Lord Jonathan Marland of Odstock is the Chairman, Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), established in 2014 to provide investment and enterprise development within the British Commonwealth countries and beyond.
In this interview with in Lagos, Marland gives insights into what the CWEIC is doing to partner with the federal and state governments as regards investment as well as development of infrastructure.
According to him, more infrastructure as well as an enabling environment need to be put in place for Nigeria to attract investments.
I am here in Nigeria to continue in our efforts to promote trade within the commonwealth, working with our Nigerian partners. We have about 20 of them. Some of the top businesses here in Nigeria and some of the states in Nigeria. We are planning for the next commonwealth business forum which will happen in Rwanda and so we are looking at how we can involve Nigeria in the next business forum and make available networking opportunities. We are also looking at how we can help the Nigerian government develop some of the projects they are engaged in with a view to making outside investments coming into Nigeria.
We are beyond oil and gas. Yet, we have members who are into oil and gas organisations but we are helping the Nigerian economy to diversify into other areas in the sense that we are developing and working with Nigerian banks, Medium sized enterprises in helping them to develop a trade network.
Is the CWEIC bringing in money or what are we looking at?
Well, we have a combination of both but some will be what we are looking at in investment opportunities here in Nigeria and there are lot of schemes that we would like to work with, particularly, in the construction area. And if there are investment opportunities, we would work with them. If there is a manufacturing company here, then we would try to help open markets, introducing you to commonwealth markets, something you were not aware of. Nigeria is very big populous country and has a big economy which is attractive for manufacturers and suppliers.And so, it is a combination of both and so that is what our CWEIC does. We create enterprise, investment opportunities and bring about a global network. The commonwealth is the third of the world’s population and within, it includes Nigeria and other largest countries. And so, if you could bring them together, then you have an incredibly powerful trading group particularly if the common theme is English, which means that you do not need to translate. We have people working and have invested heavily in Nigeria and so, this means that we have a common bond through the language(English) which includes 53 countries.
We discuss with the Nigerian government and we are open to dialogue with the Akwa Ibom State government, Lagos and we are hoping to open dialogue with other state governments. And so, it is a combination of the government in business .And, I think, one of the interesting things is how we, as a network, can encourage the government to continue to adopt a positive approach to businesses.
Nigeria is looking for investors but we have not gotten it right in supporting domestic production, what has to be done?
Part of what we do is to allow the government to showcase what is going on in countries and so we will continue to encourage the Nigerian government as well as the state governments to start using investment opportunity programmes which they can offer to international investors. You have got the roads here in Lagos and these are obviously down to development planners and it is encouraging that the Nigerian government is investing in infrastructure projects so as to get Nigeria going on the front, to be efficient and more functional and these projects make it more efficient and functional.
The potential is huge and so, what we do not do is bring investors as we are not a bank or a finance house. But what we do is bring people together who might do it and allow them to work. So we are not investment house but we are a network organisation plugging into a very big number of organisation, bringing people together.
In your assessment of Nigeria’s business environment, what would you tell investors?
The opportunities in Nigeria is huge and 10 years from now, the country will have a bigger population than U.S.A. when I met Nigerians, a large portion of them are natural entrepreneurs, business doers and so there is the basis for Nigeria becoming this extraordinary partner. But it will require infrastructure which the current government is seemingly embarking upon, much more effective business practices, and when you have that, you have greater investment, people are worried about corruption and worried about employment , of rule of law. Every investor wants to know i their investment will be secured; and want to know if they get into dispute, the rule of law is enforced and emphatically underlined. I see Nigeria starting to do all that which is a good thing.
It is actually my first trip to Ghana and i would be dialoguing with the President of Ghana, trade and commerce groups and individual companies as well as the Minister for international trade and certainly a mixture of business and politics.
It is my first visit and obviously we will like to have offices in every country but we can only do what we can manage. What we can do in Nigeria is to manage an office and we have got nearly 20 members. That might increase and we have a separate board and a group of people who are operating together. Nigeria is probably our strongest foothold in the commonwealth and because as a nation, you see the country has potential.
Which of the countries do you feel has an interest in investing in Nigeria?
India, United Kingdom, Singapore. This is because Nigeria is this growing population and where opportunities abound, where the country is improving in its infrastructure.
We have been approached by the Nigerian government to discuss how we can develop an agricultural programme. This is the sort of thing we do for our members and if they wish to talk about that, they know we can be of help to them. So we are very happy to engage the government and state governments but they have to sort of come to the party.
I would say if you are dealing with 53 countries, you would have some targets met and some not met .But on the whole, we are a very organised association and we have been going on for five years .And so our network is increasing alongside our membership. So, yes, we have met our target but we have not been able to make enough traction with the Nigerian government as we would have liked to develop several programmes. We will have our African conference in January. We will then move to Saudi Arabia in March and then head to the India summit in the spring time, hopefully, June will see us in Rwanda.
We work with Zenith Bank, HSBC and members of our organisation. We do not have any other banks per se and we have a very good relationship with the City of London and other major banks in the UK. Every country needs more banks because access to finance is very important for the economy of any country no matter how small or large their population might be.
I think that the corruption reforms that the President embarked upon on assuming office is exactly the right thing to do. Investors who want to invest in a country like to see transparency because if there is less transparency, it will lead to less clarity and then you would have less confidence. Investment opportunity in Nigeria is limitless as there is massive opportunit.y But the key Nigeria has to have is to have a clear message of how the opportunities are and what sort of environment would work for investment, rules of engagement and i think that is key for any country seeking investments.