One-on-One Exclusive: Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan Talks Business Development

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (Image: Ewelike Callistus Ikwunze)

There’s no denying that the world is paying attention to Africa. With its vast resources, rich culture and hot-button political and social issues—some inspiring and others not-so-positive— garnering international attention, the continent is coming full-circle into an emerging world power, comparable to the BRIC nations.

One African country in particular that has been getting widespread attention for its growth and emerging industries is Nigeria, from agriculture to commerce to entertainment, with Forbes citing it as “the biggest and most dynamic frontier economy in Africa” and “having a Wild West reputation for both rambunctious growth and a little danger.” The country’s economy is growing faster than many of the top-tier emerging markets (with an oil sector–amid challenges— that contributed $8 billion to GDP in the first quarter of 2013) and has an expanding middle class, with construction, hospitality and service industries showing extreme promise in terms of employment and innovation. Many of the wealthiest people in the world hail from Nigeria, with two of the only seven billionaires of color being Mike Adenuga and Aliko Dangote.

At a pivotal time of enormous challenges, including terrorism and corruption, as well as promise for growth and prosperity  for Nigeria, caught up with President Goodluck Jonathan, on the heels of his meeting with President Barack Obama, to talk business development, leadership and opportunities for Africans and African Americans in the diaspora. Nigeria has been said to be on pace for major economic growth. Talk a bit about the emerging industries and where businessmen from the States can invest.

President Goodluck Jonathan: Thank you. Well, I cannot say that we’re currently a leading one, but in terms of economic growth, the economy has been growing an average of 7% in the past eight years.

Nigeria is among the top 10 countries that economies are growing.

At the African level—at the continental level—Nigeria is the second largest economy, second to South Africa, and has the potential to grow bigger because of obvious reasons in terms of the population of Nigeria.

There are so many areas that before this time were the exclusive preserve of government, that have been opened up for private sector involvement. One such area is the power sector, which is a major challenge for us— we are not generating enough power for our people. For the big industries in Nigeria, they have no problems because we have, as a country, more gas than crude oil. So they just buy gas from the gas company and generate their own power. But for the micro-, small- and medium-scale enterprises, they don’t have enough money to invest in turbines to generate their own power, so they must have a steady public power supply for domestic use. And that is why the government is now opening up the whole power sector. We just concluded the privatization in the first phase.

The idea is that when the private sector takes over the generation and the distribution, they will put in all their energy, search for funds from banks, and go from there. That’s another area, that companies all over the world, including American companies, have been involved with.

Even the aviation sector has opened up in terms of terminal buildings and other [endeavors] … The rail system that has collapsed for almost 25 to 30 years … We have brought it back, and the private sector is the key element in terms of [improvement] and providing the facilities. Before this time, almost all the roads in the country were managed by government, but now we believe, to succeed, some of the major roads that are commercially viable should be privatized just like its done all over the world. These industries have all opened up.

Also there’s big money in agriculture. Now, the focus is approaching it as a business. There’s so much interest in food processing companies. If you take a crop, cassava for example … we are processing it into flour, using it as a supplement for bread [and other baked goods.] In addition, we are also processing cassava chips and exporting to China. Companies are also using it for ethanol and beer production and to produce sweeteners. Before this time, it was just for feeding, and now it’s booming business.

We’re also giving farmers improved seedlings for cotton production. And of course, rice. Nigeria has enough paddy fields to feed all of Africa, yet we are the largest importers of rice. Now, we’re improving the production, and we need millers and processors, and private businesses can do that.

Nigeria has been emerging as a hub for tech innovation as well. What is your take, in terms of growth,in other sectors for opportunities?

Those in the diaspora can invest in [several] areas. Particularly in the financial sector—that’s another area where people can invest. We’re floating what we call diaspora bonds, and that encourages Nigerians in the diaspora to invest by buying the diaspora bonds.

But there are other areas—even in the health sector— there are so many Nigerian professionals, especially in medicine, in the U.S. I remember the second to last time I had a meeting with President Obama in Washington, D.C., he told me that there are over 25,000 professional consultants alone from Nigeria that are working in the American healthcare system.

The health sector is not that good in the sense that so many Nigerians go out of the country to treat themselves. I say, Why? Why can’t we stay in our hospitals? The hospitals that people go to treat themselves outside are private hospitals. They are not government hospitals—They go to India, Asia, UK. America, if some of them can afford to, most of them go to private hospitals, not government hospitals.

So, we’re working on that. The government will provide infrastructure for the private sector businesses so that people won’t have to go abroad. So even in the health sector, people [in the diaspora] can invest.

Even in the sectors I mentioned, quite a number of these companies are foreign companies that are investing, so people here can invest as well.

So for someone who doesn’t want to go and get factories or be involved processing, invest in the stock market. It’s one of the booming markets. That’s why when we rang the [NYSE] bell, we were excited.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where President Jonathan talks tourism, his legacy, and his advice for global leaders.