Liberty University Event Themed – Equity For Africa: Transforming The World Through Judeo-Christian Values

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Thank you for inviting me to address this forum today, and the Liberty University School of Business deserves to be commended for providing this platform that brings Christian leaders in business and government together for conversations on bringing Judeo Christian principles to the market place and governance and specifically highlighting business opportunities and encouraging investment in Africa.

I also thank you for this specific opportunity to see how business opportunities and investments can be made in Africa and in my case, in Nigeria in particular.

First, I would like to say also the theme, Equity for Africa: Transforming the World through Judeo-Christian Values, is insightful for two broader reasons; the first is that there’s a need to apply Christian values in domestic policy and sovereign actions at the international level and at the domestic level.

The second is that these values; values of integrity, respect for obligations founded on the principle of “let your yes be yes, and your no, be no,” fairness to all, the principle of doing unto others as one would have done it unto oneself, social justice for all because what we do for the least of these, we do not just for man, but for God. The upholding of human rights, because all men are created in His image and as scripture says, there’s neither Jew nor Greek in His sight.  I think the fidelity to these values by nations in local and multilateral dealings either intentionally, or inadvertently, is responsible for much of the economic progress and peaceful coexistence that has characterized, socio-economic success, especially since the second world war. And my view is that departure from these principles has predictably led to inequity, growing inequality between countries, and of course, conflicts.

The second point I would like to make is that in order for Africa to actualize her potential, she must work with friends, especially those of faith, to identify strategic opportunities, to bring about growth and prosperity in the continent.

I would just like to look very quickly at some of the ways in which Nigeria in particular, may be an interesting destination for investors.

First, I would like to say that I found in the Good News Bible, an interesting rendition of that scripture in Eccl 11:1 which says that “cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” And the rendition in the Good News Bible actually says, “invest your money in foreign trade. And one of these days you will make a profit.”

I think that rendition is particularly apt for those of us who are urging you to invest in Africa and in particular, in Nigeria, which as you know is the largest economy and the most populous country in Africa.

Ours is a stable and functioning democracy with well over 200 million people, who are very resilient and hardworking and a very versatile youth population.

What the government is trying to do in particular, is to provide infrastructure and the right business environment for the private sector to thrive. This is why we have paid particular attention to promoting investments in power, rail networks, roads, broadband, as well as air and seaports. Particularly our broadband connectivity for all project by 2023 is one that we think is very important from the point of view of technology and all of its implications.

There is also the completion of rail links between commercial centers, and further links to our landlocked Northern trading partners in Nigeria. What we have tried to do with our rail links is to ensure that we are linking from the ports of Lagos out into the hinterland to the North of Nigeria, and to several other parts of the South. We are also looking at rail links to the landlocked Niger Republic and several countries; our Northern neighbors who do a lot of business with Nigeria at the moment, but because they are landlocked, they would have to go through other seaports. The rail link will provide a very interesting prospect for further developing trade.

We have a Presidential Business Environment Council, which has been coordinating efforts to make it easier to do business in Nigeria. Through systemic changes, we have been making it easier to register businesses, obtain construction permits, get credit, pay taxes, get electricity, and travel in and out of Nigeria.

Prior to COVID-19, we were making very steady progress moving up, especially in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings. We moved up 39 places between 2017 and 2020 and we are quite focused on improving the business environment because we realize that there are several attractive destinations for investments and so we try to ensure that we are “first amongst the most beautiful brides” that investors may have.

All these efforts complement our vibrant legal system and commercial ethos, which encourages innovations, protects property rights, and incentivizes investments.

Our banks, Nigerian banks, have a very wide reach domestically and across the African continent. As a matter of fact, about two of our banks have bought into banks in South Africa, Zambia, and Senegal. So Nigerian banks have a really wide reach all across Africa. The services which they offer are now being complemented by FinTech solution providers who are increasing financial inclusion by enabling easier access to credit and making payments smoother and faster.

As a matter of fact, we think that the FinTech space is one that Nigeria and entrepreneurs have done quite well in and there have been some investments by foreign entities, especially quite recently, a Nigerian FinTech company called Paystack was bought into, by the US company called Stripe, for close to about $200 million, which was the value of that investment. We think that there is room for more of these types of collaborative investments and we are looking forward to more.

We also have a compendium, just for those who are interested, of investment incentives in Nigeria, which has just been issued by the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission. These outline the various incentives that are available to all of the business sectors. One of them, the Pioneer Status Programme, gives up to five years of tax holidays in eligible sectors.

Everyone knows that oil is Nigeria’s primary resource and it helped us to build large cities, extensive road networks, bridges, and pipelines, and educate a large number of our citizens, many of whom are now in the diaspora. We are however conscious that it’s a wasting asset, and the world is on the cusp for the transition to less carbon-intensive sources of energy.

We are paying a great deal of attention to further diversifying the Nigerian economy to deepen the contributions of agriculture, manufacturing, mining, technology, and the creative sector also by adding value to our abundant resources and creating jobs for millions of people.

While COVID-19 disrupted economic activity, we were able to (through our Economic Sustainability Plan which was a response to the fallout of COVID-19) do a few things which we thought would be primarily aimed at boosting trade, jobs, saving businesses, health interventions, and trying to find easier credit terms for businesses, payroll supports and targeted interventions in agricultural, housing, public works, and solar power.

One example is our solar power project, which is expected to provide electricity to 5million households. We are doing 5million solar connections in the next 12 months and this means serving 25 million people who are not currently connected to the national grid. What this means is several opportunities for solar equipment manufacturers and they are being encouraged to set up production facilities also in Nigeria. This has been done through concessionary financing and import duty exemptions amongst other incentives.

The project is crucial for us, not only as an investment in renewable energy with all the implications for sustainable development, but it also means jobs for solar installers, maintenance electricians, operators of payment systems, and of course, bringing power to rural areas. We also think that it is a very viable investment opportunity for businesses across the world who are interested in doing business in Nigeria.

We think that investing in Nigeria offers a pathway to partaking in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which will create a market in goods and services for up to 1.3 billion people. It is also a pathway to using the provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act to produce goods that can then be exported to the US under preferential terms.

The opportunities are vast and it’s not surprising that Nigerian business leaders who know the country well and appreciates its economic dynamics are making huge investments in oil and gas, agriculture, food processing, telecoms, and power.

Dangote Group, for example, is building a 650,000 barrel-a-day refinery, which’s the single largest refinery in the world. While the BUA Group has also initiated an investment in a 200,000 barrel a day refinery. In the same vein, Azura Transcorp, which are all local companies and several other power companies, have made large investments in power. Azura for example has a built-in 450-megawatt plant which has been in use now for a few years.

I have already mentioned the FinTech space, Paystack which was recently acquired for about $200 million. Microsoft has set up its African Development Center in Lagos, Facebook has also located its Africa Hub in Lagos, where the Google Developer Space is also located.

A few days ago, we heard that Twitter had gone off to our friendly neighbour – Ghana, so we congratulate Ghana for winning over Twitter. I’m sure there’s more than enough space for Twitter to open other offices in Africa’s largest economy.

Just to mention, I thought it might be important for us, talking around the principles of fairness, especially to people of faith, it’s important to strive to build a fairer world, one which takes into account the interests of the poor, and the marginalized. I think what this may mean is, how the world will not impose unfair burdens on developing countries, especially where global cooperation is required for it.

For example, if you look at what has been happening with COVID-19 and access to vaccines, what we are seeing are export bans and a resort to vaccine nationalism, which makes it extremely difficult for developing countries to access these vaccines.

I think also there are issues that we must address around Energy Just Transition for some of the energy initiatives that we have. Everyone is committed to reducing emissions and there are various targets – by 2030 and by 2050.

One of the very important things that we want to do, especially those of us in developing countries that are gas producing countries, is we think that it may be unfair to defund gas projects as it’s suggested by some of the multilateral institutions because they think that this would accelerate the progress towards zero emissions.

We think that a fair transition from fossil fuels to cleaner fuels or for that matter, to non-fossil fuel-based energy would involve allowing gas projects, especially in countries such as ours, in a phased process that will lead eventually to only renewable energy, but certainly not defunding those projects now without any kind of provision for the future.

Final point is to commend the US administration because they supported the increase in Special Drawing Rights at the IMF, which will give more liquidity to developing countries. We hope that the IMF board will move speedily in this regard. We had been pressing very hard for those Drawing Rights to be granted to developing countries because in the wake of the fallouts of COVID-19, what we experienced were problems with liquidity, but with this initiative, we hope that IMF following up on it, we will have greater access to liquidity.

Just to say again, thank you very much. I hope that I have been able to pack as much as possible into these few minutes.

Thank you very much.