GETTING IT DONE

Nigeria 2017 | EXECUTIVE GUIDE | REVIEW: DOING BUSINESS

Recently touted by Goldman Sachs as one of “The Next Eleven” economies that would dominate the 21st Century, Nigeria is no sleeper case when it comes to emerging economic powerhouses.

With a dynamic, educated, and booming population, Nigeria's cultural capital of Lagos is predicted to be the world's largest city by 2100. Though the country has leaned heavily on oil revenues in the past half century, that too is changing: diversification into real estate, financial services, film, and telecommunications have all begun to ensure the economy not only weans itself off black gold, but hones itself to become Africa's leader in many crucial sectors.

To be sure, the country has also suffered from chronic economic mismanagement, political violence, and a critical vulnerability to fluctuating commodities prices: While the collapse in oil prices in the past 1.5 years has severely harmed the country's finances, the continued war against Boko Haram in much of the north has tarnished the country's long-term image with the brush of geopolitical instability. That being said, these negative trends mask other, less headline-grabbing developments over the past two decades: an explosive banking sector (of which 10 Nigerian banks made the FT's 1,000 best banks index) and a sizeable expansion in construction, engineering, mining, agriculture, manufacturing, retail, and hospitality.

Yet as Africa's largest economy grinds into the 21st Century, it remains hampered by the usual suspects that too often hang on the coattails of young, bulging, and dynamic economies: high inflation, currency volatility, an erratic power supply, poor infrastructure, shortages in foreign exchange, exorbitant capital costs, corruption, red tape, high rent, and unpredictable and often excessive regulations. While none of these are unique to Nigeria—and many remain outside policy makers' specific arsenal of policy tools—many are clearly within the government's remit and will have to be met head on if the country is to take its rightful place in the sun.
What makes Nigeria exciting within the African and global contexts is not only its size (182 million inhabitants today, by far and away the continent's largest population and expected to reach 244 million by 2050, when it will be the world's sixth most populous country), but its unique cultural, political, religious, ethnic, and family dynamics, which place it at the forefront of the world's most pressing future trends.

Roughly equally divided between the world's two largest (and fastest growing) religions, a booming cultural industry, the most dynamic country in the world's fastest growing continent, and being anglophone, Nigeria is more than a thermometer for the African continent: It is a portent of the latter half of the century to come. Soon it will no longer suffice to say that those who can make it in Nigeria can make it anywhere; whoever can crack it there can hack it anywhere.

What must companies do before entering the Nigerian market? A great deal, to be sure. Apart from the usual suspects of due diligence, appropriate market research, and finding suitable in-country partners, companies must beware of the myriad internal challenges awaiting them. Apart from meeting often-strenuous government regulations (for which hefty fines await those who fail to comply), Nigeria's poor energy infrastructure can often drive up costs. Given that the country produces less electricity than an Irish city consumes, nearly everyone is dependent upon diesel generators, which work their way into the cost structure of any business undertaking.

Non-Nigerians also require the consent of the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs to do business in the country. If they wish to employ expatriates, they must prove why no suitable Nigerian candidates were available, and for every expatriate, two nationals must be hired. Difficulties are also common in registering property, obtaining the necessary construction permits, and trading across borders. Where Nigeria does rank high in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business categories is protecting minority investors and access to credit.

For those willing to take the risks and make the plunge, the country offers rich rewards. Many major South African firms are already heavily invested in Nigeria and witnessing higher returns than in their home market. As Nigeria is set to grow by more than 50 million in the next three decades alone, whoever is there to put roofs over their heads and cellphones in their pockets stands to handsomely gain in the process.