Nigeria Open For Business

Written by Ademola Bamgbose, London.

On 11 April 2018, Hogan Lovells International LLP hosted the High Commissioner of Nigeria to the United Kingdom, Ambassador Adesola Oguntade CFR, CON at its London office. Ambassador Oguntade, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria was accompanied by a delegation including the Minister/Head of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr Ahmed Sule. 

Speaking at the event, which was attended by a group of actual and potential investors in Nigeria, the High Commissioner reiterated President Buhari's invitation to invest as Nigeria is "open for business". He highlighted the opportunities and support available to investors looking to do business in Nigeria. He confirmed that Nigeria has recently moved from economic recession and that the efforts made by President Muhammadu Buhari's regime to diversify the economy have started yielding fruits in both oil and non-oil sectors. 

As evidence, the recent figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) for the last quarter of 2017 revealed that the Nigerian economy experienced improvement in all major sectors, including non-oil sectors like agriculture and infrastructure.  Indeed, a couple of days before the Ambassador's visit to Hogan Lovells for dinner, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele, reported that the country's foreign exchange (FX) reserves had risen to $47.3 billion. The last time the country recorded FX reserves at this level was in July 2013.   Stakeholders have expressed cautious optimism that the positive trajectory for the economy should begin to gain momentum as the multiplier effects of investments in infrastructure, including power, roads and rail, alongside improvements in the business environment begin to manifest.

Citing improvements in Nigeria's ranking in The World Bank's Doing Business Report for 2018, Ambassador Oguntade also noted that investors are now able to come in and do business in Nigeria with more ease and that President Buhari's regime continued to make progress in its determined fight against corruption.  He pointed out that Nigeria recently introduced a visa on arrival regime in order to encourage investors and that the Nigerian High Commission in London was always happy to provide necessary support to investors looking to do business in Nigeria. 

On the legal front, the Ambassador noted that Nigerian courts are increasingly more supportive of arbitration agreements. Only recently, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, while recognising the role of a viable arbitration mechanism in the on-going drive to increase the influx of foreign investment in Nigeria, directed courts not to entertain litigation proceedings brought in breach of arbitration agreements.  Furthermore, the Nigeria Arbitration Bill (which is to replace the 1988 Arbitration Act) was recently passed by the Nigerian Senate on 1 February 2018 and scaled 2nd reading at the Federal House of Representative on 12 April 2018. The proposed arbitration law is closely modelled after the UNCITRAL Model Law and adopts modern arbitration features, including an emergency arbitrator provision and a third party funding provision, thus providing investors with a viable alternative to the courts. 

In closing his speech, Ambassador Oguntade emphasised that in addition to providing an enabling environment for investors, efforts have been made to create and update existing laws to encourage economic growth. In the key oil sector, which has been supported by recent rises in the price of crude oil, Nigeria's Federal House of Representative (the lower house of parliament) following in the footsteps of the Senate (higher house of parliament) passed the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) in January 2018 after a 17 year delay. The PIGB aims to increase transparency and stimulate growth in the country's oil industry.

The evening finished with a lively discussion on the opportunities and challenges facing investors in Nigeria, and the role of Nigeria in Africa and was held in the surroundings of a number of works by leading  Nigerian artists.

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