Nigeria‘s new consul general may have been preaching to the choir when asserting that American investors should look beyond negative news reports to the vast opportunities in his country.
Geoffrey Teneilabe, who arrived a month ago for a four-year posting in Atlanta, addressed the monthly meeting of the American-Nigerian International Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 23.
As he outlined investment opportunities in sectors from oil and gas to telecommunications and infrastructure, he found a crowd of willing partners eager to bridge the gap between Atlanta and Africa‘s second largest economy.
For Mr. Teneilabe, many of the country’s problems are also its biggest chances for growth.
Nigeria’s power output is “abysmally low,” he said. Only 4,000 megawatts are currently generated, though the country needs nearly 10,000. State and federal governments are working on projects to boost capacity to 6,000 megawatts this year and to 16,000 by 2013. They’re deregulating the power industry and courting outside investors to reach this lofty goal, he said.
And power is just the foundation. Meeting Nigeria’s hunger for electricity will remove a hurdle to expanding manufacturing in the nation of more than 150 million people, Mr. Teneilabe said.
The consul general invited investors to look at health care, urban waste conversion, tourism, real estate, infrastructure and most other sectors as prime areas for investment. He challenged his audience not to let reports of corruption, unrest and instability in Nigeria dissuade them from helping the country and making a profit in the process.
“There are a lot of beautiful things to see about Africa, but because of the negative perception, because of the stereotypes, people don’t seem to see these things, so the stories that we hear are not balanced,” he told GlobalAtlanta.
It took a lot of arm-twisting from chamber President Emelia Orubele to get Randal Mangham, a former Georgia state representative, to visit Nigeria after friends reported bad experiences in the country.
Everything changed when he traveled there and saw the warmth and ingenuity of the people.
“I fell in love with the place,” Mr. Mangham told the luncheon crowd. Now working with the Georgia-Africa Chamber of Commerce, he hopes to spur business between the locales and is planning another trip to Nigeria soon.
Nigeria native Godwin Illoh has seen perceptions change as his travel agency, First Dreamworld, has introduced tourists and government officials to the country. Having spent 10 years in the U.S., Mr. Illoh believes American investors will see Nigeria’s true face only when they go there.
“Image is the key to everything we want to do in Nigeria,” he said.
Nigeria, an oil-rich country, is a $350 billion economy, second only to South Africa on the continent in terms of gross domestic product. It has a vast consumer market that has attracted investment from companies like Coca-Cola Co., a growing middle class and one of the world’s largest film industries.
But it fights a reputation as a place where corruption and bureaucracy make business difficult for outsiders. A World Bank study ranking countries by ease of doing business put Nigeria at 137 out of 183, below the West Bank, Malawi, India, Iran and Russia.
Mr. Teneilabe pointed to government efforts to smooth the process of opening a company. He noted that the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission serves as a one-stop shop for foreign companies, helping them obtain regulatory approvals and apply for incentives in certain sectors.
Johnny Brown, a retired U.S. Commercial Service officer who spent a total of five years in Nigeria during two postings, told GlobalAtlanta by phone that the government is making positive strides but added that there’s no substitute for good research and connections.
“That’ll help, but there’s still nothing like the feet on the ground, … making sure you touch all the bases and getting a partner there that knows the inner workings of Nigeria and how to go about it,” said Mr. Brown, who lives in Conyers.
Chamber officials said they can help members make introductions.
Gul Wadwhani, an Atlanta real estate agent and the chamber’s vice president for business development, spent 27 years in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, where he opened a textile mill and many other business ventures.
“When you say Nigeria the red flag comes up … but Nigeria is a beautiful country, the people are very, very nice and they all help you a lot, so if you want to start any businesses, I’m here,” Mr. Gul told the crowd of about 20 people.
Mr. Teneilabe, the consul general, said he would tap partners like the chamber as well as the Nigerian diaspora as he reaches out to the local community. Worldwide, remittances sent home from Nigerians abroad add $18 billion to the Nigerian economy. Atlanta is home to about 2,000 Nigerian doctors, he has learned.
“I’m still learning the ropes, but I’ve seen the areas that I can leverage. The resources are enormous,” he said.
Visit www.anicc.net for more information about the chamber and how to join.