There is a good reason for British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Nigeria this week. Many smart people are betting on our new government to kick-start an era of success – marked by economic growth, improved governance and poverty reduction. The opportunities in Nigeria are further highlighted by the large number of companies that will be represented in the delegation.
Potential investment partnerships are very welcome – but it should be of a different nature to that which has gone before. Too often foreign investment in Nigeria has crowded in on natural resources, a tactic which has yielded strong economic growth but has not filtered down to the vast majority of Nigerians. Nigeria offers opportunities beyond oil and we are ready for sincere partnerships that offer mutual benefit in a manner that allows our country to prosper.
A more inclusive economic growth which gives ordinary Nigerians job opportunities and spreads wealth more evenly should be a key priority of our government. Cameron’s visit presents a golden opportunity to articulate this renewed focus and begin the process of reaching this goal.
Transparency and accountability will also be key themes of the visit. The North African revolutions have emboldened citizens across the continent to be more vocal in their demands for a results focused and responsive government, focused on citizens not just the elites. The Nigerian government can respond to this by building a social compact that fosters a two-way relationship between citizen and state. There should be an expectation that the government vastly improves their service delivery obligations, and in turn citizens pay their taxes with the confidence of the knowledge the money will not be wasted.
Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who visited last week, can be allies of this accountability process, with actions as well as words. My fellow Nigerians, we must ask these foreign leaders where they stand on several issues that complement our demands from our own government. For example there is a proposed European law to force all oil, gas and mining companies to publish their payments to the governments of the countries where they operate. This will empower people with critical information and help ensure that as we demand transparency from our own government, those that invest in Nigeria are operating along similar standards. Responsible companies have nothing to hide by shining a light on their books. Stakeholder groups such as the Petroleum & Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) strongly support the idea, saying that transparency in extractives can create the right incentives for people-centred investment in the Niger Delta and give their members the tools they need to fight corruption. The World Bank estimated in 2009 that corruption has cost Nigeria $300 billion – transparency can be the first step towards ending that scandal.
Foreign investment in a broader range of sectors will not happen, however, without the necessary improvements in our infrastructure that can facilitate the process. This is where smartly spent aid can be targeted to in a way that seeks to put itself out of business in the long-term. By focusing on economic transformation German and British assistance can play a role in helping Nigeria transition to middle-income status. It is also essential that their assistance is deployed in a way which promotes transparency and accountable governance – in partnership with the new administration of the Goodluck Jonathan government.
Of course to take best advantage of new investment streams Nigeria needs a healthy and productive workforce. That is not compatible with continuing polio cases, only 21% of children being fully vaccinated, and 3.5 million HIV positive people. In these areas smart aid spent through mechanisms such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has over $800 million in approved funding for Nigeria, should be encouraged. The Global Fund are already supporting 340,000 people with antiretroviral therapy and have distributed 19 million bed nets. Leaders like Cameron and Merkel are under pressure at home to cut their aid budgets as European economies stutter, but by holding the line on these smart investments in social sectors, that will ensure a that our country is prepared to be a viable investment destination, and that millions of Nigerians who are most in need get some extra help. They deserve credit for that.
In short, these visits need to be about partnership and mutual accountability. The Nigerian government needs to show it is up to the challenge of spending resources wisely wherever they come from. Infrastructure, especially power, health and education facilities, and agricultural reforms are urgently needed. Germany and the UK need to show they are willing to force oil companies to be more transparent in their operations and promote investment in a wide range of sectors to help ordinary Nigerians get jobs. It is up to all of us Nigerian citizens to make sure that this happens.