As the vote on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement looms, parliament is at an impasse.
The likelihood of a no-deal Brexit is increasing – in Germany, it is now seen as the most probable outcome, while in France, a “hard Brexit” contingency plan has been triggered.
Deal or no deal, however, Brexit gives the UK the chance to explore what the economist Roger Bootle has called the “Commonwealth advantage”.
A closer relationship with the other 52 Commonwealth members would transform the UK into a truly global player. By redoubling its efforts to reopen trade channels with these nations, Britain can take full advantage of Brexit.
One need look no further than Nigeria to find a reformed country ready and willing to do business with the UK. This was a finding of the Nigerians in the Square Mile (NISM), an association of Nigerian professionals working in London’s financial district, who for almost 10 years have been exploring the British-Nigerian relationship.
Working in 2014 with what was then the Department of Trade and Industry, NISM led a trade mission to Lagos and concluded that there are considerable opportunities there for the UK, as well as the appetite for a closer partnership.
There are obstacles, of course. The lopsided nature of the historical relationship between the UK and Nigeria has opened the door to competition, from China, France and Germany, among others.
And outdated, preconceived ideas still prevail. Those who have already deployed capital in Nigeria have found it about as “scary” as South Africa, Poland or India, but preconceptions have nevertheless been enough to deter some would-be investors.
Slowly but surely, these obstacles are disappearing. Nigeria has dedicated itself to changing the narrative and making the country an easy place in which to do business. The Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission has done outstanding work promoting and facilitating investment – by 2017, Nigeria had climbed 24 places in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking.
That same year, following a period of reform, the Nigerian Stock Exchange was rated the third best-performing exchange in the world, with returns around double those of the S&P 500.
More recently, NISM and a team of leading Nigerian lawyers published the Legal Guide to Investing in Nigeria, so that those looking to profit from the opportunities in energy, fintech, or healthcare can navigate the uncharted waters of the country’s investment environment.
It goes without saying that there have been corrupt Nigerian administrations in the past. But Nigeria is re-emerging as a powerful trading force not only in oil and gas, but in a multitude of areas.
The creative sector is particularly exciting – “Nollywood”, Nigeria’s multibillion-dollar film industry, is believed to be the largest in Africa in terms of value and volume, and the second-largest globally in terms of volume. This represents a huge opportunity for foreign capital, as well as foreign expertise.
Nigeria’s development in recent years is plain to see in the renewed attention paid to the country from abroad. The World Bank announced in 2017 that Nigeria was one of the world’s 10 most improved economies – something achieved against overwhelming odds.
And the recent visits by world leaders including Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and Theresa May show that Europe is beginning to take Nigeria seriously once again. Despite the political uncertainty surrounding the national elections next month, Standard Chartered Bank predicts growth of around three per cent nationwide, irrespective of the winner.
What’s certain is that whatever happens in the coming months, the UK will find in Nigeria opportunity, optimism, and a willing partner looking to the future. Nigeria is ready for Brexit – and open for business.