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.

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.”