The two biggest foreign investors in the Nigerian economy, as at the turn of democracy in 1999, were Econet and MTN. While MTN came in May 2001, Econet, which has gone through phases of changes to become Vmobile, berthed in August of the same year. The two companies did not need President Olusegun Obasanjo, or officials of his government, to visit South Africa to lure them with stories about opportunities that existed in Nigeria then. Rather, the leadership of the two companies took advantage of the policy of the Nigerian government which liberalised telecommunications. They saw the opportunities inherent in the policy and rushed down to Nigeria.

I guess that is one of the things that every investor looks out for before deciding to invest or take their businesses to a new destination. However, that trend has changed. What now seems to be the norm is for government officials, federal and state, to embark on countless foreign trips, often, with a horde of aides and family members, to go hunt for foreign investors like they are game in a forest. No one reviews the cost implication of such trips and their beneficial outcomes to both the country and individual states. And, I often wonder what government officials, federal and state, tell business communities in the countries that they go to that such people do not already know about Nigeria.

Get my drift! Nigeria has representatives, embassies or high commissions, in almost every country that its officials travel to for investment drive. It also has trained officials from various federal ministries attached to those embassies and high commissions who can market opportunities in Nigeria. There are trained personnel representing Nigeria in most global trade blocs and organisations. Besides, the countries that our rulers run to, in the hunt for investors, also have trade representatives in Nigeria. Most of them have embassies and high commissions that conduct due diligence on the environment for doing business in Nigeria and send these as feedback to their countries.

Further, the story about Nigeria’s development, and underdevelopment, is told every day by the Nigerian media which is also available to the global community through the internet. I suppose that foreign embassies and high commissions in Nigeria also dissect daily news reports and developments in Nigeria and use those to make postulations or projections about the country’s economy and politics. For instance, the March edition of the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) Outlook on Nigeria is available to the global audience. The outlook contains analytical comments that suggest political instability in Nigeria and possible disturbances at The Villa. For emphasis, the EIU Political and Economic Outlook on Nigeria for March 2024 states, among other postulations, that: “Bola Tinubu, the leader of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, won the February 2023 presidential election with only 36.6% of the vote. His bold economic reform agenda has directly increased hardship across society. There is an outside chance of Mr. Tinubu not surviving a full term.”

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It also stated that: “Insecurity is chronic in many areas, with the security forces too overstretched to counter multiple crises effectively. High inflation, low economic growth and unpopular market reforms present substantial political stability risks. Labour unions are likely to be active, with a high risk of industrial action that affects the economy… Economic growth will slow in 2024 as a new bout of inflationary pressure, a large currency devaluation and monetary tightening lead to a contraction in domestic demand.”

Though the EIU Outlook also made some analytical remarks that sound pleasant to the Nigerian ear, its postulations, as captured above, would worry any ethical investor who seeks a return on investment that is ethically implemented. This is what makes one wonder what Nigerian government officials tell investors overseas as a guarantee that their investments in Nigeria will not suffer the effect of policy irregularity or failure. I am wired to think, and argue, that an investor looks forward to much more than a personal guarantee of the governor or the president in making up his mind to invest in an economy. MTN and Econet were not looking at Obasanjo when they decided to come to Nigeria. They reviewed the deregulation policy and saw the seriousness of the government to sustain the policy and took advantage.

It is, therefore, immaterial to an investor who the president of a country or the governor of a state is. His personality is also immaterial to the fact that the investor looks forward to a business environment that contains all the essential ingredients that make his investment secure and safe. These include political stability which minimizes the risks that is associated with political unrest, changes in government, or policy uncertainty; positive economic indicators such as GDP growth rate, inflation rate, unemployment rate, and exchange rates which enable the investor to assess a country’s economic health and growth potential; as well as the legal and regulatory framework which is transparent and ensures that investments are legally protected. (I guess this is reason majority of the foreign companies prefer France and London to resolve legal disputes that arise from doing business with Nigerians or their governments.)

There are also such factors as market size and potential, which Nigeria has and which investors need to determine the profitability of their investments. Then, there is the issue of infrastructure such as transportation, communication, energy, and healthcare facilities which investors also consider because of the impact they have on the investment environment. Investors also do not rule out taxation and incentives because favourable tax policies and incentives help to maximize returns on investment while a healthy educated labour force is an added incentive for the investor.

However, a critical analysis of these factors would place Nigeria on the negative because apart from holding elections every four years, every other indicator for investment drive is absent. This means that such risks as currency exchange risk, political risks, economic risks, and security risks work against Nigeria. So, what exactly does a president or governor market to investors out there when they pay lip service to finding lasting solutions to these investment indicators? This is the reason many nationals argue, and believe that such investment-hunting visits abroad are opportunities to export looted Nigerian wealth for overseas banking. Critically analysed, Nigerians make investments in foreign economies regularly –buying houses, setting up small businesses, investments in education and health and much more, but no one ever gets to see leaders of those countries junketing into Abuja or Lagos to urge Nigerians to invest in their countries. What has worked for them, and very well too, is the positive perception that they have gotten a whole lot of things right though the reality may be different.

That is the point to ponder before jetting out to hunt for investors.