Interview : Patricia Scotland

How could trade and investment in Nigeria benefit from Commonwealth ties?

PATRICIA SCOTLAND: Profound changes are taking place in the global trade landscape, including in the technology and governance frameworks that underpin contemporary trade in goods and services. This dynamic environment presents challenges, but also enormous opportunities to expand and deepen trade, investment and innovation among the 53 Commonwealth members.

With a population of over 180m and more than three-fifths of ECOWAS trade, Nigeria is one of the region’s better performing economies. In nominal terms, Nigeria’s total trade has increased from $21bn in 1999 to a peak of $190bn in 2011, reducing thereafter to $135bn in 2013 and $99bn in 2015. This shows an annual average growth of nearly 15% in total trade since 2004. Nigeria has consistently sought to improve market access to strengthen trade relations with different regions and countries over the last two and half decades. However, trade remains limited both in terms of products and destination markets.

Businesses can benefit from strengthened trade relations between Nigeria and other Commonwealth countries. English is the major language spoken across the Commonwealth and there are similar business rules and legal practices. We can deepen intra-Commonwealth trade and investment – using these opportunities to empower women and young entrepreneurs – in turn driving economic growth, creating jobs and increasing prosperity. We hope this will help us reach the goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

What are the main obstacles Nigeria faces in pursuing inclusive and sustainable growth?

SCOTLAND: Growth is said to be inclusive when marginalised or vulnerable communities are able to participate in economic activities that improve their income and enhance their quality of life. In line with the principles of various trade agreements, Nigeria is gradually dismantling barriers to trade and working to broaden access to international markets.

There are, however, a number of challenges facing the economy which impact the progress towards inclusive growth. For example, micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises struggle to find funding. There are also some infrastructural deficiencies, such as inadequate electricity supply, transport systems and logistics.

What are the main areas of collaboration between Nigeria and the Commonwealth Secretariat?

SCOTLAND: There are interesting possibilities for the Commonwealth Secretariat to work more closely alongside Nigeria on the issue of diaspora finance. We could initiate a project that builds on the results of our recently completed diaspora investment survey. Nigeria was one of six Commonwealth countries that participated in the survey, which focused on diaspora communities in the UK and examined their savings and investments in their countries of origin.

Our results show that there appears to be considerable interest in saving and investing in Nigeria. Over half of diaspora members expressed an interest in setting up a business, while two in five said that they would be interested in investing in Nigeria’s stock market. In qualitative discussions, interest in entrepreneurship was widespread, and many noted the wealth of opportunities that Nigeria has to offer potential investors. However, those who did not have savings or investments in Nigeria were much more likely to say that they were unsure about their investment preferences. This suggests that there are real opportunities to raise awareness about the potential for investment in the country among the Nigerian diaspora.

With regards to trade, while we have achieved the “Commonwealth Advantage” in the absence of formally coordinated actions, we can posit that where efforts are coordinated among member countries, there is huge potential for closer and improved collaboration.