By Doris Uzoka-Anite
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s G20 Summit visit to India, on the special invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is coming almost exactly sixty-one years after Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of the Republic of India, visited Nigeria.
Since that historic September 1962 visit, hosted by Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the first (and only) Prime Minister of Nigeria, in Lagos, Nigerian and Indian leaders have exchanged several visits, and presided over a bilateral relationship that has grown in leaps and bounds.
It is auspicious that this latest visit by a Nigerian President is happening not only against the backdrop of India’s Presidency of the G20, but in a season of inspiring breakthroughs in space exploration by India. In my time here I have seen how much of a thing of pride these feats have been for the Indian people. Successes of this nature are especially significant because they rekindle national hope and optimism, and fuel the collective ambition to achieve even more.
For me, on this first-ever visit to India—which also happens to be my first international engagement as Nigeria’s new Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment—I have been keen to see up close what makes India tick, the powering forces behind ‘Incredible India’, what we in Nigeria can learn—and what India might be able to learn from us.
On Wednesday we hosted a Presidential Roundtable where President Tinubu and senior Ministers met leading Indian businesspersons. The President was emphatic in his message to Indians looking to invest in Nigeria: “Do not procrastinate. Don’t be frightened about investments in Nigeria… I have a team, and I am the captain of that team, and I assure you that we solve problems.”
A number of important agreements were signed at that event, including one between the Infrastructure Corporation of Nigeria Limited (InfraCorp) and Invest India, and another one between the Nigerian Ministry of Communication, Innovation and Digital Economy and the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. We also saw investment commitments amounting to several billions of dollars by SkipperSeil Group, Jindal Steel and Power Limited, Bharti Enterprises, Indorama Petrochemical Limited and many more.
My bilateral meeting with the Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry, Shri Piyush Goyal, provided yet another opportunity to discuss how Nigeria and India can improve trade and investment relations.
In my meetings here with various Indian entrepreneurs who are already doing business in Nigeria, I am struck by their love and passion for Nigeria, and how proud they are to be seen as champions of the investment potential of Nigeria. Our work is made much easier with these enthusiastic promoters of Nigeria and its immense opportunities.
I have felt very much at home here in India. Anyone who knows both countries will be aware of just how much we have in common: our colonial heritage, fast-growing, multilingual, multi-religious populations, the success stories of our young people, especially in ICT, and our teeming diasporas.
The Indian diaspora in Nigeria has existed for many decades now; consisting of tens of thousands of Indian nationals who consider Nigeria their second home, and are to be found thriving in various sectors, from manufacturing to hospitality to oil and gas, and healthcare. There are now more than 130 Indian companies that are active in Nigeria.
Our relationship is a strong and thriving one, and the G20 participation invitation extended to President Tinubu by Prime Minister Modi is proof of this. India happens to be President Tinubu’s first Asian destination since assuming office; and one of the first businesspersons he met upon assumption of office was Mr. Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Enterprises, which owns Nigeria’s second-biggest telecoms company.
India has demonstrated how to accomplish many of the things we are prioritizing as a country, like the digital enumeration of all citizens, development of an ICT sector that is a global powerhouse, and the fight against poverty. One very important takeaway for us is to understand Prime Minister Modi’s unprecedented success in lifting 135 million Indians out of poverty in five years, and to apply a similar model in Nigeria.
We are pushing forward on all aspects of our bilateral relationship. Following the signing and ratification of a Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) between Nigeria and India, in 2020, Nigeria’s largest airline, Air Peace, began twice-weekly flights between Lagos and Mumbai, in April 2023. However, we need to fast-track the signing of our Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (IPPA), and Economic Cooperation Agreement (ECA), with India. Joining the G20, as Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, will no doubt position Nigeria to benefit from even more favorable trade and economic ties with India and other leading world economies.
This visit marks the beginning of a new vista for Nigeria-India relations, under the leadership of President Tinubu and Prime Minister Modi. There are truly no limits to what we can achieve, for the mutual benefit of our people.
In Nigeria we are serious about letting the world know that we are a country that is ready and open for business. Within ninety minutes of his arrival in India, on Tuesday, President Tinubu held his first meeting, with no other person than Mr. Prakash Hinduja, the billionaire Chairman and CEO of the Hinduja Group of Companies.
The President’s words to Mr. Hinduja during that meeting are a fitting way to close this piece: “I am here to personally assure our friends and investors that there is no bottleneck that I will not break. Nigeria will become one of the most conducive places on earth to make good profits and create lasting jobs. With my support, there is nothing standing in your way of enjoying the unrivaled opportunities presented by our massive market and the ingenious, and hardworking nature of the Nigerian people. We are open for business.”
-Uzoka-Anite is Nigeria’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment