Nigeria’s bid to attract foreign investors suffers as Western nations put Abuja on terror watch list 

By Eniola Akinkuotu
Posted on Friday, 28 October 2022 17:14

Security officials stand outside Kuje Medium Security pison in Abuja, Nigeria on July 6, 2022, after suspected Boko Haram gunmen attacked the Kuje Medium Prison. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Nigeria’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is set to suffer a setback as Western nations put the nation’s capital, Abuja, on a high terror alert, say economists.

The US first issued an advisory to its citizens on 23 October 2022, asking its nationals to avoid all non-essential travel to Abuja.

Washington’s consulate and embassy said the advisory followed a security alert issued recently about an impending terror attack in the country, especially, the nation’s capital, by the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram terror group.

The US then followed up with another statement announcing the evacuation of non-essential staffers in its embassy.

“On 25 October 2022, the [State] Department authorised the departure of non-emergency US government employees and family members due to the heightened risk of terrorist attacks,” it says in part.

American citizens have been urged to avoid crowded spaces, including worship centres, and to remain vigilant.

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) quickly followed suit, saying there was an increased threat of terrorist attacks in Abuja.

In an alert posted on its website, the agency said: “The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has updated its travel advice on 26 October to British nationals. The FCDO now advises against all but essential travel to the Federal Capital Territory, including the city of Abuja.”

Canada, in a fresh travel advisory, urged its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Nigeria, including Abuja, due to the unpredictable security situation throughout the country.

Its nationals have been advised to avoid travel to “the north-western states of Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara; the north-central state of Plateau; the north-eastern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa and Yobe. The Niger Delta states of Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Delta, Imo and Rivers [with the exception of Rivers’ capital city, Port Harcourt, where we advise against non-essential travel]”.

Other Western nations that have advised against travel to Nigeria, especially its capital Abuja, include Australia, Germany, Bulgaria and Ireland. More countries in the said region are expected to issue travel advisories in the coming days, sources tell The Africa Report.

Terrorists on the loose

For several months, both Nigerian intelligence agencies and foreign missions have raised the alarm over terrorists migrating to Abuja, a city which has enjoyed relative peace since 2013 when the UN building, the police headquarters, a military barracks, the offices of a newspaper company, a motor park and a plaza were bombed, killing tens of people.

With the onslaught of terrorists in the northeast, many insurgents fled to the northwest and the north-central regions and by 2021, had relocated to the outskirts of Abuja.

In July this year, terrorists who had blown up a train and abducted passengers – in March –  invaded the Kuje Correctional Centre in Abuja – the country’s most secure prison – and released over 500 criminals, including about 65 convicted terrorists, despite several prior warnings.

Prison authorities tell The Africa Report that over half of the inmates who escaped are still on the loose despite their photographs being made public. The government has also failed to offer any reward for their capture.

These warnings by the US and other Western nations will heighten anxiety about Nigeria’s economy

Following the latest security alert, Nigerian security operatives have beefed-up security in Abuja, mounting roadblocks and searching vehicles. There have also been raids in some neighbourhoods in Abuja that have led to some arrests in the last couple of days.

Businesses shut

Amid the advisories, some businesses have been shut completely while a few others have reduced their working hours. The Jabi Lake Mall located in an upper middle-class district, announced that it had shut its doors following the heightened tension.

The mall, which has over 50 outlets including grocery stores, electronic shops, boutiques, restaurants and a cinema, was built by Actis on five hectares of land on the Jabi Lake waterfront at a cost of over $100m. It is said to provide direct and indirect employment for at least 2,000 people and attracts over 300,000 shoppers monthly.

On its website it said that “the safety of our staff and shoppers remains our highest priority. The management is constantly reviewing the security situation in consultation with relevant security authorities and will inform you when the mall will be reopened.”

Private schools, which provide education for children of expatriates and embassy officials, were also shut as confirmed by the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools.

Foreign investors

With more Western countries advising their citizens to avoid travel to Abuja or Nigeria altogether, economists believe this could affect the country’s investment drive, despite assurances by the Nigerian government that there is no cause for alarm.

In a statement, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Mexico, Adejare Bello, says the news of insecurity has remained a serious problem for investors.

“The embassy receives frequent inquiries from investors on possible areas of collaboration between both countries, but all these efforts to attract foreign investments are being thwarted by the news of insecurity,” he says.

A report by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that capital importation into Nigeria fell by 81.46% from $8.49bn in the first quarter of 2019 to $1.57bn in the corresponding quarter of 2022.

Based on the NBS’s ‘Nigerian Capital Importation’ reports for the first quarters of 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022, there has been a steady decline in capital inflows into the nation predating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Investors don’t like environments that have a lot of instability.

The constant attacks on Nigeria’s oil facilities have also affected investments in the oil sector and reduced the country’s foreign exchange earnings. This is the same story in the agricultural sector, which accounts for 22%of Nigeria’s GDP.

With renewed security warnings, the country’s plan to attract more foreign investments may suffer a setback, says Adeola Adenikinju, head of the Economics department at the University of Ibadan.

He, however, adds that it could affect Foreign Portfolio Investment in the immediate term rather than FDI, which is more long term.

“Investors don’t like environments that have a lot of instability. These warnings by the US and other Western nations will heighten anxiety about Nigeria’s economy and it is not good for us at a time where we need foreign capital flows into the country. When foreign investors get these kinds of signals from Western nations, they go into panic mode,” Adenikinju tells The Africa Report.

Speaking to The Africa Report, economist Muda Yusuf says the advisories could affect Western investors, but Asians are usually braver in the face of imminent danger.

Yusuf, who is the CEO Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, adds that the atmosphere is tense even for Nigerians and the government must thus step up security.

“When the US asks its citizens to leave a country, you know it makes it scary for ordinary citizens let alone foreign investors; so the impact will be negative especially for Western investors, but some investors like the Chinese and Indians have a high appetite for risk,” he says.

Analyst and West Africa Tax Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Taiwo Oyedele, tells The Africa Report that indeed the security warnings are “capable of creating a sense of elevated risk and an atmosphere of increased uncertainty thereby discouraging both domestic and international investment”.

Oyedele, however, says rather than castigate the countries that have issued these security warnings, Nigeria must work with them to tackle the insecurity.

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