Nigeria and UNIDO celebrate 50 years

LI Yong

Nigeria is a middle-income country, with expanding financial, service, communications and technology, and entertainment sectors. It is ranked as the 21st largest economy in the world in terms of nominal gross domestic product, and the 20th largest in terms of purchasing power parity. It is the largest economy in Africa. Its re-emergent, though currently underperforming, manufacturing sector is the third largest on the continent, and produces a large proportion of goods and services for the West African sub-region. Oil and gas sales make up over 70 per cent of government revenues and over 90 per cent of foreign exchange, even though oil and gas contribute just 14 per cent to GDP.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation was set up 50 years ago to help countries like Nigeria and other developing countries, particularly in Africa, to add value to their natural resources, thereby further contributing to their national wealth and strengthening their capacity to feed their people, create jobs and then manufacture goods for the overall good of the people.

In the early years of our cooperation with Nigeria, UNIDO provided advice on industrial strategies and policies for a competitive industrial sector. Issues addressed included the identification of strategic options for further development, the constraints impeding the development of an efficient and self-sustaining industrial sector, the management of plan formation and implementation, and the need to encourage private sector-led industrialisation.

UNIDO has always emphasised the need for the Nigerian economy to diversify away from oil. In terms of practical development assistance, UNIDO has focused on supporting agribusiness development, providing assistance in skills development to the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, improving trade capacity, supporting renewable energy development especially for productive uses in rural areas and promoting cleaner production.

UNIDO’s cooperation with the Government of Nigeria has left some sizeable footprints in the sands of time that need highlighting. One notable achievement was the establishment of – thanks to UNIDO’s technical assistance and support – the Standards Organisation of Nigeria in 1971. The entity’s tasks are to prepare standards relating to products, measurements, materials, processes and services; certify products; assist in the production of quality goods and services; improve measurement accuracies; and circulate information relating to standards.

Another achievement was the establishment of the Geo-environmental Research Centre at the University of Ibadan. The GRC carries out analysis on sites contaminated by Persistent Organic Pollutants and other toxic pollutants across the country. UNIDO started the process of refurbishing the GRC laboratory in September 2010, through a local contractor, in order to install the infrastructure needed to operate a state-of-the-art analytical laboratory.

The establishment in 2013 of Common Facility Centres in Kano, Aba and Asaba, Delta State, was a UNIDO initiative to support micro-entrepreneurs in leather and leather products sector, a response to the government’s plan to revive the sector by providing an enabling business environment.

Another candle that UNIDO has lit is the use of small hydropower for productive uses, especially in the rural areas. With the establishment of the UNIDO Regional Centre for Small Hydro Power in Abuja in 2006, Nigeria is now considered a leader for the systematic capacity development in small hydropower technology in Africa. UNIDO has also recently expanded its renewable energy programmes to biomass projects, and built local capacity to manufacture turbines.

Recently, UNIDO opened an Investment and Technology Promotion Office in Lagos. The first of its kind in Africa, the office will support Nigeria, as well as countries of the Economic Community of West African States, on their path to inclusive and sustainable industrialisation by proactively identifying, attracting and mobilising investments and appropriate technologies, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises in the region.

Despite many challenges, the fundamentals of the Nigerian economy remain strong in the medium to long-term. One factor is the demographic dividend. With over 170 million people, Nigeria has the largest population in Africa and is the seventh largest in the world. This presents a large domestic market which currently constitutes half of the West African market. There is a large unskilled and semi-skilled labour force with potential to significantly improve labour productivity. In addition, the country has abundant natural resources. For instance, Nigeria has the 10th largest proven oil reserves and ninth largest natural gas reserves. There are also several other types of minerals in commercially viable quantities and a large arable land area, 60 per cent of which is currently unutilised.

The focus of the current administration is to ensure that Nigeria achieves an inclusive economic growth and that it diversifies its economic base with growing export revenues. The government is committed to providing a thriving business investment environment. This approach closely aligns with UNIDO’s mandate of inclusive and sustainable industrial development.

UNIDO supports the Government of Nigeria as it attempts to fix disparities in the real sector of the economy, but further steps are needed to enable industrial development and growth. To be specific, the country needs to fix its energy supply and build an ultra-modern nationwide rail transport system to take advantage of its demographic dividend and turn its abundant resources into a competitive edge.

As the organisation celebrates its 50th anniversary, UNIDO reaffirms its support for Nigeria as an important and innovative development partner in the region and beyond. UNIDO will stand beside Nigeria and support the government and all Nigerians in their aspirations towards an equal, just and prosperous future in the decades ahead.

Yong is Director General, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, Vienna, Austria.

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