Making Nigeria a Global Industrial and Economic Giant

Published on 19th July 2023

The number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty is increasing at an alarming rate. The World Poverty Clock for 2023 showed that 71 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty. Let me be clear from the onset: Nigeria should never be a poor country; and Nigerians are tired of being poor. Nigeria must decisively shift from managing poverty to managing wealth.

It is time to make poverty history in Nigeria.

I am sure many of you have watched the popular and award-winning Disney movie: The Lion King. In the movie, the young lion cub, Simba learns to grow up and take over his role as king after his father was murdered by his uncle, Scar. Simba survived countless challenges and traps. He also learns to listen to the wise counsel of Rafiki, which by the way means “friend” in Swahili.

Rafiki inspires Simba and explains that the spirit of his great father lived in him. Simba would eventually grow up to become the lion king that he was destined to become, and he would go on to rule the kingdom and restore its glory.

The film cost $45 million to make, but grossed over $11.6 billion by 2019. In the process, becoming the most successful animated film ever made.

Nigeria, like the cub Simba, has great promise. But the promise is yet to be realized. The day that Nigeria wakes up and becomes a lion king, everything will change for its people; and everything will change for all of Africa.

Along the way, there will be several Rafikis – sincere friends – whose only agenda is to inspire, motivate, and encourage it to be the new king.

For now, Nigeria is developing too slowly and well below its potential. The challenge is that the lion king in-the-making, based on its capacity and potential, must learn how to roar.

The key to unleashing Nigeria’s lion hood is engineering an industrial revolution, the likes of which we have not seen before. It must be deliberate and intentional.

While the share of manufacturing in Nigeria’s GDP has hovered around 7% for decades, the nation has not been able to extricate itself from a comatose industrial manufacturing sector. The performance of the manufacturing sector in the past five years has been poor. Between 2015-2017, the sector declined by -1.5%, -4.3% and -0.2%. This is in sharp contrast to the dynamic and rapid performance of manufacturing in Asian countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia, India, and China.

While the Asian countries focused on export of manufactured products, Nigeria’s approach has been on import substitution. The manufacturing sector of Nigeria represents only 3% of the total revenue from exports, but accounts for 50% of imports in the country. Instead of being forward-looking in expanding the share of manufactured goods in its total export revenue, Nigeria focuses on an unsustainable model of import substitution.

Import substitution, while important, is a very restrictive vision. It is focused primarily on survival, instead of looking to create wealth through greater export markets and value diversification. The result is a manufacturing sector that cannot even develop to reach its full potential nor compete globally. Rather, it is limited to a “survival mode,” and not a “global manufacturing growth mode.”

Nigeria should have a greater ambition for its manufacturing sector, by shifting toward being integrated into and moving up global and regional value chains, in areas of comparative advantage, specialization and competitiveness. A well-developed and policy-enabled manufacturing sector, with export orientation will spur greater innovation, accelerate business and investment-friendly industrial policies to drive export market development and structural transformations of the economy.

Let us take the example of Vietnam, a nation at war for twenty years, from the American War to the Second Indochina War. Despite its challenges, it quickly mimicked successful Asian countries such as South Korea by pushing into relatively complex product categories, and horizontally diversifying through the processing of agricultural products. Its exports in 2020 were very well diversified, with electrical machinery and equipment earning it $153 billion; machinery including computers, $23.9 billion; footwear $23.8 billion; and clothing, and accessories $15.5 billion, among others. In total, Vietnam’s exports in 2020 was a whopping $348 billion. According to a Financial Times report a few days ago, “Vietnam’s export-led growth pulled millions out of poverty in the last 30 years.”

Malaysia achieved vertical diversification from an agricultural base of rubber and palm oil. It invested heavily in high tech sectors such as electronics. In 2020, its biggest exports by value were in electronic integrated circuits, refined petroleum oils, palm oil, vulcanized rubber and accessories, and solar power diodes or semi-conductors.

Its export values in 2020 depended on electrical machinery and equipment, $86.6 billion; mineral fuels including oil, $25.5 billion; machinery, including computers, $20.2 billion; animal, vegetable oils, waxes, $13.5 billion; and rubber and rubber articles, $11.2 billion; among others. In total, Malaysia’s exports in 2020 was valued at $234 billion.

By contrast, Nigeria’s exports in 2020 were dominated by mineral fuels, including oil valued at $29.7 billion, which accounted for 89 percent of the country’s exports. Nigeria’s total export value was a mere $33.5 billion. That is, 1/10th of Vietnam’s. That dollar amount of Nigeria’s exports represents a -3.6% decrease since 2016 and a drop of -37.5% between 2019 and 2020. Interestingly, Nigeria's imports––dominated by machinery, including computers, mineral fuels including oil, vehicles, electrical machinery and equipment, pharmaceuticals, plastics, etc.–––are all what Vietnam and Malaysia are exporting.

And worse, Nigeria imports mineral fuels, which it should be producing as a leading crude oil exporting nation. It exports crude, it imports refined products––a befuddling irony.

Here is another disturbing statistic: in 1990, Malaysia’s exports totaled $32.8 billion, meaning that Nigeria today is where Malaysia was 30 years ago in terms of export revenue performance!

So, what is the take-home message here?

While Nigeria’s export basket has hardly changed, Malaysia and Vietnam have used aggressive horizontal and vertical industrial manufacturing diversification to move from low-value products to high-value market products. The result is seen in the comparative wealth of the three countries. While export value per capita is $7,100 for Malaysia and $3,600 for Vietnam, it is only $160 for Nigeria.

While Malaysia and Vietnam moved to “global manufacturing growth” creating massive wealth and jobs for themselves, Nigeria remains in a “survival” mode, still unable to substitute the imports of its petroleum products, while being one of the largest exporters of crude oil.

African countries, including Nigeria, have had policies, templates and programs for industrialization and expanding industrial manufacturing for decades.

But there is a huge gap between policy ideas and actions.

Today, capacity utilization of factories hovers around 40% compared to a desired 70%. The reality, in view of several challenges facing the industrial manufacturing sector, is that firms are moving to other neighboring countries, where there is greater macroeconomic stability, more supportive enabling environments, and a better ease of doing business.

To be a manufacturer in Nigeria is not an easy venture. You succeed not because of ease of doing business, but by surmounting several constraints that limit industrial manufacturing.

In short, it is not the ease of doing business; it is the pain of doing business.

The major challenge facing the industry in Nigeria is the very high cost and unreliability of supply of electricity. Load shedding and unreliable power have made the cost of manufacturing extremely high and uncompetitive. Most of the manufacturing companies self-provide energy through a reliance on cost-prohibitive generators and diesel and heavy fuel oil. The polluting emissions, make them brown industries, not green industries.

It has been estimated by the IMF that Nigeria loses $29 billion, 5.8% of its annual GDP, due to a lack of energy and unreliable power supplies. Also, that Nigerians spend $14 billion per year on generators and fuel.

The lack of electricity is killing Nigerian industries. Recent surveys by the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria indicate that industries spent N93.1 billion on alternative energy in 2018, and that they lose N10 trillion due to power failure. The fact is, no business can survive in Nigeria without power generators. To put this in revenue perspective, the annual total revenue of the government of Nigeria last year was N10 trillion. So, the industrial sector loses the same revenue as the nation collects in one year. What an irony!

What would have happened if the industries realized N 10 trillion and paid taxes! At a conservative corporate tax rate of 30% that means the Nigerian government loses N 3 trillion annually in taxes that it could have earned from industries if it simply provided them with electricity.

Sadly, the abnormal has become normal. Traveling on a road one day in Lagos, I saw an advertisement on a billboard which caught my attention. It was advertising generators, with the bold statement “We are the nation’s Number One reliable power supplier.”

Compare that with the situation in South Korea which has diversified its exports into high-value manufacturing. On a trip to South Korea a few years ago, I visited the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). While being briefed, I was told that the country experiences only 2 minutes of power outage. Not sure I heard correctly, I asked whether they meant 2 minutes per hour, 2 minutes per day, 2 minutes per week or month. The response was quick and resolute: 2 minutes per year!

How then can Nigeria compete with the likes of Korea, Malaysia, and Vietnam?

Unless Nigeria decisively tackles its energy deficiency and reliability, its industries will remain uncompetitive. There should be massive investments in gas to provide power and to ensure stable base load power for industries, hydropower resources, large-scale solar systems, direct power preferentially to industries, and to support industrial mini grids that concentrate power in industrial zones. In addition, we should develop more efficient utilities, reducing technical and non-technical losses in power generation, transmission, and distribution systems.

The African Development Bank Group invests massively in the power sector in Nigeria to support the implementation of the Power Sector Recovery Program. The Bank provided $200 million for the Nigeria Electrification Project, designed to fill the electricity access gap in Nigeria. We have also invested $257 million in the Nigeria Transmission project, to strengthen grid power evacuation and regional interconnection.

The Bank has launched the Desert to Power initiative, a $20 billion project to provide electricity for 250 million people across 11 countries of the Sahel, including Northern Nigeria. Desert to Power will create the world’s largest solar zone. This initiative will draw lessons from successful projects already financed by the Bank, including the Noor Ouarzazate solar PV power project in Morocco and the Ben Ban solar project in Egypt.

Industrial development is constrained by a poor state of transport, ports, and logistic infrastructure. It costs $35,000 to export 100 tons of produce from Nigeria compared to just $4,000 in Ghana. About 90% of passenger and freight movements in Nigeria rely on roads but only 18% of the roads are paved.

Meanwhile, our seaports are gridlocked. Recently the Financial Times reported that the congestion at the port in Lagos has become so bad that it could cost more than $4,000 to truck a container 20 kilometers inland – almost as much as it costs to ship it 12,000 nautical miles to China.

What an irony!

Here, Nigeria can learn from Morocco. The African Development Bank supported Morocco to develop its Tangier-Med Port. The port is unique in that it is an industrial port complex, a platform that has over 1,100 companies. They collectively exported over € 8 billion worth of goods in 2020. Global companies are located there, including Bosch, Daimler, Huawei, Siemens, and several others.

Companies located at the Tangier Med port have allowed Morocco to move up global value chains, including automobiles, automotive parts, aeronautics, agriculture and food manufacturing, textiles, and logistics. Annually, over 460,000 cars are manufactured in the zone for exports. And more interesting, is that the bulk of the human resources to do these are Moroccans.

I took a walk at the Tangier-Med Port. I thought the workers were on vacation, as I did not see people–––just machines, haulers, automated systems moving containers in what looked like a well-synchronized maze, with incredible efficiency. There were no kilometers of trucks waiting to get to the port. We should move away from the usual Gestapo approaches of raiding ports, or deploying soldiers to decongest ports, or even vehicular traffic to the ports.

Ports are not military zones! They are zones of economic and industrial transformation.

We should not be decongesting the ports in Nigeria; we should be transforming ports. This must start with cleaning up administrative bottlenecks, most of which are unnecessary with multiple government agencies at the ports, high transaction costs or even plain extortions from illegal taxes, which do not go into the coffers of the government.

The Africa Continental Free Trade Area, with a collective GDP of $3.3 trillion, presents a huge opportunity for Nigeria to drive an export-driven industrial manufacturing pathway.

Nigeria can unlock its industrial manufacturing capacities by taking advantage of duty-free exports within the zone. Doing so requires decisively tackling infrastructure and logistics bottlenecks that hamper industrial capacity and competitiveness; establishing and enforcing quality, grades, and product standards; ensuring the access of industries to land and providing investment relations management to attract and maintain investors and trade facilitation.

With the African Continental Free Trade Zone, Nigeria will face stiffer competition on the establishment of industrial manufacturing platforms. With rising wages in China and other Asian countries, as they move from labor-intensive industries to more knowledge-intensive industries, they will continue to out shore their light manufacturing industries.

The so-called “flying geese model” is on the rise, as Asian giants outsource their manufacturing capacities to new industrial manufacturing platforms with lower labor costs, from where they can launch into regional and global markets.

The newly constructed $19 billion Dangote petrochemical and fertilizer complex (the world’s largest ammonia plant) in the free-trade zone, with a new deep seaport, is exactly the kind of massive infrastructural and industrial manufacturing that is needed to make Nigeria a regional and global player in gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel, and fertilizer value chains.

The future benefits those who anticipate and prepare.

Nigeria must look beyond the industries of today into the industries of the future and develop a plan and capacity to compete in the smart industries that will become the main drivers of global economies.

The fourth industrial revolution, based on automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data computing, 3-D printing and additive manufacturing are rapidly transforming industrial manufacturing. Nigeria must therefore enhance its readiness to transition to digitized and smart manufacturing.

The rising use of robotics in manufacturing, is leading to a rethink in the structure of global value chains. This will pose a challenge for Nigeria’s drive to attract talent and be competitive in labor-intensive light manufacturing. As capital costs continue falling faster than labor costs, developed countries are shifting towards a reliance on industrial robots for manufacturing. As such, competition will become tougher in global value chains, as robots could wipe out low labor cost advantages that Africa can provide.

Developed countries with high labor costs have previously out-shored their manufacturing to low-wage countries, for labor-intensive manufacturing. With declining cost of cognitive robots, the low labor cost advantage of Africa will be reduced, as these countries are now restructuring their models by reshoring previously outsourced manufacturing capacities back to their home countries.

The future of manufacturing will be digital. The global digital economy is estimated to be worth over $16 trillion. The Internet of Things will raise productivity of labor in manufacturing, deploy smart machines, manufacturing platforms and systems, connecting machines and people, and using machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve speed and efficiencies of complex manufacturing processes.

That future is already here.

It is time to re-imagine industrial manufacturing in Nigeria.

It is time for rapid investment in digital skills for manufacturing, retooling of workers, vocational training, digitization of industrial processes, and investments in digital infrastructure and enabling environment.

It is time to prepare students in Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

It is time for the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria to establish “Industrial Digital Skills Academies” and link them to universities and technology innovation hubs.

It is time for Federal and State governments to make massive investments in digital infrastructure to support learning and skills development for global labor market demand.

In the Global Skills Report (2023) by Coursera, 100 countries were assessed on skills preparedness in business, analytics, and data sciences of their populations. The finding was very depressing for Nigeria: Nigeria was ranked 100 out of 100 countries, taking the first position only from the bottom. The leading countries in Africa were Rwanda, Egypt, and Morocco. Nigeria fell way behind war-torn Lebanon and Somalia. This is shocking!

With the rapid rise in micro-tooling to develop skills for current and emerging industries, there is a need for a radical recalibration of business, analytics, technology, and data science skills, among other skills needed by local, regional, and global industries.

To fix this problem, I recommend that Nigeria establishes Skills Enhancement Zones––new zones in partnership with industries, dedicated exclusively to skilling up Nigeria’s workforce. Students can be supported to be exposed to skills delivered by different industries. This will build up their vertical skills in such industries and horizontally across different industries. This will reduce the labor market skills mismatch that several industries face and allow feedback by private sector industries into the curriculum of universities and colleges.

The Skills Enhancement Zones (SEZs) can be developed through industry partnerships with national and state governments.

Already, the African Development Bank is helping Nigeria to skill up digitally. Together with Agence Française de Développement and the Islamic Development Bank, we are implementing the $618 million I-DICE (Investing in Digital and Creative Industries) program, to develop digital and creative enterprises. They will create 6 million jobs and add $6.3 billion to Nigeria’s economy.

The African Development Bank is also currently working with Central Banks and countries to design and support the establishment of Youth Entrepreneurship Investment Banks. These will be new financial institutions, run by young, professional, and highly competent experts and bankers, to develop and deploy new financial products and services for businesses and ventures of young people.

Several African countries plan to establish Youth Entrepreneurship Investment Banks.

Nigeria should establish the Youth Entrepreneurship Investment Bank.

This will be a game changer for Nigeria’s youth!

Nigeria must also make agriculture a major wealth creating sector. It is time to take bold policy measures to drive the structural transformation of agriculture, with infrastructure and spatial economic policies that will help turn the rural economies of Nigeria away from being zones of economic misery to new zones of economic prosperity.

The key for this is the development of Special Agro-industrial Processing Zones (SAPZs) across the country. These will be zones enabled with infrastructure and logistics, to support private sector food and agriculture companies to locate close to the areas of production, and to process and add value to food and agricultural commodities.

They will turn cotton into textiles and garments.

They will turn tomatoes into purees and tomato paste.

They will turn milk into cheese, butter and substitute imported milk.

They will drive massive transformation of finished rice products.

They will process palm oil into multiple derivatives.

They will turn cocoa into cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder and chocolate.

They will turn cassava into starch, tapioca, glucose, fructose, sorbitol, and ethanol.

In short, the Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones will turn rural Nigeria from zones of economic misery into new zones of economic prosperity. The booming wealth will touch every part of Nigeria, and every person in Nigeria, from rural to urban areas.

The African Development Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Islamic Development Bank have approved $540 million to Nigeria to develop the first set of Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones in nine States. An additional twenty State governments have expressed interest to be engaged for the second phase of the program.

To boost manufacturing, access to affordable finance is critical, especially long-term financing that matches the investment gestation of companies. PWC (Nigeria) estimates that Medium, Small, and Micro-Enterprises account for 50% of Nigeria’s GDP. Yet, they receive only 1% of the total credit from financial institutions, with a financing gap of N 617 billion.

Nations that have expanded their industrial manufacturing competitiveness have been those which provide incentives for their companies, especially low-interest rate financing. Just think of the following: interest rates are negative in Japan (-0.1%), 3.9% in the USA, 0.25% in China, and 4% in India. But manufacturers in Nigeria face extremely high interest rate of 14%.

The Bank of Industry, the Nigerian Import and Export Bank, and the Bank of Agriculture, should be significantly capitalized to provide loans at affordable interest rates to manufacturers, especially for small and medium sized enterprises. The deepening of the domestic capital markets will further allow companies to access equity financing they need to grow their businesses.

A perennial binding constraint facing manufacturers in Nigeria is the unpredictability and availability of foreign exchange. It also triggered a major decline in foreign direct investment inflows into Nigeria. The World Investment Report (2023) showed that foreign direct investment inflows into Nigeria declined precipitously from $3.3 billion in 2021 to a negative $187 million in 2022 ––the largest decline on the continent.

Nigeria must learn the lesson here: simply using foreign exchange reserves to back and overvalue the local currency is not a sustainable policy.

To grow Nigeria’s economy in a transformational way, there is an urgent need to move away from solely depending on “managing a demand for forex” to “expanding the supply and availability of forex” through greater export-oriented manufacturing. This will extricate Nigeria from relying only on the export of crude oil for access to forex and the instability that arises from the shocks to global oil prices.

I wish to commend the bold decision of President Tinubu in removing the distortions in the multiple foreign exchange windows. This will help turn the tide on foreign direct investment flows into Nigeria.

To drive greater investments into Africa, the African Development Bank and its partners launched the Africa Investment Forum in 2018, as a fully transactional platform to develop bankable projects, close deals, and fast track financial closure on projects. In the past four years, the Africa Investment Forum has attracted $142 billion of investment interests into Africa. This includes $15.6 billion for the Lagos-Abidjan highway corridor. Several Nigerian companies are taking advantage of the African Investment Forum.

This year’s Africa Investment Forum will be held in Marrakesh, Morocco, from 8-10 November 2023. You are all welcome!

It will provide yet another opportunity to Nigeria’s private sector to mobilize global capital to unleash the power of industrial manufacturing in Nigeria.

Come with bankable projects, we will find you the investors!

Let’s revamp industrial manufacturing in Nigeria.

Industrial manufacturing can earn Nigeria ten times what it earns from its reliance on oil.

As the late industrial icon Chief Odutola once said, “Oil will finish, industries will not.”

With the right policies, investment frameworks, infrastructure, logistics and financing framework, and powered by a highly trained, dynamic, and youthful workforce, I am confident that Nigeria will fully unleash the power of its manufacturing potential.

Nigeria’s export revenue will grow by more than ten times by focusing on export-market driven industrial manufacturing, that is integrated into global production and logistics value chains.

It will unleash a new wave of wealth for Nigeria.

Then Simba the cub, will be transformed into a roaring Lion King!

President Tinubu: turn Nigeria into an industrial economic giant!

It is Nigeria’s turn!

Let’s make it happen.

By Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina,

President, African Development Bank Group


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