1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) Act of 1995, amended in 2004, dismantled controls and limits on FDI, allowing for 100% foreign ownership in all sectors, except those prohibited by law for both local and foreign entities. These include arms and ammunitions, narcotics, and military apparel. In practice, however, some regulators include a domestic equity requirement before granting foreign firms an operational license. Nevertheless, foreign investors receive largely the same treatment as domestic investors in Nigeria, including tax incentives. The Act also created the NIPC with a mandate to encourage and assist investment in Nigeria. The NIPC features a One-Stop Investment Center (OSIC) that includes participation by 27 governmental and parastatal agencies to consolidate and streamline administrative procedures for new businesses and investments. The NIPC is empowered to negotiate special incentives for substantial and/or strategic investments. The Act also provides guarantees against nationalization and expropriation. The NIPC occasionally convenes meetings between investors and relevant government agencies with the objective of resolving specific investor complaints. The NIPC’s role and effectiveness is limited to that of convenor and moderator in these sessions as it has no authority over other Government agencies to enforce compliance. The NIPC’s ability to attract new investment has been limited because of the unresolved challenges to investment and business.
The Nigerian government continues to promote import substitution policies such as trade restrictions, foreign exchange restrictions, and local content requirements in a bid to attract investment that develops domestic production capacity. The import bans and high tariffs used to advance Nigeria’s import substitution goals have been undermined by smuggling of targeted products through the country’s porous borders, and by corruption in the import quota systems developed by the government to incentivize domestic investment. The government opened land borders in December 2020, which were progressively closed to commercial trade starting in August 2019 with the aim of curbing smuggling and bolstering domestic production.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
There are currently no limits on foreign control of investments; however, Nigerian regulatory bodies may insist on domestic equity as a prerequisite to doing business. The NIPC Act of 1995, amended in 2004, liberalized the ownership structure of business in Nigeria, allowing foreign investors to own and control 100% of the shares in any company. One hundred percent ownership is allowed in the oil and gas sector. However, the dominant models for oil extraction are joint venture and production sharing agreements between oil companies (both foreign and local) and the federal government. Foreign investors must register with the NIPC after incorporation under the Companies and Allied Matters Act reviewed in 2020. A foreign company may apply for exemption from incorporating a subsidiary if it meets certain conditions including working on a specialized project specifically for the government, and/or funded by a multilateral or bilateral donor or a foreign state-owned enterprise. The NIPC Act prohibits the nationalization or expropriation of foreign enterprises except in cases of national interest and stipulates modalities for “fair and adequate” compensation should that occur.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The World Bank published an Investment Policy and Regulatory Review of Nigeria in 2019. It provides an overview of Nigeria’s legal and regulatory framework as it affects FDI, foreign investors, and businesses at large and is available at https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/33596 . The WTO published a trade policy review of Nigeria in 2017, which also includes a brief overview and assessment of Nigeria’s investment climate. That review is available at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp456_e.htm .
The government established the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) in 2016 with the objective of removing constraints to starting and running a business in Nigeria. Nigeria’s ranking has since jumped from 169 to 131 on the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report and has ranked in the top ten most improved economies in two out of the last three years. Nigeria recorded improvements in eight of the 10 categories with “obtaining construction permits” witnessing the highest increase. The other two categories, “getting credit” and “protecting minority investments” remained static. Despite these improvements, Nigeria remains a difficult place to do business, ranking 179 out of 190 countries in the “trading across borders” category and scoring below its sub-Saharan counterparts in all trading subcategories. Particularly egregious were time to import (border compliance) and cost to import (documentary compliance) which, at 242 hours and $564, respectively, are double the sub-Saharan African average. PEBEC’s focal areas are improving trade, starting a business, registering property, obtaining building permits and electricity, and obtaining credit.
The OSIC co-locates relevant government agencies to provide more efficient and transparent services to investors, although much of its functions have yet to be moved online. The OSIC assists with visas for investors, company incorporation, business permits and registration, tax registration, immigration, and customs issues. Investors may pick up documents and approvals that are statutorily required to establish an investment project in Nigeria.
All businesses, both foreign and local, are required to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) before commencing operations. CAC began online registration as part of PEBEC reforms. Online registration is straightforward and consists of three major steps: name search, reservation of business name, and registration. A registration guideline is available on the website as is a post-registration portal for enacting changes to company details. The CAC online registration website is https://pre.cac.gov.ng/home . The registration requires the signature of a Legal Practitioner and attestation by a Notary Public or Commissioner for Oaths. Business registration can be completed online but the certificate of incorporation is usually collected at a CAC office upon presentation of the original application and supporting documents. Online registration can be completed in as little as three days if there are no issues with the application. On average, a limited liability company (LLC) in Nigeria can be established in seven days. This average is significantly faster than the 22-day average for Sub-Saharan Africa. It is also faster than the OECD average of nine days. Timing may vary in different parts of the country.
Businesses must also register with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) for tax payments purposes. If the business operates in a state other than the Federal Capital Territory, it must also register with the relevant state tax authority. CAC issues a Tax Identification Number (TIN) to all businesses on completion of registration which must be validated on the FIRS website https://apps.firs.gov.ng/tinverification/ and subsequently used to register to pay taxes. The FIRS will then assign the nearest tax office with which the business will engage for tax payments purposes. Some taxes may also be filed and paid online on the FIRS website. Foreign companies are also required to register with NIPC which maintains a database of all foreign companies operating in Nigeria. Companies which import capital must do so through an authorized dealer, typically a bank, after which they are issued a Certificate of Capital Importation. This certificate entitles the foreign investor to open a bank account in foreign currency and provides access to foreign exchange for repatriation, imports, and other purposes. A company engaging in international trade must get an import-export license from the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). Businesses may also be required to register with other regulatory agencies which supervise the sector within which they operate.
Nigeria does not promote outward direct investments. Instead, it focuses on promoting exports especially as a means of reducing its reliance on oil exports and diversifying its foreign exchange earnings. The Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) administered a revised Export Expansion Grant (EEG) in 2018 when the federal government set aside 5.1 billion naira ($13 million) in the 2019 budget for the EEG scheme. The Nigerian Export-Import (NEXIM) Bank provides commercial bank guarantees and direct lending to facilitate export sector growth, although these services are underused. NEXIM’s Foreign Input Facility provides normal commercial terms of three to five years (or longer) for the importation of machinery and raw materials used for generating exports.
Agencies created to promote industrial exports remain burdened by uneven management, vaguely defined policy guidelines, and corruption. Nigeria’s inadequate power supply and lack of infrastructure, coupled with the associated high production costs, leave Nigerian exporters at a significant disadvantage. Many Nigerian businesses fail to export because they find meeting international packaging and safety standards is too difficult or expensive. Similarly, firms often are unable to meet consumer demand for a consistent supply of high-quality goods in sufficient quantities to support exports and meet domestic demand. Most Nigerian manufacturers remain unable to or uninterested in competing in the international market, given the size of Nigeria’s domestic market.
Domestic firms are not restricted from investing abroad. However, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) mandates that export earnings be repatriated to Nigeria, and controls access to the foreign exchange required for such investments. Noncompliance with the directive carries sanctions including expulsion from accessing financial services and the foreign exchange market.
Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in April 2020 prohibited investment and trading platforms from facilitating Nigerians’ purchase of foreign securities listed on other stock exchanges. SEC cites Nigeria’s Investment and Securities Act of 2007, which mandates that only foreign securities listed on a Nigerian exchange should be sold to the Nigerian investing public.
4. Industrial Policies
The Nigerian government maintains different and overlapping incentive programs. The Industrial Development/Income Tax Relief Act provides incentives to pioneer industries deemed beneficial to Nigeria’s economic development and to labor-intensive industries, such as apparel. There are currently 99 industries and products that qualify for the pioneer status incentive through the NIPC, following the addition of 27 industries and products added to the list in 2017. The government has added a stipulation calling for a review of the qualifying industries and products to occur every two years. Companies that receive pioneer status may benefit from a tax holiday from payment of company income tax for an initial period of three years, extendable for one or two additional years. A pioneer industry sited in an economically disadvantaged area is entitled to a 100% tax holiday for seven years and an additional 5% depreciation allowance over and above the initial capital depreciation allowance. Additional tax incentives are available for investments in domestic research and development, for companies that invest in LGAs deemed disadvantaged, for local value-added processing, for investments in solid minerals and oil and gas, and for several other investment scenarios. For a full list of incentives, refer to the NIPC website at https://www.nipc.gov.ng/investment-incentives/ .
The NEPC administers an EEG scheme to improve non-oil export performance. The program was suspended in 2014 due to concerns about corruption on the part of companies that collected grants but did not actually export. It was revised and relaunched in 2018. The NEXIM Bank provides commercial bank guarantees and direct lending to facilitate export sector growth, although these services are underused. NEXIM’s Foreign Input Facility provides normal commercial terms for the importation of machinery and raw materials used for generating exports. Repayment terms are typically up to seven years, including a moratorium period of up to two years depending on the loan amount and the project being finance. Agencies created to promote industrial exports remain burdened by uneven management, vaguely defined policy guidelines, and corruption.
The NIPC states that up to 120% of expenses on research and development (R&D) are tax deductible, provided that such R&D activities are carried out in Nigeria and relate to the business from which income or profits are derived. Also, for the purpose of R&D on local raw materials, 140% of expenses are allowed. Long-term research will be regarded as a capital expenditure and written off against profit.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Nigerian Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA) allows duty-free import of all equipment and raw materials into its export processing zones. Up to 100% of production in an export processing zone may be sold domestically based on valid permits and upon payment of applicable duties. Investors in the zones are exempt from foreign exchange regulations and taxes and may freely repatriate capital. The Nigerian government also encourages private sector participation and partnership with state and local governments under the free trade zones (FTZ) program. There are three types of FTZs in Nigeria: federal or state government-owned, private sector-owned, and public-private partnerships. NEPZA regulates Nigeria’s FTZs regardless of the ownership structure. Workers in FTZs may unionize but may not strike for an initial ten-year period.
Nigeria ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in 2016 and the Agreement entered into force in 2017. Nigeria already implements items in Category A under the TFA and has identified, but not yet implemented, its Category B and C commitments. In 2016, Nigeria requested additional technical assistance to implement and enforce its Category C commitments. (See https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tradfa_e/tradfa_e.htm )
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Foreign investors must register with the NIPC, incorporate as a limited liability company (private or public) with the CAC, procure appropriate business permits, and register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (when applicable) to conduct business in Nigeria. Manufacturing companies sometimes must meet local content requirements. Long-term expatriate personnel do not require work permits but are subject to needs quotas requiring them to obtain residence permits that allow salary remittances abroad. Expatriates looking to work in Nigeria on a short-term basis can either request a temporary work permit, which is usually granted for a two-month period and extendable to six months, or a business visa, if only traveling to Nigeria for the purpose of meetings, conferences, seminars, trainings, or other brief business activities. Authorities permit larger quotas for professions deemed in short supply, such as deep-water oilfield divers. U.S. companies often report problems in obtaining quota permits. The Nigerian government’s Immigration Regulations 2017 introduced additional means by which foreigners can obtain residence in Nigeria. Foreign nationals who have imported an annual minimum threshold of capital over a certain period may be issued a permanent residence permit if the investment is not withdrawn. The Nigerian Oil and Gas Content Development Act of 2010 restricts the number of expatriate managers to 5% of the total number of personnel for companies in the oil and gas sector.
The National Office of Industrial Property Act of 1979 established the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) to regulate the international acquisition of technology while creating an environment conducive to developing local technology. NOTAP recommends local technical partners to Nigerian users in a bid to reduce the level of imported technology, which currently accounts for over 90% of technology in use in Nigeria. NOTAP reviews the Technology Transfer Agreements (TTAs) required to import technology into Nigeria and for companies operating in Nigeria to access foreign currency. NOTAP reviews three major aspects prior to approval of TTAs and subsequent issuance of a certificate:
- Legal – ensuring that the clauses in the agreement are in accordance with Nigerian laws and legal frameworks within which NOTAP operates;
- Economic – ensuring prices are fair for the technology offered; and
- Technical – ensuring transfer of technical knowledge.
U.S. firms complain that the TTA approval process is lengthy and can routinely take three months or more. NOTAP took steps to automate the TTA process to reduce processing time to one month or less; however, from the date of filing the application to the issuance of confirmation of reasonableness, TTA processing still requires 60 business days. https://notap.gov.ng/sites/default/files/stages_involved.pdf .
The Nigerian Oil and Gas Content Development Act of 2010 has technology-transfer requirements that may violate a company’s intellectual property rights.
In 2013, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), under the auspices of the Ministry of Communication, issued the Guidelines for Nigerian Content Development in the ICT sector. The Guidelines require original ICT equipment manufacturers, within three years from the effective date of the guidelines, to use 50% local manufactured content and to use Nigerian companies to provide 80% of value added on networks. The Guidelines also require multinational companies operating in Nigeria to source all hardware products locally; all government agencies to procure all computer hardware only from NITDA-approved original equipment manufacturers; and ICT companies to host all consumer and subscriber data locally, use only locally manufactured SIM cards for telephone services and data, and to use indigenous companies to build cell towers and base stations. Enforcement of the Guidelines is largely inconsistent. The government generally lacks capacity and resources to monitor labor practices, technology compliancy, and digital data flows. There are reports that individual Nigerian companies periodically lobby the National Assembly and/or NITDA to address allegations (warranted or not) against foreign firms that they are in non-compliance with the guidelines.
The goal of the guidelines is to promote development of domestic production of ICT products and services for the Nigerian and global markets, but some assessments indicate they pose risks to foreign investment and U.S. companies by interrupting their global supply chain, increasing costs, disrupting global flow of data, and stifling innovative products and services. Industry representatives remain concerned about whether the guidelines would be implemented in a fair and transparent way toward all Nigerian and foreign companies. All ICT companies, including Nigerian companies, use foreign manufactured equipment as Nigeria does not have the capacity to supply ICT hardware that meets international standards.
The NCS and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) exercise exclusive jurisdiction over customs services and port operations respectively. Nigerian law allows importers to clear goods on their own, but most importers employ clearing and forwarding agents to minimize tariffs and lower landed costs. Others ship their goods to ports in neighboring countries, primarily Benin, after which they transport overland legally or smuggle into the country. The Nigerian government began closing land borders to trade in August 2019, purportedly to stem the tide of smuggled goods entering from neighboring countries. Nigeria began reopening land borders to trade in December 2020, but it continues to restrict the import of items such as rice and vehicles through its land borders. The NCS maintains a wider import prohibition list available at https://customs.gov.ng/?page_id=3075, while the CBN continues to restrict access to foreign exchange for the importation of 44 classes of goods. The initial list that contained 41 items ( https://www.cbn.gov.ng/out/2015/ted/ted.fem.fpc.gen.01.011.pdf ) has since been expanded to include fertilizer, maize, and dairy products, with the CBN adding items in an ongoing basis as part of its “backward integration” strategy.
The Nigerian government implements a destination inspection scheme whereby all inspections occur upon arrival into Nigeria, rather than at the ports of origin. In 2013, the NCS regained the authority to conduct destination inspections, which had previously been contracted to private companies. NCS also introduced the Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS) platform and an online system for filing customs documentation via a Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) process. The NCS still carries out 100% cargo examinations, and shipments take more (sometimes significantly more) than 20 days to clear through the process. In addition to creating significant delays and additional fees for security and storage for items awaiting customs clearance, NCS’s continued reliance on largely manual customs processes creates opportunities for significant variation, individual discretion, and corruption in the application of customs regulations. At the time of this report, a growing number of companies were engaged in disputes with the customs agency due to NCS arbitrarily reclassifying their imports into new classification categories with higher import tariffs.
Shippers report that efforts to modernize and professionalize the NCS and the NPA have largely been unsuccessful – port congestion persists, and clearance times are long. A presidential directive in 2017 for the Apapa Port, which handles over 40% of Nigeria’s legal trade, to run a 24-hour operation and achieve 48-hour cargo clearance is not effective. The port is congested, inefficient and the proliferation of customs units incentivizes corruption from official and unofficial middlemen who complicate and extend the clearance process. Delays for goods entering the county via the Apapa Port were exacerbated under COVID; U.S. companies have reported wait times to berth ships at the port of up to 90 days. Freight forwarders usually resort to bribery of customs agents and port officials to avoid long delays clearing imported goods through the NPA and NCS. Other ports face logistical and security challenges leaving most operating well below capacity. Nigeria does not currently have a true deep-sea port although one is under construction near Lagos but not expected to be operational before 2023.
Investors sometimes encounter difficulties acquiring entry visas and residency permits. Foreigners must obtain entry visas from Nigerian embassies or consulates abroad, seek expatriate position authorization from the NIPC, and request residency permits from the Nigerian Immigration Service. In 2018, Nigeria instituted a visa-on-arrival system, which works relatively well but still requires lengthy processing at an embassy or consulate abroad before an authorization is issued. Some U.S. businesses have reported being solicited for bribes in the visa-on-arrival program. Visa-on-arrival is not valid for employment or residence. Investors report that the residency permit process is cumbersome and can take from two to 24 months and cost $1,000 to $3,000 in facilitation fees. The Nigerian government announced a visa rule in 2011 to encourage foreign investment, under which legitimate investors can obtain multiple-entry visas at points of entry. Obtaining a visa prior to traveling to Nigeria is strongly encouraged.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
The government does not have an established practice consistent with the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for state-owned enterprises (SOEs), but SOEs do have enabling legislation that governs their ownership. To legalize the existence of state-owned enterprises, provisions have been made in the Nigerian constitution under socio-economic development in section 16 (1) of the 1979 and 1999 Constitutions respectively. The government has privatized many former SOEs to encourage more efficient operations, such as state-owned telecommunications company Nigerian Telecommunications and mobile subsidiary Mobile Telecommunications in 2014.
Nigeria does not operate a centralized ownership system for its state-owned enterprises. The enabling legislation for each SOE stipulates its ownership and governance structure. The boards of directors are usually appointed by the president on the recommendation of the relevant minister. The boards operate and are appointed in line with the enabling legislation which usually stipulates the criteria for appointing board members. Directors are appointed by the board within the relevant sector. In a few cases, however, appointments have been viewed as a reward to political affiliates.
NNPC is Nigeria’s most prominent state-owned enterprise. NNPC Board appointments are made by the presidency, but day-to-day management is overseen by the Group Managing Director (GMD). The GMD reports to the Minister of Petroleum Resources. In the current administration, the President has retained that ministerial role for himself, and the appointed Minister of State for Petroleum Resources acts as the de facto Minister of Petroleum in the president’s stead with certain limitations.
NNPC is Nigeria’s biggest and arguably most important state-owned enterprise and is involved in exploration, refining, petrochemicals, products transportation, and marketing. It owns and operates Nigeria’s four refineries (one each in Warri and Kaduna and two in Port Harcourt), all of which are currently largely inoperable. Nigeria’s tax agency receives taxes on petroleum profits, while the Department of Petroleum Resources under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources collects rents, royalties, license fees, bonuses, and other payments. In an effort to provide greater transparency in the collection of revenues that accrue to the government, the Buhari administration requires these revenues, including some from the NNPC, to be deposited in the Treasury Single Account. NNPC began publishing audited financial statements in 2020 for the three prior fiscal years, a significant step toward improving transparency of NNPC operations.
Another key state-owned enterprise is the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), responsible for the operation of Nigeria’s national electrical grid. Private power generation and distribution companies have accused the TCN grid of significant inefficiency and inadequate technology which greatly hinders the nation’s electricity output and supply. TCN emerged from the defunct National Electric Power Authority as an incorporated entity in 2005. It is the only major component of Nigeria’s electric power sector which was not privatized in 2013.
The Privatization and Commercialization Act of 1999 established the National Council on Privatization, the policy-making body overseeing the privatization of state-owned enterprises, and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), the implementing agency for designated privatizations. The BPE has focused on the privatization of key sectors, including telecommunications and power, and calls for core investors to acquire controlling shares in formerly state-owned enterprises.
The BPE has privatized and concessioned more than 140 enterprises since 1999, including an aluminum complex, a steel complex, cement manufacturing firms, hotels, a petrochemical plant, aviation cargo handling companies, vehicle assembly plants, and electricity generation and distribution companies. The electricity transmission company remains state-owned. Foreign investors can and do participate in BPE’s privatization process. The government also retains partial ownership in some of the privatized companies. The federal government and several state governments hold a 40% stake, managed by BPE, in the power distribution companies.
The National Assembly has questioned the propriety of some of these privatizations, with one ongoing case related to an aluminum complex privatization the subject of a Supreme Court ruling on ownership. In addition, the failure of the 2013 power sector privatization to restore financial viability to the sector has raised criticism of the privatized power generation and distribution companies. Nevertheless, the government’s long-delayed sale in 2014 of state-owned Nigerian Telecommunications and Mobile Telecommunications shows a continued commitment to the privatization model.
The federal government intends to raise about 205 billion naira ($541 million) from privatization proceeds in 2021. BPE held an International Investors’ webinar in February 2021 to showcase investment opportunities in the two trade fair complexes in Lagos state slated for concession in 2021.