The Travel Smart Series is written by Chika Okoroafor, an Immigration Lawyer based in Nigeria.
Happy New Year, fellow Smart Travelers, and thank you so much for your support last year. For all those who wrote us, rest assured we will attend to all your inquires soon. Today’s post is all about educating foreigners on how to invest in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy.
A line by Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey) in Fast and Furious 8, I saw the movie recently, goes something like “… so she has rendered my app obsolete…” The Fast team wanted to use God’s eye to track down Vin diesel, only to find out that Charize Theron had developed an app, or something similar, that interferes with the trace result, such that when “God’s eyes” is used to track an individual, the trace response will read multiple locations.
That line from Nathalie resonates with me. In IT-advanced countries like China, US etc. an inventor’s misfortune is the realisation that a breakthrough in a technology that perhaps they have invested their life’s worth on developing and perfecting is worth nothing because a bigger tech companies have long developed and patented a technology with the same functionality. Hence the technology is rendered obsolete on arrival.
In Nigeria and other third world countries, most of our industries are behind when compared with first world countries. Mobile phones started making waves in the early 70’s. By late 80’s mobile phones were already commercialised in developed countries. As far back as the 80’s, mobile phones were regular gadgets accessible to common folks. It took Nigeria three decades later to commercialize mobile phones. At the time mobile phones came into Nigeria commercial market, what was been circulated were the early 70/80 prototypes. In summary an inventor whose product is “obsolete” in the 1st world may find relevance in Nigeria and other third world countries. Relevance is one of the reasons why investing in Nigeria may benefit a foreigner.
Besides relevance, below are other benefits of investing Nigeria, African’s largest economy:
- Surplus variations of natural resources
- Relatively favourable business environment
- Free market economy
- High return on investment
- Available and affordable work force (over 70% of Nigeria population are youths under 30)
- Political stability
- Large consumer market (a population of over 155 million Nigeria is the most populous country and eight in the world)
- Large and fertile land mass for Agro- Allied industries etc.
There are a lot of publications, with projections and statistical proofs, on the many benefits of investing in Nigeria. I will not be rehashing those; rather I will be writing on the practicability of foreigners or “Aliens” (using our local statutory term) doing business in Nigeria. This is based on my research.
Sometime last year, my firm was approached by two foreign companies. One of the companies was a Property/Estate Developer and Manager Company based in Dubai. I was elected by my firm to oversee the project of drafting a proposal of what it will take, in cost and tenure, for the foreign client to get all necessary permits to do business in Nigeria. Hitherto all I knew about procedure of alien doing business in Nigeria were mere text book knowledge. I was excited that I would finally get to put them into practice. I knew it was going to be tasking, but I have long ago developed a simple problem-solving approach. I call it the Down-Up system. The solution to most legal issues can be surmounted by simply doing two things
First, look DOWN, read books and do your research, precedent is a lawyer’s best tool. Where you still cannot connect all the dots then you look UP to your seniors in practice. For me though, even when I think I have all that I need, especially for hitherto gray areas areas of practice I have zero practical experience on, I will still look UP i.e consult colleagues and seniors in practice and run it by them. You know the saying that “that it all may be lawful but not expedient.”
Apart from personal gain, I was proud that in time of recession and gross unemployment, that via these companies a lot of job opportunities will be created. The companies will most definitely employ local hands; properties will be purchased or leased to run the businesses. In summary, so many people where going to benefit on the long run. So with so much drive and motivation I kicked-started my research.
My discoveries: To perfect a Business permit for an alien to participate in business, there is no clear cut procedure. The process will vary in accordance with the particulars of the business involved. Approval has to be gotten from various Government agency eg CAC, NIPC, DPR, CBN, Ministry of Interior, Nigeria Customs, state/federal Ministry of land depending on location ( if the company intends to acquire property where it will run its business). Approvals are not gotten consecutively or concurrently. In fact the whole process is a potpourri of various intertwining processes. So here you start with one agency and get to a point where to continue, another agency’s approval has to be gotten before the previous agency can conclude because you cannot initiate the next step or conclude without certain approvals. I had all the information I needed to draft a proposal, advice, cost and to estimate tenure for the whole process. Eventually I drafted a proposal.
PEBEC AND VOA TO THE RESCUE
Early 2017, a senior officer at the ministry of interior with whom I brainstormed the tediousness of the Alien Business participation legalization processes, hinted PEBEC to me. The Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) was set up in July 2016 by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, to remove bureaucratic constraints to doing business in Nigeria and make the country a progressively easier place to start and grow a business. It is a new government initiative constituted to take away the bottlenecks associated with regularizing foreigner’s participation in doing business in Nigeria.
There’s also VOA, an acronym for Visa on arrival. VOA is a privilege offered to business investors from ALL countries (except citizens of ECOWAS national who don’t need visas to enter Nigeria). So for business investors,the absence of Nigeria mission/embassies in your country will pose no hindrance. Even where there is a mission/embassy but it is urgent for an imminent business purpose, it is still okay to use VOA. All you need is a VOA approval letter and flight ticket. On arrival at the port of entry, there is a desk marked “visa on arrival” where your entry will be regularized.
The VOA procedure is simple and can be done in two ways.
- By applicant’s direct email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- By applicant’s representative in Nigeria
Please note this procedure is available to business visitors alone and VOA approval letter MUST be mailed to applicant/representative before trip is embarked on.
In summary, via PEBEC and VOA initiative, for a foreigner who intends to invest in Nigeria, the regularization process is now a mere walk in the park and you can always count on us to walk you through.
Please share this with people who may benefit from it and write us at email@example.com with all your inquiries.
Till next post, stay smart.