Strengthening Nigeria-UK trade relations

• 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.

Buh3This 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.

Pix 1While 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.

Pix 2While 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.

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.

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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.

 

Strengthening Nigeria-UK trade relations

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Towards strengthening Nigeria, UK trade relations in dire times

By Tope Templer Olaiya
GOING by facts and figures, Nigeria’s economy is in dire strait. The picture of a robust economy painted which rated the country as Africa’s largest economy with about $510 billion yearly Gross Domestic Product (GDP), appears to be cloudy, because reality checks and outlook have proved otherwise. There are cogent reasons to be worried. Reason: The exchange rate is today N228 to US$1; statutory allocation to federating units has plunged by about 50 percent, leading to delay in salary payments by state governments; and loss of over N4 trillion in foreign direct investment.
Nigerians were jolted to reality when last December, thousands of federal civil servants celebrated yuletide without payment of their salaries. This brought to the fore the burgeoning list of state governments owing salary arrears for several months and still counting.
The sliding fortunes of the economy was exacerbated by huge losses recorded recently in the capital market, where over N4.5 trillion portfolio investments evaporated in a couple of months. Indeed, economy watchers needed no rocket science to know that the rebasing testimonial of being the biggest economy in Africa was, perhaps a ruse.
Economic analysts have blamed this spiral downward trend on the devaluation of the Naira, which was government’s kneejerk approach to the crash in oil prices.
Managing Director/CEO of Juhel Nigeria and President, Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ECCIMA), Dr. Ifeanyi Okoye, said the nucleus of the problem is the fact that Nigeria, despite its much-touted size, still operates a mono-economy, depending solely on oil.
“As the price of oil started coming down, our Naira started tumbling. This impacted the economy, as people have to re-strategise. As far as the pharmaceutical sector is concerned, more than 98 percent of raw materials used are imported. This has affected the prices of goods in the country. So, the prices of drugs will definitely go up a little bit. However, we believe it’s going to stabilise.
“Given the mono-economy nature of Nigeria, the government’s effort to decentralise the economy will definitely take care of the problem. By the time this goes full circle, the economy will become stronger. Nigeria, of course, has been trying to ensure that agriculture is not just about feeding ourselves but also exporting our products. The strategy of trying to make manufacturers stronger by making funds available at affordable cost is good; but we have to encourage the government to go ahead with that and make it permanent, not bringing it as an intervention.” he said.

Cameron and JonathanAmidst the hot air and tension that have characterized the run-up to the decisive general elections later in the month comes the window of opportunity for businessmen and investors to make a strong head start in 2015.
Despite drawbacks to business activities since the beginning of the year, which is not unconnected to the election fervor, the United Kingdom-Nigeria Economic Forum, billed for London in July 29, will set the tone for a fresh direction, weeks after a new administration would have been inaugurated in May 29.
The fourth in the series of the trade, investment and business conference held in London by the Nigerian London Business Forum, UK (NILOBF), is coming on the heels of a hugely successful Greater London Business Conference on Nigeria held in September last year.
NILOBF is the official business chamber and trade association, comprising Nigerian, British and non-British companies doing business with Nigeria and UK, including subsidiaries of Nigerian companies and institutions doing business in the UK. Investors, trading partners from around the world who are desirous of meeting Nigerian business leaders in London with a view to doing business in Nigeria forms a large chunk of the conference participants.
The NILOBF’s key objective is promoting and attracting bilateral trade and investment relations between the two countries by bringing together business people from Nigeria and the UK, who seeks new investment opportunities, develop long-term business relationships and finalise existing business deals.
Running with the epithet ‘Meet in London, do business in Nigeria’, the event seeks to provide the platform for serious networking with potential Nigerian, British, and global business partners and investors.
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), Prof. Chris Onalo, “organisations that oil the wheels of the economy in areas of commerce and industry, trade and investment, such as export credit guarantee agencies, major project funders and loan providers, high-profile agencies responsible for growing and connecting businesses to top commercial opportunities are among the prime business entities NILOBF is bringing together for the July 29 event.”

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.

A cheery development, which would be explored at the conference, is the promise by the Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) to work together to attract more investments into Nigeria. This was made known recently during a send-forth luncheon organised by NBCC in honour of the outgoing Director of UK Trade and Investment  (UKTI), Mr. Mike Purves in Lagos.
President of NBCC, Adeyemi Adefulu, said the relationship between NBCC and UKTl had evolved, adding that the two bodies were committed to attracting more British companies into Nigeria. He noted that Nigeria has image problem and that Purves, through UKTI, had worked with the chamber in promoting business opportunities in Nigeria by encouraging UK companies to look beyond the challenges in the country.
Purves described Nigeria as one of the best destinations for business with its position as the biggest economy in Africa. He said Nigeria’s major resources are not oil and gas but its human resource and diversity.
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.

Ona 2

Prof. Chris Onalo

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 was the kernel of discourse at the Greater London Business Conference on Nigeria last year, the epic event that was put together by the prestigious Nigerian London Business Forum in UK.
With the theme ‘Nigeria in the MINT’, the conference 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.
Onalo, the renowned professor of credit management in his presentation at the conference, 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.
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, conscious, stimulating and industrious effort was made by the Late Peter Carter, British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria in a meeting which was co-ordinated by the Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF) at the British Residence in Kaduna (Lord Lugard’s House) in 2014 to re-lunch bilateral relations between the British High Commission in Nigeria and the chambers of commerce of both Kaduna and Kano states.
The incidence of Visa Denial of members of the chambers of commerce of both states by the British High Commission and to avert a possible reoccurrence in the future was a critical part of the agenda of that meeting. He expressed regret at the experience of those members of the Chambers of Commerce (from both Kaduna and Kano States), who were denied visa to attend the last Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF) trade and investment conference in London, United Kingdom, and apologized on behalf of the British government.