The Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprises and Investment Council, Jonathan Marland, in this interview commended efforts by the federal government to improve the quality of infrastructure in the country. Obinna Chima brings the excerpts:
What is the purpose of your visit to Nigeria?
I am here in Nigeria to continue our efforts to promote trade within the Commonwealth, working with about 20 Nigerian partners – some of the top businesses here and some of the states in Nigeria. We are planning the next Commonwealth Business Forum, which will take place in Rwanda and so we are looking at how we can involve Nigeria in the forum and make available networking opportunities. We are also looking at how we can help the Nigerian government and how we can develop some of the projects they are engaged in with a view to boosting investments in Nigeria.
What sectors of the economy are you looking at?
We are looking beyond oil and gas. Yes, we have members who are into oil and gas, but we are helping the Nigerian economy to diversify into other areas. We are also developing and working with Nigerian banks, medium-sized enterprises in helping them to develop a trade network.
Is the CWEIC bringing in investment and what exactly are you looking at?
There are a lot of schemes that we would like to work with, particularly in the construction area, and if there are investment opportunities, we would work with them.
Nigeria is a very big country and has a big economy, which is attractive. The CWEIC creates enterprise, investment opportunities and brings people together in a giant global network. The Commonwealth is the third of the world’s population and within it are Nigeria and other countries. So, if you could bring them together, then you have an incredibly powerful trading group, particularly if the common theme is English – which means that you do not need to translate. We have people working and have invested heavily in Nigeria and so this means that we have a common bond through the language (English) which includes 53 other countries.
Beyond talks with member partners, do you have any discussion with the Nigerian government to support infrastructure development?
We discussed with the Nigerian government and we are open to dialogue with the Akwa Ibom State and Lagos State governments and we look forward to many more joining our membership. We are hoping to have discussions with other state governments. I think one of the interesting things is how we as a network can encourage the government to continue to adopt a positive approach to business.
Nigeria is looking for investors. What has to be done to attract more investments?
Part of what we do is to allow the governments to showcase what is going on in their countries and so we will continue to encourage the Nigerian government as well as the state governments to start using investment opportunity programmes, which they can offer to international investors. You have got the airport and roads here in Lagos and these are obviously down to development plans.
It is encouraging that the Nigerian government is investing in infrastructure projects. The potential is huge. I was talking with an investor recently, with a huge project in Abuja worth $3.5bn and he is looking for investors. What we do not do is bring investors. We are not a bank or a finance house but what we do is bring people together who might do it and allow them to work. We are a network organisation plugging into a very big network organisation. We bring potential investors together across the globe.
In your assessment of Nigeria’s business environment, what would you tell investors about the country?
The opportunities in Nigeria are huge and 10 years from now, the country will have a bigger population than the United States of America. There are many natural entrepreneurs in Nigeria. So there is the basis for Nigeria becoming this extraordinary partner but it will require infrastructure, which the current government is embarking upon. It needs much more effective business practices, and when you have that, you have greater investment; people are worried about corruption and the employment of the rule of law. Every investor wants to know if their investment will be secured; they want to know if they get into any dispute how the rule of law is enforced. There is fundamental rule of law in Nigeria that underlines the business practice. I see Nigeria starting to do all that, which is a good thing.
You would be going to another West African nation, Ghana; what would the CWEIC be doing there?
It is actually my first trip to Ghana and I would be holding talks with the President of Ghana, the trade and commerce groups and individual companies as well as the minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Certainly, it is a mixture of business and politics.
Are you seeking to set up an office in Ghana as well?
It is my first visit and obviously we will like to have offices in every commonwealth country but we can only do what we can manage. What we can do in Nigeria is to manage an office here and we have got nearly 20 members; that might increase. We have a separate board here and a group of people who are operating together. Nigeria is probably our strongest foothold in the Commonwealth.
Which countries, in your view, are interested in investing in Nigeria?
India, the United Kingdom and Singapore are some of the countries that want to invest because Nigeria is a growing population with abundant opportunities, and the country is improving on its infrastructure. Therefore, most Commonwealth countries are much interested in investing.
Nigeria is interested in developing its agricultural sector. Do you see investment opportunities there?
We have not been approached by the Nigerian government to discuss how we can develop an agricultural programme. This is the sort of thing we do for our members and if they wish to talk about that, they know we are very happy to engage the government and state governments but they have to sort of come to the party.
Have your targets or objectives for 2019 been met? What is the CWEIC seeking to achieve in 2020?
I would say if you are dealing with 53 countries, you would have some targets met and some not met. But on the whole, we are a much organised association and we have been going on for five years and so our network is increasing alongside our membership.
We have met our targets but we have not been able to make enough traction with the Nigerian government as we would have liked to develop several programmes. Next year, we will have our African conference in January. We will then move to Saudi Arabia in March and then head to the India summit in the springtime, hopefully. We will be in Rwanda in June and keep moving around.
Can you talk about your partnership with Nigerian banks?
We work with Zenith Bank. We do not have any other banks per se as members and we have a very good relationship with the city of London as our strategic partner and other major banks in the UK. Every country needs more banks because access to finance is very important for the economy of any country, no matter how small or large their population might be.
What kind of reforms will you advise the present administration to look into in order to drive investment?
I think that the anti-corruption programmes that the President embarked upon on assuming office is exactly the right thing to do. Investors who want to invest in a country like to see transparency. If there is less transparency, it will lead to less clarity and then you would have less confidence.
Investment opportunities in Nigeria are limitless but the key thing Nigeria has to have is a clear message of what the opportunities are and what sort of environment would work for investment and rules of engagement. I think that is key for any country seeking investments.