform.
“It has taken a lot from me. The struggle is no longer to put food on the table, but rather to institutionalize the virtues of giving, taking, managing and facilitating credit management in our private, public and national life. As a result of these, I have lived most of my adult life without savings. It was a tug of war to build my house and presently, I have no house in my village. If my mother of about 125 years drops dead today, I have no personal house in my village to keep my guests (he laughs).
“Secondly, the ICA, which I singlehandedly founded took me 12 years to scale through the legal processes because some indigenous professional institutes thought the only way to remain relevant was to ensure other professional institutes are not registered.

Ona 4“This was a major stumbling block, particularly coupled with the fact that you need to be cleared by the office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation before an organization whose name begin with the word “Institute” can be registered in the country,” he added.
Today, the Institute of Credit Administration has become a formidable, highly regarded national body for all matters relating to credit management in Nigeria, imparting strongly on business credit stakeholders namely, credit givers, credit takers, credit facilitators and managers of credits, including public institutions which in one way or the other inspired the growth and development of credit economic system in the country.
Now close to his 60s, the only thing Onalo has known and committed his energy to is credit management. He sleeps, wakes, dreams and breathes credit management. With benefit of hindsight, he has seen how dangerous it is to live on a cash and carry system as a nation and from examples of other countries; he could spend hours elucidating on the benefits of a fully developed and robust credit system.
“Credit is basically taking something of commercial sense now and paying for it at a later date. The question to ask is what can I take now and make quick use of that can produce enough income to pay for it with the little interest added. That way, several job opportunities and wealth would be created. The option for any economy to grow is to put in place policies that stimulate people to bring out the best in them.
“Sadly, the huge number of banks and other financial institutions we have in the country have not translated to a robust credit availability due to some unfavourable government policies. In an ideal economy, bank loans would be easily accessible to SMEs to enable them grow the economy; since it is not the duty of government to be a major player in the generation of employment.
“It is the private sector and professional citizens that generate sustainable employment. It is against this backdrop that I am continually pressing the Nigerian federal government to take a bold step now to establish a well capitalized National Credit Guarantee Corporation to serve as collateral/security backbone to the nation’s SMEs for accessing loanable funds.”

Ona 3 Onalo has safely predicted that the future of credit management in Nigeria is extremely bright because no economy can survive without credit system. “Government policies may be very slow or not encouraging but there is a continual economy that factor in the truism that people must eat and engage in credit system to survive.
“A cash and carry economy cannot take Nigeria anywhere in terms of human and capital development index. The future is massive and the starting point is to build that foundation of credit line availability and access. It is not enough to have a cashless economy but it must be supported by a credit system,” he said.
After more than three decades of living his dream as a career credit economist, he was last month duly acknowledged as the Father of Credit Management in Nigeria and earned his nickname as Mr. Credit, when the London Postgraduate Credit Management College (LPCMC) in collaboration with its affiliate universities across the world appointed Onalo as professor of Credit Management.
In a statement, a copy of which was made available to The Guardian by the college’s International Programmes Director, Danette Gayle, LPCMC considers this a justified designation as Dr. Onalo has had great influence and profound impact on credit management profession in Nigeria and beyond.
“He has been quite instrumental to the establishment of a number of credit management development infrastructures such as his involvement in the setup of Nigerian Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), the Postgraduate School of Credit & Financial Management (PSCFM), Nigeria and African Director of London Postgraduate Credit management College UK (LPCMC). He has contributed immensely to the development of credit management faculties, which are largely used today by universities and other learning institutions around the globe.
“These strides cannot go unnoticed. LPCMC is honoured to have Dr. Onalo on board to share his level of expertise and vast experience in the credit management field and as an affluent role model for our students to emulate. Though his footsteps will be hard to follow, it will be an exciting experience for our students as they aspire to his level,” the statement added.

Ona 1Onalo is from Elele, Ibaji in Kogi State, but has gradually grown to become a very respectable world citizen, who has made so much contributions and commitments to the present world’s credit management industry.
A highly principled man with strong Christian orientation, Onalo will be remembered for his articulation in credit management, by solely spearheading contributions to the formation of critical infrastructures needed for the growth, development and professionalization of credit management nationally and internationally.
Such institutions include the ICA, which is Nigeria’s national body for the regulation and setting standards for people in credit management; and the Postgraduate School of Credit and Financial Management (PSCFM), the only specialist institution in Africa offering higher professional learning programmes in the field of credit management.
Chris, a much-sought after teacher of credit management and renowned expert in the credit guarantee scheme project with countless industry, individual and institutional friends around the world, holds a Bachelor of Science, Masters of Arts and Doctorate degrees in Credit Management.
He is currently designated African director of the prestigious London Postgraduate Credit Management College (LPCMC) UK, the first African to be appointed “professor of credit management” by the LPCMC.
He is the first to establish in Nigeria a company that provides credit and business information on company (Credit Business Services Global Ltd –CBS Credit); the first to publish monthly magazine on credit management (The CreditManager, Creditnews and CreditMarket); and the first to run ‘This Week Credit Business’ live programme on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
All of these endeavours has strengthened and maintained Onalo’s strong advocacy voice in Nigeria’s credit economy, industry and market for best practices and policy reforms aimed at creating awareness, enhancing and promoting credit management profession not only in Nigeria but the world over.
Success, as defined by Booker Washington, is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, but by the obstacles, which he has to overcome. It is the obstacles, rather than the successes that define the journey of one of Nigeria’s unsung heroes today.

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Fresh vista for Nigeria, UK trade relations

By Tope Templer Olaiya
Nigeria’s relation with its trading partners across the world is a mixed bag of risks and opportunity. Often touted as Africa’s biggest economy, though ranked 26th in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) after rebasing, and with an over 167 million population, the country still remains an investor’s delight in spite of seemingly unfavourable business climate like insecurity and infrastructure deficit.
Nigeria is a middle-income, mixed economy and emerging market, with expanding financial, service, communications and entertainment sectors with eyes set on potentially becoming one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020. Its re-emergent, though currently under-performing, 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, it is a busy hub for business activities.
One of its biggest trading partners is the United Kingdom. Presently, Nigeria is UK’s second largest trading partner in Africa after South Africa. The drive for improved trade and economic relations made the leaders of the two countries, President Goodluck Jonathan and David Cameron in June 2011 set an ambitious goal to double bilateral trade to eight billion pounds by 2014.
But then, how much of this ambitious relationship has been beneficial to the country and its citizens? The search for answers to the question of trade imbalance between Nigeria and the UK was the kernel of discourse at the recently concluded Greater London Business Conference on Nigeria, which held at the Royal National Hotel, London.
With the theme ‘Nigeria in the MINT’, the conference was anchored by the Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF) in conjunction with the Nigerian High Commission in London and the British High Commission in Nigeria. It had in attendance government agencies and Nigerian companies drawn from various local chambers of commerce.
The term, MINT – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey – was originally coined by Fidelity Investments, a Boston-based asset management firm and popularized by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, who predicted the MINT countries as the next most powerful economic bloc.

Cameron and Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan and Prime Minister David Cameron

The conference sought to promote bilateral trade and investment relations between the two countries by bringing together business people from Nigeria and the UK to seek new investment opportunities, develop long term business relationships and finalize existing business contracts, while enhancing existing structures and removing hurdles capable of frustrating the flow of trade and investment between the two countries.
Interestingly, of the four MINT countries, Nigeria’s population is projected to outstrip other MINT countries by 2050 with population set to hit 402 million people. Of the four countries, Nigeria and Indonesia have the most consistent GDP at around six to eight per cent. The two countries have the lowest GDPs of the four MINT countries, at $1,555 and $3,557 per capita respectively, compared with $9,749 in Mexico, $10,666 in Turkey, and $51,749 in the United States of America, according to 2012 figures from the World Bank.
Declaring the event open, conference director, who is also the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), Dr. Chris Onalo, said the forum was an opportunity for the Nigerian delegation to meet British investors, associates and partners.
“We expect that at the end of this event, strong business partnerships and investment would be formed and the trade and investment relationship between UK and Nigeria will propel to new heights after two days of fruitful discussions on business, trade and investment,” he said.
Onalo, however, urged the Nigerian government to work closely and pragmatically through its relevant agencies with the British government with a view to creating further improvement on efforts to remove needless obstacles perceived to be seriously hindering a robust business, trade and investment engagements of business people of the two countries.

Tafida

Tafida

“There is need for the government of the two countries to make less stringent, special requirements to be met by business people for business visa applications so that the people in the two countries can easily and frequently meet and interact with each other in order to encourage appreciable economic, trade and investment expansions between the two countries.
“For instance, it was decided that there should be a fast visa application process for business men and women who are members of any credible registered local chambers of commerce and trade associations in the two countries.
“This suggestion was initiated by the Nigerian London Business Forum in the UK and endorsed in Lagos by Peter Carter, the Deputy British High Commissioner to Nigeria, who sadly passed away earlier in the month for which the conference observed a one minute silence. This conference aims to bring us all together to build investment and business and we expect that at the end of this conference, new partnerships will be forged,” he said.
Hassan Mohammed Hassan, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment at the Nigerian High Commission in the UK, who stood in for the High Commissioner, Dr. Dalhatu Tafida, added that the Nigerian government remains committed to drastically increasing the volume of trade between the two countries. He stressed that the goal of doubling trade volumes remains on course and even when it has been achieved, the bar will be raised high.
Hassan said: “In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan and Prime Minister David Cameron decided to double trade between both countries to £8 billion. Between November 2011 and now, almost 85 percent of that has been attained, especially in the areas of oil and gas and we are trying to come up with another projection.
“I can assure you that we shall be working to do more to achieve the new target that will be projected. So, we want the UK and European Union to work with us and not push Nigeria aside. At the moment, Nigeria has a GDP of over $500 billion and an annual growth rate of about seven percent, with most of it coming from activities, which are private sector facilitated.”

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.

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.

According to the minister, British economist, Dr Terrence O’Neill, who coined the phrase MINT countries, could see that Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey would impact positively on the world stage over the next decade. He added that this process has already begun in areas like telecoms, where Nigeria now has eight million phone lines and this can be replicated in sectors such as agriculture and education.
An international trade advisor at the UK Trade and Investment, Raphael Channer, said British exports currently total £500 billion and the target is to double this to £1 trillion by 2020 with increased sales to markets like Nigeria. He added that this would mean the number of companies increasing from the current ratio of one in four firms to one in five.
David Tang, from UK Export Finance (UKEF), the operating unit of the UK’s Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD), added that his export credit agency organisation helps to provide guarantees for exporters to banks and also assists overseas buyers seeking loans. He added that UKEF offers support ranging from as little as £25,000 to as much as multimillion pound deals.
Tang added: “We assist overseas buyers who require loans to buy goods from UK exporters. What we do is step in and say to the bank that we will be prepared to guarantee that loan.”
For Muhammed Aminu Muhammed, the immigration attaché at the Nigerian High Commission in the UK, he is confident that the UK and Nigeria will achieve the target of doubling trade volumes between them despite problems like security challenges. He added that the Nigerian Senate is currently debating on a bill that will ease restrictions on visa applications for business customers, which will include among other things, the issuing of visas upon arrival.
Peter Bishop, the deputy chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that his organisation visits Nigeria every year in the drive to boost trade. He added that Nigeria gets a bad press in the UK, which misleads a lot of businesses but anyone who walks round London will see the contribution the Nigerian in diaspora makes to the UK economy.
According to Bishop, “In 2000, 75 countries signed the Istanbul Convention suggested by the World Trade Organisation, which sought to allow free entry of goods and people without Customs interference. I am trying to double my efforts to get the process working as it will enhance trade.”

O'Neil

O’Neil

In his contribution, president of the Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Emeka Unachukwu, said UK trade with Nigeria is on course to double to £20 billion in 2020, thanks to several incentives provided by the government. He added that this will include a three year tax holiday for investors coming into the gas sector and import duty exemptions for equipment used to build processing infrastructure.
According to Unachukwu, the Nigerian government is looking to expand sectors like gas as well as solid minerals like coal, lignite and tar sands. He pointed out that gas in particular has huge potential as Nigeria has the ninth largest gas reserves in the world, 187trn cubic feet and is working on a West African gas Pipeline and a Nigeria-Algeria Gas Pipeline.
The Oyo State governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, at the conference, said his administration is optimistic of achieving 75 per cent self-sufficiency in food production within the next five years as part of a master-plan to make the state economically self-sustainable, as other delegates explored the huge potential that exists in Nigerian business environment.
To achieve this, he said his administration has put in place several ambitious plans to increase agricultural output, while boosting other sectors such as housing, transport, tourism and education, in the bid to make the state independently viable in the long term and boost its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
Addressing a huge gathering of business leaders from the UK and Nigeria, as well as government officials and chamber of commerce executives, Ajimobi said Oyo State currently has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $2.3 billion, a population of seven million and a literacy rate of 62.6 per cent. The state is also striving to improve productivity to catch up with consumption.
“Oyo State is bigger than Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, Belgium and Israel in terms of population but our GDP is only $2.3 billion but the annual growth rate is 14 per cent. If you look across the MINT countries, Nigeria has the highest illiteracy rates and the highest unemployment rates, but we are working to address all these problems.
“In health for instance, when we assumed office, there were only 120 doctors in Oyo State but over three years, we have increased this number to 620. We are also working hard on housing. By our estimates, we need 259,000 housing units between now and 2020; but we have started off with the first 5,000 units.”

Cross section of the conference by delegates

Cross section of the conference by delegates

Confident that his administration will succeed in providing the necessary social amenities and an enabling environment for economic growth, Ajimobi said his government is always on the lookout for private sector partners to work with. He listed housing, agriculture, education and infrastructure development as sectors in which his government is looking for private sector partners willing to invest.
“We have companies partnering with us to build houses and among them are Spanish, United States and indigenous firms building houses for low, middle and high income earners. In agriculture too, we are looking for partners as the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has recommended that there be two tractors per hectare of land but at the moment, we have achieved less than that, compared with Asian countries that have reached.
“We also found out that as much as 70 per cent of our agricultural produce was going to waste as it was not getting to market, so there is an opportunity in this sector for interested investors. In agriculture, I am confident that we can get output to match 75 per cent of consumption within the next five years if my administration is returned to office for another four-year term next year.”
Other areas the governor said his administration is working hard on is business registration, in a bid to ensure that private sector operators willing to operate in Oyo State can get their business registered within 48 hours. He added that to encourage such investors, the government is giving them all sorts of incentives such as 30 per cent tax concessions for five years.
The conference ended with presentation of the prestigious Honorary Member Award of the Nigerian London Business Forum to Senator Abiola Ajimobi and Dr. Mua’zu Babangida Aliyu, the governor of Niger State. Also, over 20 British and Nigerian companies received their certificate of membership of the forum for trade and investment promotion and bilateral policies lobbyist.

Nigeria attracts global business community

By Tope Templer Olaiya

After successfully hosting the 24th edition of the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEFA) in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory amid grave security concerns, the stage is now set for the Greater London Business Conference on Nigeria, holding in September. The conference is being anchored by the Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF).

NILOBF, a registered United Kingdom (UK) non-profit organisation, in conjunction with the Nigerian High Commission in London and the British High Commission in Nigeria, seeks to promote bilateral trade and investment relations between the two countries by bringing together business people from Nigeria and the UK to seek new investment opportunities, develop long term business relationships and finalize existing business contracts.

It is also the official business chamber and trade association, comprising Nigerian, British and non-British companies doing business with Nigeria, including subsidiaries of Nigerian companies/institutions doing business in the UK.

While the bloody terror attacks at Nyanya Motor Park, Abuja and the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls at Chibok in Borno State cast a huge shadow of insecurity on the conference, the incidents ended up becoming the tipping point in Nigeria’s battle with Boko Haram, leading to massive international outrage.

Although WEFA was a continental showpiece, Nigeria as the host emerged the ultimate beneficiary. It galvanized the world against the insurgents that have made economic and social life unbearable in some parts of the north. It unified global voices and action against the kidnap of the schoolgirls.

NILOBF PHOTO 1This is aside the commitment from investors across the globe pledging to invest billions of dollars in Nigeria’s critical sectors such as energy, agriculture, healthcare and infrastructure, among others.

On September 17 & 18 at the Royal National Hotel, London, the world will gather in London and the subject of the two-day conference would be Nigeria in the MINT – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey – predicted as the next most powerful economic bloc

According to the country director of the forum in Nigeria, who is also the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), Dr. Chris Onalo, “the forum intends to capitalize on this current issue very quickly to further influence British trade and investment with Nigeria, especially going by the notion that UK companies are yet to view Nigeria as an important business and investment destination.

“Also, high profile Nigerian businesses and investment organizations are scrambling to buy a space of prominence to showcase their business services to the international community during the conference expo.”

The term, MINT, was originally coined by Fidelity Investments, a Boston-based asset management firm and was popularized by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, who had created the term BRICS, an acronym for the economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The group of developing or newly industrialized countries was originally known as BRIC before the inclusion of South Africa in 2010.

The nomenclatures of economic trading blocs are becoming numerous: it all started with G8 (the great eight largest economies), G20 and then BRICS. The emergence of MINT has affirmed Nigeria as one of the four countries with bright economic prospects, where smart money should be invested. Of the MINT countries, he singled out Nigeria as having the ‘wow’ factor.

O'Neil

O’Neil

Jim O’Neil would be the keynote speaker at the event, which will provide him the opportunity to share his globally-acclaimed economic view at the Greater London Business conference. Alongside O’Neil are other globally respected speakers, including Prof. Pat Utomi, Prof. Sam Ohuabunwa, former president, Nigeria Economic Summit; John Momoh, chairman/CEO, Channels Television; Engr. Emeka Unachukwu, managing director/CEO, Morflex Energy and Power ltd; and Simon Brown, senior manager for East and West Africa, UKTI, London.

This is how Jim O’ Neil introduced MINT in his article in Bloomberg, which he delineated as the potential emerging investment destination: “I spent last week in Indonesia, working on a series for BBC Radio about four of the world’s most populous non-BRIC emerging economies. The BRIC — Brazil, Russia, India and China — are already closely watched. The group I’m studying for this project — let’s call them the MINT economies — deserve no less attention. Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey all have very favorable demographics for at least the next 20 years, and their economic prospects are interesting.
“Policy makers and thinkers in the MINT countries have often asked me why I left them out of that first classification. Indonesians made the point with particular force. Over the years I’ve become accustomed to being told that the BRIC countries should have been the BRIICs all along, or maybe even the BIICs. Wasn’t Indonesia’s economic potential more compelling than Russia’s? Despite the size of its relatively young population (a tremendous asset), I thought it unlikely that Indonesia would do enough on the economic-policy front to quickly realize that potential.

“Nigeria that has been denied membership of various neologisms of emerging economies including G20 and BRICS has finally made the list of MINT nations. Being given the due respect that Nigeria has been searching for does not transpire that the country has finally arrived. But making the list of MINT speaks volume and acknowledges that Nigeria is in the right direction. Nigeria is getting her economic house in order and doing those things she needs to do to be seriously noticed by frontier investors and money managers around the world.

“Nigeria is a middle-income, mixed economy and emerging market, with expanding financial, service, communications and entertainment sectors. It is ranked 30th (40th in 2005, 52nd in 2000), in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product at purchasing power parity as of 2012, and 3rd largest within Africa (behind South Africa and Egypt), on track to potentially becoming one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020. Its re-emergent, though currently under-performing, manufacturing sector is the third-largest on the continent, and produces a large proportion of goods and services for the West African region.

Tafida

Tafida

 

“It is self-evident and a fact that Nigeria is potentially a wealthy nation that can make it to an industrialized economy but she has not been serious and has drowned herself in corruption and inefficiency, wallowing in self-pity and grandiose perception of her place under the sun. But Nigeria, once referred to as “sleeping giant” is steadily and gradually waking up from her sleep and commences turning a new page this time around.”

Interestingly, of the four MINT countries, Nigeria’s population is projected to outstrip other MINT countries by 2050 with population set to hit 402 million people. Of the four countries, Nigeria and Indonesia have the most consistent GDP at around six to eight per cent. The two countries have the lowest GDPs of the four MINT countries, at $1,555 and $3,557 per capita respectively, compared with $9,749 in Mexico, $10,666 in Turkey, and $51,749 in the United States of America, according to 2012 figures from the World Bank.

Jim O’ Neil’s views on Nigeria got a boost by the recent rebasing of the country’s economy. After months of faltering, owing to the complexity of the task, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released the revised Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers. Nigeria‘s GDP has not been rebased since 1990, contrary to global best practice of re-benchmarking every five years. This implies that the country has had to rely on outdated figures for the last 24 years. The year 2010 was adopted as the base year for the revision and more recent economic activities have been captured in sectors such as telecommunications and entertainment industry.

As a result of the rebasing, the size of the Nigerian economy has grown by 89 per cent to N80.3 trillion ($509.9bn). This ranks Nigeria as the world’s 26 largest economy, the largest economy in Africa, bigger than Angola, Egypt and Vietnam put together, and 12 times the Ghanaian economy. The 89 per cent jump thumps the expectations and forecasts of analysts who projected an increase of between 40 and 60 per cent from the rebasing.

      The Greater London Business Conference on Nigeria is coming on the heels of a recently concluded United Kingdom-Nigeria Trade and Investment roundtable, held in London by NILOBF in conjunction with the Business Chamber Trade Association of UK.

Nigeria’s ambassador to the UK, Dr. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, had set the tone for discussions in his keynote address on activities of the Nigeria High Commission, London in the promotion of bilateral economic relations between Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

According to him, Nigeria and the UK have continued to enjoy cordial bilateral trade and economic relations due to historical antecedents and shared ties in language, education and legal system, which have reinforced the robust relations and positively impacted on the economic prosperity of the two countries.

He said: “Presently, Nigeria is UK’s second largest trading partner in Africa after South Africa and it is 32nd largest worldwide. The drive for improved trade and economic relations made the leaders of the two countries, President Goodluck Jonathan and David Cameron in June 2011 set an ambitious goal to double bilateral trade to eight billion pounds by 2014. Nigeria and the UK are very well on the way to achieving and possibly, surpassing the ambitious goal set by the two leaders.

“It is instructive to note that in 2011when the goal was set, the volume of bilateral trade was about four billion pounds and rose to seven billion pounds. There is also a conscious effort on the part of the two countries to diversify and shift focus from oil, financial services and food products, which had dominated Nigeria-UK trade relations in the past to the non-oil sectors, including agriculture, infrastructure, creative industry, information technology and retail business.”

But the events of the past two months – the bombings, the Chibok schoolgirls’ kidnapping, the government’s half-hearted response and the arrival of US, French and Israeli military advisers to attempt a belated rescue – have all served to expose the hollowness of Nigeria’s prosperity.

Scratch the surface and look beyond the boldfaced numbers, and it quickly becomes evident that long before these horrific recent developments, Nigeria was grappling with poor governance and failing institutions.

In reality, the growth story was never so simple. Inequality has long been part of the subtext. The majority of Nigerians have actually grown poorer as the country thrived, exacerbating tensions between the rich and the poor.

“Maintaining the status quo is not tenable,” says Elsie Kanza, Africa Director of the World Economic Forum. “It is not tenable to leave populations out of the growth process.”

A few numbers illustrate this point all too clearly. Nigeria’s growth averaged 7.4 per cent over the past decade. In that period, the number of Nigerians living on less than $1 a day rose from 54.7 to 60.9 percent. And these disparities do not show signs of improving for the next generation.
 

The Nigeria, United Kingdom visa quagmire

TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA writes on how stringent visa policies tend to hurt trade relations and slow down investment opportunities between Britain and Nigeria

The stories about what thousands of Nigerians go through to obtain visas of developed and developing countries have been well documented. But what many do not know is that Nigeria also has what some have described as “stringent regulations” for issuing visas to foreigners, which many analysts now blame for the drawback of the country’s quest for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

     This was the crux of a sidebar discussion at the United Kingdom (UK)-Nigeria Trade and Investment roundtable, held in London recently, and organized by the Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF), in conjunction with the Business Chamber Trade Association of the UK.

     The roundtable seeks to promote bilateral trade and investment relations, by bringing together business people from the two countries to establish, locate, renew and seek fresh investment opportunities. Besides, it hopes to develop long-term business relationships and finalize existing contracts.

     Nigeria’s ambassador to the UK, Dr. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, set the tone for discussions in his keynote address on activities of the Nigeria High Commission (NHC) in the promotion of bilateral economic relations between Nigeria and the United Kingdom. According to him, Nigeria and the UK have continued to enjoy cordial bilateral trade and economic relations due to historical antecedents and shared ties in language, education and legal systems, which “have reinforced the robust relations and positively impacted on the economic prosperity of the two countries.”

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Immigration boss at Nigeria High Commission in London, representing the Minister for Interior, Aminu Muhammed; Director of Nigerian London Business Forum, UK, Dr. Chris Onalo; and British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Peter Carter, at the UK-Nigeria Trade & Investment Roundtable event, held recently.

 His words: “Presently, Nigeria is UK’s second largest trading partner in Africa after South Africa and it is 32nd largest worldwide. The drive for improved trade and economic relations made the leaders of the two countries, President Goodluck Jonathan and David Cameron, in June 2011, to set an ambitious goal to double bilateral trade to eight billion pounds by 2014. Nigeria and the UK are very well on the way to achieving and possibly, surpassing the ambitious goal set by the two leaders.

   “It is instructive to note that in 2011 when the goal was set, the volume of bilateral trade was about four billion pounds and rose to seven billion pounds. There is also a conscious effort on the part of the two countries to diversify and shift focus from oil, financial services and food products, which had dominated Nigeria-UK trade relations in the past to the non-oil sectors, including agriculture, infrastructure, creative industry, information technology and retail business.”

     However, one of the organizers and member of the NILOBF Board of Directors, Dr. Chris Onalo, in a chat with The Guardian in Lagos, said it was shocking to participants at the conference when some UK businessmen revealed that Nigeria’s stringent visa policy, based on the doctrine of reciprocity, may hamper the realization of the eight billion pound trade volume target set by leaders of the two countries.

     He said: “We recognize that the operating instrument between Nigeria and other countries of the world is based on the basic doctrine of reciprocity. Sadly, Nigeria has not yet come to the level where we can demand such from the international community. And because we are a consuming population, we tend to depend solely on other countries for most of what we consume. We have not engaged ourselves in a constructive direction that can position us to reciprocate whatever foreign policy other countries throw at us.

     “Singling out Nigeria and United Kingdom for example, at the recent business forum where issues that would promote bilateral relationship between the two countries were discussed, a lot of the issues centred on the visa requirements. I realised that the immigration policy of Nigeria to the UK is even much more stringent than the regulation of the British to us.

     “I was shocked. These stringent conditions for issuance of Nigerian visas to British business visitors will not help the growth of bilateral relations between the two countries. The response from the Nigerian delegation was that, in the international diplomacy, it is more about reciprocity. It does not make sense that as a British businessman, I apply for a type of visa that allows me (only) 24 hours access to Nigeria.

   “It was strange to us that such treatment exists in this age. Issuing 24-hour business visa to citizens of countries not blacklisted or under any watch list? No businessman would come here and refuse to go back to his country, especially not a British,” he concluded.

     Applicants for Nigerian business visa are required to pay visa and processing fees totaling over $200. For expedited action, an additional $85 is required, alongside an invitation letter from the host company in Nigeria, which would accept full immigration and financial responsibility; a letter of introduction from applicant’s company; proof of legal residency and copy of airline ticket or flight itinerary.

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President Goodluck Jonathan (right) with Merkel, Obama and Cameron

Participants at the roundtable noted that apart from the advertised official rates, Nigerian consular officials also create unnecessary bottlenecks for applicants; a situation which, they argued, encourages corruption. It is also seen by some as a subtle retaliation for the “jungle of regulations and visa rules” the British Home Office institutes for immigrants to the United Kingdom from Nigeria.

     Efforts to get an official response from the Nigerian High Commission in the UK were unsuccessful as enquiries sent to the commission’s e-mail address got no reply and calls made to the Second Secretary (Trade, Industry and Investment), J.D. Pam, were not returned last week.

     An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the ministry remains committed to protecting the interests of Nigerians by constructively engaging the diplomatic and consular missions in Nigeria, especially on visa matters.

     “As we demonstrated in our swift and effective response to the deportation of Nigerians from South Africa over the issue of yellow fever cards last year, we have made it clear that Nigeria would not tolerate the maltreatment of its citizens at home and abroad. We hold no responsibility for how citizens of other nationals are treated.”

     Last year, the Federal Government announced the introduction of a new Visa Policy, applicable to expatriates seeking to visit or invest in the country. The new policy seeks to transform the visa issuing process and guarantee easy access to immigration facilities by genuine visitors and foreign investors.

     Under the new regime, the five categories of visas are: Visa at Points of Entry, Short Visit Visa, Temporary Resident Visa, Employment Based Visa, and Scarce Skills Transfer Visa.

     The new policy also allows the issuance of a visa at the entry point, removing the barriers that currently prevent business people, tourists, and government delegations from visiting the country at short notice. Those visiting from countries where Nigeria does not have an embassy can now obtain visas at the port of entry.

     Also in the new policy aimed at boosting tourism, attracting foreign direct investments, opening up the economy for employment opportunities and securing Nigeria’s borders, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) will now issue a 30-day non-extendable tourist pass at the port of arrival. This will apply mostly to visitors from countries where Nigeria does not have Foreign Missions.

     Furthermore, Nigerian Foreign Missions will henceforth issue one-year multiple entry permits/visas to all genuine visitors and tourists who wish to visit Nigeria. Visitors who are in Nigeria for investment purposes are eligible to be issued 10-year visas where they meet laid down criteria.

   Foreign investors, with as much as $10,000,000 investment prospects, may be given up to a 25 per cent employment quota without sacrificing employment opportunities for Nigerians.

       The UK business visa requirement is similar to those requested from British businessmen visiting the country. In fact, one requirement that stands out is the UK Home Office’s insistence on copies of bank statements from the past three months, which must be well funded to the satisfaction of the issuing official. The official rate, though, is USD 136 for business visitors.

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Tafida, Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom

Last year, Britain had planned to force visitors from six “high-risk” countries including Nigeria, to pay a cash bond of £3,000, but it was reversed after diplomatic consultations. According to a Conservative peer, Lord Howell, the UK’s visa rules are creating a “nasty” impression of the country and leaving many people “in despair.”

     He warned that tighter immigration controls could damage the economy. “We are concerned that the visa system is keeping out genuine business people and students. A new report by peers is urging ministers to make sure legitimate visitors get visas quickly, easily and cheaply. Also, the government’s language on immigration do not discourage those who would add to the UK’s prosperity from coming to the UK and supporting its businesses,” he noted.

     But Home Secretary, Theresa May, has rejected such claims, and launched a number of initiatives aimed at attracting wealth creators to the UK, including an invitation-only, fast-track visa service for top business people.

   New restrictions on graduate’s ability to remain in the country after finishing their degrees have seen the number of students coming to the UK fall. The move is part of a clampdown on so-called “over-stayers” – those remaining in the country after their visas expired.

     On the flip side, a Nigerian and member of the NILOBF, Patrick Ochuba, was denied visa to the roundtable after he had submitted all the relevant documents

   He narrated: “The visa officer wasn’t sure if I will return to my country of residence despite being a businessman and managing director of a thriving firm in Nigeria. I was made to understand that the stringent requirements or standards are mainly applied to visa applicants in countries with economic deficiencies who pose a risk to immigration rules.

   “Though, it is a general requirement to provide bank details with six months statements, but as an applicant who is legally residing in the USA or UK, you should be fine with one of three months provided the Visa Officer (VO) is satisfied in other aspects.

   “Furthermore, your travel history will put you in position of advantage, but each application is treated on its own merit, therefore, the requirements must be fulfilled. I was, however, pained that my application was rejected despite fulfilling all requirements and even providing the covering note from organizers of the event, which was endorsed by the Nigerian High Commission in the UK.”

Ogombo, amid highbrow Lekki-Epe, longs for road development

By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor

FOR the residents of Ogombo community in Eti-Osa East Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of Lagos State, it is time the village shed its toga of primitive settlement and caught up with its neighbours in the Lekki-Ajah corridor, which includes Awoyaya, Sangotedo, Ibeju-Lekki, Okun-Ajah and Ajah and others.

   With inhabitants predominantly fishermen and farmers, Ogombo, which is estimated to have a landmass of over 2,000 hectares, is daily receiving influx of settlers from other parts of Lagos.

   The prospects of this relatively unpopular community look bright as the ruling families are in possession of a global Certificate-of-Occupancy (C-of-O) covering 550.11 hectares, which is more than Lagos Island. Residents claim that Ogombo is the largest community in the whole of Eti-Osa.

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There are many notable organisations in the neighbouring community among which is the Pan African University. Prominent corporate and individual citizens have acquired most of the plots in the adjacent areas and the community is close to the proposed site at Epe that had been mapped out for the Lagos airport and deep seaport. 

   Residents of the place, some of whom have built impressive mansions, cannot boast to their colleagues and friends that they are living in the highbrow Lekki-Ajah axis of Lagos.

   The reason is that, no matter the make of your vehicle, whether sedan or sports utility, you can’t drive it to your house in the area because of the appalling state of the roads.      The vehicles are parked at some distance away from their owners’ homes precisely at the community square, where development partially ends. After the cars are safely parked, their owners trudge through the sandy roads to their houses.

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For those who do not know the community, the way to the place is through Abraham Adesanya Estate and the stretch of over five kilometres is well tarred, but this terminates at the Ogombo roundabout.

   To the dwellers in the community who are well over 6,000, the few months of the dry season are the best time of the year. Once it is rainy season, it gets worse, as the roads become nearly impassable.

   A concerned resident, who is the chief executive officer of the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), Dr. Chris Onalo, said during the rainy season, everywhere is completely flooded.

   “You can’t pass through Ogombo without folding up your trousers to your knees or using rain boots. You wade through the water until you get to where you park your car. To show you how terrible the situation is, even in this dry season, we are still using machine to drain water from the roads.

   “The whole of this area is waterlogged and this problem is beyond what community efforts can solve. We need a proper drainage system to eject water to the lagoon, apart from inner-city roads that will link the communities and reduce congestion of the Lekki-Epe Expressway,” he said.

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 It is not all bad news in the area, as Onalo gives thumbs up to the security in Ogombo. “This place is very safe. You can keep your car anywhere and nothing would happen to it. Initially, when we came here, we were scared that typical of Lagos, they would vandalize your car or even steal it, but nothing of such has ever happened.

   Just a few people who bought lands close to the roundabout have the luxury of driving into their homes, for the majority of residents, the roads are not motorable and the cars are always safe where it is parked.

   “However, from time to time, there are pockets of incidents of petty stealing, but the security is marshaled by members of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). We also have a police divisional post in the area.”

   A community leader and the Supervisor for Works in the Eti-Osa East LCDA, Mr. Samad Oseni Ogunbo, told The Guardian that as a community, they have been championing for the construction of a senior secondary school for Ogombo. 

   “What we have now is a community school that terminates at Junior Secondary School Three (JSS3). They will then be transferred to Olomu, which is in Ajah and it is a huge risk, especially now that the Lekki-Epe road has been expanded.

   “We record accidents daily on the road and school children are usually the victims. It was the same situation that led to the death of six pupils at Ikota recently. So, if our children can complete their secondary education here, it will reduce the influx of people going to the expressway.

   “In addition, a lot of traditional activities take place in many of these communities, which involve ritual killings and the most vulnerable people used for such acts are school children. We don’t want them to be exposed to this ugly culture, that is why we are appealing to government to come to our rescue.”

   Ogunbo explained that there are three existing roads that need critical attention – the Okun Ajah-Ogombo road, Ogombo-Okun Mokun road and the most important, Ogombo-Sangotedo road.

   “There is no need for someone going to Epe, Eleko and environs to get to Ajah when you can link the Lekki-Epe expressway from Sangotedo. The same thing applies to those coming from Epe to this area, there is no need returning to Ajah and Abraham Adesanya before getting here.

   “Once the road infrastructure is in place, there would be numerous development in this area and this would also benefit over 20 road settlement villages around us. On our part as a council, we have presented this to the state government and the reaction we get is some experts coming around to take pictures and measurement, but what we want is action.”