Can you provide us with a short introduction to the history of the NBCC?
The NBCC is the premier bilateral chamber of commerce in the country, especially considering the heritage and history of British and Nigerian relations. It was started 40 years ago by Nigerian and British entrepreneurs with the main objective of deepening trade relations between Nigeria and the UK. Over the years it has catered to the needs of foreign investors from the UK into Nigeria, by providing Nigerian partners and entry strategies through various platforms and structures. We have a council that contains some of the most distinguished entrepreneurs in the country. We have a corporate membership of over 300, and half of those are in the SME category. There is the Premium category, which is comprised of the big boys, the Corporate Plus, and then the Corporate. The Premium category includes companies such as Diageo, Unilever, Standard Chartered Bank, and six of the biggest banks in Nigeria. The chamber functions on activities and programs that add value to its membership. We do monthly breakfast meetings and sponsored events and we organize several trips a year to the UK, where we meet with various chambers of commerce to build trade ties.
In which sectors are British investors more involved in Nigeria?
The traditional area of investment for the British in Nigeria is of course in the oil and gas sector with a substantial number of investors focused on oil and gas support and technology. Shell is the most important player in that field. Then of course there are the likes of Diageo, with its investment across the country, the second biggest market in the world for Guinness after Ireland. Also, world-class manufacturing companies are here such as Unilever. The British government is now working in partnership with us to bring more British SME companies into Nigeria. They are the ones that need support when entering new markets and are less cushioned against the risks of emerging markets.
The oil and gas sector is enduring tough times. Have you seen a decrease in interest from British companies due to low oil prices?
Oil prices naturally fluctuate and the oil and gas players know this and think of the long term. Drilling and business go on despite these cycles. The drops will eventually rise, and it hasn't affected British appetite for Nigerian business.
You want to spread the concept of reverse FDI in Nigeria. Can you elaborate on this?
Our economy has started to mature and it is time to direct our investment across the globe. We have some of the richest Africans on the Fortune 500 list, and they are investing all over the world. There are over 100 multimillionaires who are major international players in various fields. What we want to do is promote global investments on the part of Nigerian investors and companies, because ultimately we believe that it's the depth of your global investment portfolio that attracts other investors who want to partner and work with those kinds of international companies. Nigerian firms that are investing overseas are ultimately investing in their own country's future and attracting more FDI and foreign partners to Nigeria itself. India is a great example. Tata has made its brand a global brand, to the point of purchasing iconic British brands like Jaguar and Land Rover, and it is a net exporter of cars in India and has brought those technologies to serve its country's interests as well as their own. The Lebanese have done the same for Lebanon, remittances going into their economy and being invested in their economy. If a country needs technology transfer, its owners of capital have to have an appetite in investing in strategic industries overseas, where they can then leverage them and bring those technologies back home. The total remittance of Nigerians in the diaspora last year was $20.1 billion. It is time that we leveraged our power and worked with our big investors and businessmen to use those funds to invest in the required technology overseas and bring that technology, investment, and know-how to bear locally and invest it into critical infrastructure. Obstacles and challenges are there, like corruption, which discourages investment. But we have to deal with this and overcome it for our country's future.
How has trade evolved between Nigerian and the UK?
Trade was worth GBP4 billion per annum back in 2010. By the time I was president of the chamber in 2015, it stood at GBP7 billion. By 2020, we expect it to reach GBP15-20 billion. The UK government has unveiled a huge campaign to get its SMEs to deepen their interaction with Nigeria beyond oil and gas.
What would you say are the main challenges that British investors face in coming to Nigeria?
There is a negative perception of Nigeria. Due to high-level cases that appear in the press, the average British businessman perceives the Nigerian businessman as a fraudster, which is unfortunate because the overwhelming majority of Nigerian business people are hard working, honest, and industrious. The NBCC is establishing a Nigerian Business and Investment Center in London this year, so people considering investing in Nigeria can go there and start getting acquainted with Nigeria. After all, it's a bit of a culture shock for an investor to go to Nigeria. You need to get acquainted with the country, learn the culture, the standards, how to do business, and interact with people here. We hope the center will be open in June. The office there is at the service of all our members.
What are your expectations for 2016?
In 2016, we are dividing our membership into six sectors so we can give every member the opportunity to engage with people in their respective sectors. There is: an oil and gas trade group; a professional service group with lawyers, accountants, and architects; an export club, for everyone from farmers to banks exporting from Nigeria; and a construction and real estate group. Between now and June or July next year we'll have divided the chamber into six divisions, which give more specialized services unique to those sectors, and that will give added value and depth to the services we offer our members.