Tuesday 13 Nov 2018 | 17:39 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 13 Nov 2018 | 17:39 | SYDNEY

Nigeria as a nation of influence

Jankara market in Lagos, Nigeria (Photo: Frédéric Soltan/Getty)

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11 January 2018 10:45

The strength of Nigeria in global economy is in no doubt, acknowledged in Australia's recent Foreign Policy White Paper as an 'emerging power', part of a select group of countries with 'growing weight in international affairs'. As one of world's leading oil-producing countries (Africa's largest, and sixth overall), Nigeria has a towering might that no other nation in the continent enjoys. Apart from oil, Nigeria has a solid mineral sector with numerous resources spread across the country remaining largely untapped. Nigeria is truly rich.

With over 180 million people and still growing rapidly, Africa's most-populous nation has an advantage in varied spheres of human resources. Nigeria's democracy has been stable, at least, for the last 18 years, and the investment environment is assured.

This optimism might be a surprise for many outsiders that are quick to dismiss Africa's potential. Yet a few months ago, Nigeria endorsed a contract for its largest electricity project, a 3050 megawatts hydropower initiative valued at US $5.8 billion. It is partnering with China and will be completed in 2023, with the goal to provide almost half the country sufficient energy. Nigeria's population, after 57 years of independence, is still grossly under-covered with electricity.

There are also opportunities in agriculture – cereal cultivation is encouraged as the government makes efforts to further diversify the economy away from total reliance on oil. As such, it introduced a multi-billion dollar scheme called Anchor Borrowers' Program in 2016 to bolster agriculture. It will assist small-scale farmers to improve their production capacity.

Rail transportation is another area of opportunity, to ease the pressure of the highways that have been failing over the years. Abuja, the federal capital city and Kaduna, a major northern city, is already linked with a 186 kilometre rail line constructed for $1.1 billion. Lagos, its commercial hub and Ibadan, 150 kilometres away, are to be connected with a $1.5 billion rail project.

In all, Nigeria has improved considerably for investors. According to the World Bank, Nigeria has risen 24 places in the past year on the 'ease of doing business' index, from 169th to 145th. While clearly more needs to be done, according the report, the country is among top 10 nations that improved with reforms.

If there is a sector that enjoyed astronomical boom in the last decade, it is telecommunications. There are more than 150 million subscribers across service providers, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission – mobile phones alone accounted for more than 140 million owners in November. Foreign and local investors took the opportunity and are thriving.

According to figures from the country's telecommunications regulator, mobile phones subscribers spent about $6.6 billion in 2016. In 2015, they spent $5.6 billion. And the sector is still growing.

As a developing country, Nigeria has its share of inconsistent political history. But since 1999, democratic rule had been steady with successive changes of governments. In 2015, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) that had been in government for 16 years was defeated in national elections. The All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator-turned democrat, was ushered in as President.

Buhari revived what had been a lacklustre anti-corruption campaign, begun with the administration of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and revealed lots to cash lining private pockets. A former National Security Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan is being prosecuted for misappropriating $2.9 billion, intended to procure military hardware in its fight against Boko Haram, the insurgent group based in the northeast of the country. Patience, Jonathan's wife, is under investigation by the country's anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission about the source of establishing a three-star hotel in a choice location in the nation's capital city. Even at that, Jonathan had complained about his wife being harassed by government agents.

However, Buhari is unrelenting. He has a reputation for uprightness and persistence, the reason why he was elected by the All Progressives Congress to be its presidential candidate. He has introduced a whistleblowers policy, rewarding citizens that report illegally acquired wealth with 5% of the total sum recovered for any person that revealed it.

Though corruption has been a bane of Nigeria's development, and cautious investors still seek authentic business advice before embarking on any contract, the improvement is plain. Corrupt practices are being blocked, foreign investment is growing and the West African nation is the hub of Africa's business. Nigeria's emerging power will indeed continue to shape the region.

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