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Pathetic Phenomenon Of Mass Exit Of Multinationals From Nigeria

… As President Tinubu shops for investors globally, multinationals leave Nigeria in droves 

It is a sad irony that at a time that President Bola Tinubu is traversing the world to shop for new investors for the economy, the divestment of otherwise well-rooted multinational manufacturing companies from Nigeria has suddenly developed into a torrent.

Frightening recent media reports had it that no less than five such multinationals have either left Nigeria or have dropped their manufacturing activities to become importers.

These include Unilever, the manufacturer of iconic products such as Omo, Sunlight Soap and others; GlaxoSmithKline, a drug and vaccines manufacturer; and Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical producer.

Procter and Gamble, a household goods manufacturer is restructuring to become an importer, while Bolt, a very user-friendly, a ride-sharing and goods delivery app which only opened shop in Nigeria in 2021 to give Uber a run for its money, is also affected. Back in 2006, tyre manufacturers, Michelin and Dunlop, left the country for Ghana because of the collapse of our rubber raw materials sector.

The divestment gale is also evident in the oil industry, the watershed of our economy. No fewer than 26 oil companies and investments pulled out and sold their stakes to domestic investors. These include influential oil mining multinationals such as Shell, ExxonMobil and ENI. These companies are going away mainly because of heightened insecurity in the Niger Delta and inability of the Nigerian government to provide their counterpart funds to enable the joint venture agreements to explore and exploit new oilfields.

Even way back in the early days of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who also started by junketing “in search of investors” and “debt forgiveness”, we cautioned that such an approach was quixotic and could end up bringing hustler foreign businessmen who would milk and discard our economy. Our hunches were proved right because Obasanjo attracted a number of “foreign investors” who colluded with their domestic partners to buy our privatised national assets for peanuts and sold them off.

Which serious manufacturing outfit will come to Nigeria at this point when those who have been here for decades are leaving in droves? We can only get more trading companies, more so as the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has lifted import restrictions.

The operating environment in Nigeria is hostile to serious manufacturing activities. The high cost of foreign exchange, energy, multiple taxation, rotten criminal justice system and insecurity are killing off both domestic and multinational manufacturers alike.

Our unemployment problems and crime rates will worsen. If care is not taken, we may soon be back to 1984 when “essential commodities” were scarce and unaffordable. Already, the cost of drugs has gone beyond the reach of most people.

The Tinubu administration must restore Nigeria as a haven for manufacturing to bring back these industries. Indigenous manufacturers must be empowered. The solution is within.

Reasons foreign investors shun Nigeria – Former envoys

Some former envoys have said that the G20 and BRICS+ have continued to ignore Nigeria because of the country’s increasingly weak economy.

According to them, poor political leadership over the years has dwarfed Nigeria’s development; hence, the country has not been able to meet the socio-economic standards of the G20, a premier global bloc for discussing economic issues; and the BRICS+, a nine-member economic and political force.

They said an import-dependent economy coupled with market instability and the unpredictable forex exchange regime cannot attract investors or economic allies.

These were the thoughts of Nigeria’s former Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Usman Sarki; Nigeria’s former Ambassador to the Benin Republic, Lawrence Obisakin; and ex-Senior Advisor to the United Nations (Nigeria Office), Fred Eno.

The three diplomats spoke on Channels Television.

South Africa, with about 62.4 million population, and a Gross Domestic Product of $373.23bn, according to data by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is a member of BRICS+ and the G20, while Nigeria with 227 million people and $252.74bn GDP is not a member of both blocs.

Sarki said the membership of the two global groups is not automatic and that Nigeria has not met the economic standards to join the blocs.

He said, “There are certain criteria that make those countries look at candidates. One of those is have we met all standards in terms of the organisation of our economy, in terms of the management of our economy, in terms of the projections and certainty of the way we organise ourselves?

“On all indices, on all factors, we seem to have failed in meeting those benchmarks. So, it is difficult to invite you into an exclusive clan when you do not meet the standards that have been set. And these countries will not lower their standards because of you, they will expect you to up your game to meet the standards and admit you.”

He said Nigerian leaders must have the discipline to organise and stabilise the economy to attract investors and create jobs as these would send the right signals to the international community.

‘Beyond Population’

Obisakin agreed with Sarki saying that no global bloc would want to work together with a country when there are no common interests.

Obisakin, a former Nigerian Ambassador to the Benin Republic, said becoming a member of the G20 and BRICS+ goes beyond having a large population and vast geographical spread.

He said, “There are causes and effects and correlational factors. Why did Nigeria not get invited? As regards BRICS+, I have the quotation of our Vice President (Kashim Shettima) saying Nigeria did not apply. But we are diplomats. When we talk about liberal theories of getting people to work together, it’s because there are common interests.

“When people organise meetings and conferences, they have objectives and they will select those who are relevant to them.”

He said “when a nation is strong” economically, people would want to identify with it.

“When you talk about the strength of a nation, it’s not just demography, population could be a disaster if not a liability, we are talking of the Nigerian population being well-trained and equipped. A country that is unable to feed itself is unstable, he added.

He noted political stability and security as another factor considered by developmental partners.

Citing the recent suicide bombings in the Gwoza area of Borno State, the ex-envoy said, “A country that is insecure cannot attract investments because if it can happen in the country, it can happen anywhere in the country.”

“We are talking about G20, the world’s largest and most advanced economies, will they invite us? Politically we are not stable, each time we have an election, it’s like going to war. Economically, the naira is down. What are we exporting? We are importing. Nobody leaves his currency and let it float. We have seen where it is floating now. We must manage our currency and coordinate our economy.”

Automatic Membership?

Similarly, Eno, a former UN advisor, shared the views of Sarki and Obisaki, saying that with Nigeria’s intimidating population and the size of its economy, being a member of the G20 and the BRICS+ should have been automatic but for institutional challenges.

“One would have assumed that it is something natural given the size of the population and the economy. For G20, part of it has to do with our own institutions and how they function,” he said.

Eno said Nigeria’s institutions are not manned by the right people to provide the right kind of information that our decision-makers can rely on to make the right policies.

He said instead of chasing the membership of BRICS+, G20 and other economic power groups in the world, governments at all levels should focus on human capital development.

The three ex-envoys urged the federal government to set enduring solutions to the challenges of forex exchange volatility, skyrocketing interest rates, soaring inflation, food crisis, and many more encumbrances highlighted by manufacturers and industrialists “because the internal dynamics of the country are what shape the image of the country externally.”

Formed in 1999, the G20 brings together the most industrialised member states to meet regularly and coordinate international policies on trade, health, climate and other issues.

The G20’s members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain. The European Union is also a member with the African Union being the latest member admitted in 2023.

Similarly, BRICS, an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa was created in 2006 as a bloc which brings together the world’s most developing economies to challenge the political and economic power of the wealthier nations of North America and Western Europe.

In January, the bloc, now known as BRICS+, admitted four new members, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. BRICS+ accounts for about 37% of the world’s GDP.

‘Multinationals exit costs Nigeria N94tn in five years’

The exodus of multinationals from the Nigerian economy has cost the country a N94tn loss of output in five years, according to an economist and former Director of Research and Advocacy at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Nigeria, Dr Vincent Nwani.

Multiple multinationals have left Nigeria by either scaling down operations, transferring ownership or selling their stakes, the most recent being the sale of beverage company Diageo’s 58.02 per cent shareholding in Guinness Nigeria to Tolaram Group on June 11, 2024.

Nwani told The PUNCH he arrived at his data by considering the valuation of multinationals and by calculating their value addition by five to 10 times.

The economist explained that he checked the contribution of all multinationals leaving the Nigerian economy by analysing how many Nigerians such multinationals employed, the salary they paid their workers and their turnover.

Nwani, who claimed to have always kept his eye on the economic data from Nigeria for most of the 20 years, noted he only mentioned the most notable companies, but other multinationals were included in the analysis, which helped him arrive at the final figure.

According to the analyst, for the first year, over 10 companies shut down operations in 2020, most notably: Standard Biscuits Nigeria Ltd, NASCO Fiber Product Ltd, Union Trading Company Nigeria PLC and Deli Foods Nigeria Ltd

In 2021, he stated that more than 20 companies exited, including Tower Aluminium Nigeria PLC, Framan Industries Ltd, Stone Industries Ltd, Mufex Nigeria Company Ltd and Surest Foam Ltd.

He stated that in 2022 over 15 known brands left Nigeria, including Universal Rubber Company Ltd, Mother’s Pride Ventures Ltd, Errand Products Nigeria Ltd and Gorgeous Metal Makers Ltd.

More than 10 major companies left in 2023, notably Unilever Nigeria PLC, Procter & Gamble Nigeria, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Nigeria Ltd, ShopRite Nigeria, Sanofi-Aventis Nigeria Ltd, Equinox Nigeria and Bolt Food & Jumia Food Nigeria.

In the first six months of this year, five listed major companies had left Nigeria, including Microsoft Nigeria, Total Energies Nigeria (affected by its divestment), PZ Cussons Nigeria PLC, Kimberly-Clerk Nigeria and Diageo PLC.

Nwani said that the major contributor to Nigeria’s N94tn loss in output was Microsoft Corporation, which announced it was closing its Africa Development Centre in Lagos on May 8, 2024.

“Between 2020 and 2022, our calculation showed a cumulative lost output and potential investment of N24tn. From 2023 to H1 2024, larger multinationals exits, such as Microsoft’s departure, accounted for over 50 per cent of the figure,” he said.

While Microsoft has denied it was shutting down its operations in Nigeria, the closing up of the tech company’s centre for which it invested $100m was followed by an announcement of a proposed $100bn investment in a Kenyan data centre.

The economist stated the top reasons for the exodus of multinationals were the foreign exchange crisis, worsening security conditions in the country and the power supply crisis, which has led to exorbitant energy costs.

Nwani said, “If things continue this way and I don’t see anything being done to cause insecurity to stop, illegal taxation, corruption and uncertainty of foreign exchange rendering companies unable to hedge risk, then I see at least 10 more notable names (of multinationals) that will go. We already have five by the end of May.”

The economist said the President Tinubu-led government needed to address the top three reasons it gave for the multinationals’ exit from Nigeria to bring about some economic relief.

A Babcock University Professor of Economics, Olusegun Ajibola, told The PUNCH that the exit of multinationals happened chiefly because the investment attracted by the foreign companies in their original currencies eventually dropped in value due to the increase of the exchange rate against the Naira.

Ajibola drew an analogy of a multinational whose investment inflow of about $1m gets converted to the existing naira rate and after a financial year, converts profit to original currency for repatriation purposes only to discover it was not worth the same as before because the naira exchange rate plummeted.

The don said it was most likely for a multinational in such a situation as his analogy to not spend further resources to do business in a country with an exchange rate challenge as Nigeria had and would rather sell off its stakes to other businesses.

Ajibola noted, “While some multinationals are leaving Nigeria, other companies are coming in.”

“Nigeria presents a very beautiful outlook for international investors. We have always had a robust market, irrespective of some of our local challenges in infrastructure, security and others.”

The former president of the Chartered Institute of Bankers mentioned that foreign investors would remain attracted to the Nigerian economy even in the eye of many multinationals exiting, as was the case of Tolaram Group, a multinational that bought over the shareholding of another multinational, Diageo.

Nigerian lawmakers to investigate exit of multinationals from country

As a result of foreign companies, especially manufacturers and energy firms, leaving Nigeria with many citing the current foreign exchange crunch and devaluation of the Naira; resulting in lower earnings for foreign companies in dollar terms, as reasons, Nigerian lawmakers have resolved to investigate the departure of some multinational companies from the country amid a volatile macro-economic environment.

The resolution was reached by the House of Representatives following the adoption of a motion moved by Patrick Umoh (APC, Akwa Ibom) and two other legislators during plenary session recently.

The co-sponsors are Lukman Mudashiru and Paul Ekpo.

Moving the motion on the need for intervention to halt the exit, Mr. Umoh listed about a dozen companies that have left the country or ceased production due to the harsh economic environment.

Some of the companies listed by the lawmaker include Surest Foam Limited, Mufex, Framan Industries, MZM Continental, Nipol Industries, Moak Industries, Stone Industries, Procter and Gamble, Sanofi-Aventis, and Equinor.

He added that Bolt Food discontinued food delivery due to economic challenges, while Jubilee Syringe Manufacturing also declared temporary redundancy due to unforeseen business challenges.

Umoh said the mass exit of companies hinders economic growth potential, leads to job losses, increased poverty, decreased government revenue, and diminished investor confidence in the Nigerian market.

“Multinational companies are exiting or closing operations in Nigeria due to economic uncertainties, challenging business environments, lack of electricity, constant Naira devaluation, high taxes, insecurity, poor infrastructure, port congestion, and stringent government policies,” he said.

Consequently, the House mandated its committees on Industry, Labour, Employment, and Productivity to investigate the closure of local companies and the departure of multinational companies from Nigeria.

The committees were also asked to identify the factors hindering the ease of doing business in Nigeria.

The House also urged the Federal Government and other relevant agencies and ministries to implement clearly defined measures to address the challenges confronting the nation, particularly in the manufacturing sector, and create a conducive environment for businesses to thrive.

It asked the Federal Government to collaborate with the private sector to develop policies that would stimulate economic growth and create job opportunities in the country.

The motion was taken without debate, and the committees were mandated to report to the House within four weeks.

Multinationals leaving Nigeria due to foreign exchange woes – Edun

The Minister of Finance, Wale Edun, has stated that the lack of a liquid foreign exchange market was the major reason why some multinational companies exited Nigeria.

Edun, who was a guest on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics programme, stated that the government has addressed this issue by establishing a willing buyer, willing seller foreign exchange market.

He said, “One of the major drawbacks one of the major impediments for them (exiting multinationals) was they did not have a liquid foreign exchange market.

“Now, we have a willing buyer, willing seller foreign exchange market. It is elevated, may be not at the levels we will like it to be but it is when you get inflation down that you can stabilise the exchange rate and even get it coming down similarly with the interest rate. That fight is on. It is an improved environment for them, for big investors as a whole.”

He explained that the inability of the exiting multinationals to access foreign exchange was a major impediment to their operations in the country.

According to Edun, recent executive orders signed by President Bola Tinubu have improved the investment climate for the gas sector, which Nigeria has in abundance.

Edun said, “Companies will always come and go, of course, our aim is to not only keep them but to have them even more coming to invest, and we are sure that with the environment that we put in place, they would come.”

The minister also disclosed that tax reform proposals aimed at simplifying doing business for local and foreign manufacturers are being considered as part of an Economic Stabilisation Package.

While acknowledging current economic challenges, Edun expressed optimism about the country’s economic future, stating that the government is working tirelessly to create a conducive environment for investors.

“We are in a difficult place but the direction of travel is and it’s towards improvement. So, every single day, every single month, we are looking at an improved economic situation for Nigeria,” he said.

Tinubu’s one year: companies that have exited Nigeria

Since President Bola Tinubu assumed office on May 29, 2023, Nigeria has witnessed a steady exit of foreign companies, leaving behind a trail of uncertainty and economic instability.

In the past year, at least seven multinational corporations have pulled out of the country, with most of the organisations citing unfavourable business environments caused by the unavailability of foreign exchange. Most of these companies are pharmaceutical, household and food companies, The ICIR reports, as part of the series to track the first year of Tinubu’s administration tagged, “Tinubu’s one year in office“. 

As the dust settles, the departures of these companies have led to far-reaching implications for Nigeria’s economy, workers, and future investments.

Companies that have exited Nigeria

GlaxoSmithKline

GlaxoSmithKline announced its exit from Nigeria in August 2023 after 51 years of operation in the country. GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Nigeria Plc was incorporated in Nigeria on June 23, 1971, and commenced business on July 1, 1972, under the name Beecham Limited.

The firm is a healthcare company that researches, develops, and manufactures pharmaceutical medicines, vaccines, and consumer healthcare products such as Panadol, Andrews liver salt, Macleans, Ampiclox, and Sensodyne, amongst others.

The ICIR reported that the company attributed its departure from Nigeria to the government’s foreign exchange unification policies, which have led to persistent currency issues and dollar scarcity, severely impacting its manufacturing operations and production capabilities.

The report also noted that as a result of the exit, Nigeria would now have to import and pay more for the prescriptible and off-the-counter drugs made by the company

Equinor

On November 29, 2023, Equinor announced its departure from Nigeria after over 30 years of operations, revealing that it had sold its business interests, including its stake in the Agbami oil field, to Chappal Energies, a Nigerian-owned company.

The Norwegian oil firm will divest its subsidiary, Equinor Nigeria Energy Company (ENEC), which holds a majority stake in oil mining lease (OML) 128, including a significant interest in the Agbami field, operated by Chevron.

While the company didn’t disclose its reasons for leaving, it stated that the transaction’s completion is contingent on meeting certain conditions, including regulatory and contractual approvals from both parties.

Sanofi 

Sanofi-Aventis Nigeria Limited, a French pharmaceutical company, announced on November 7, 2023, that it would adopt a third-party distribution model for its products in Nigeria, effective February 2024.

The company, a significant supplier of vaccines, cited Nigeria’s economic challenges, particularly the foreign exchange crisis, as the reason for this decision. However, Sanofi aims to increase efficiency and sustainably reach patients and the medical community through this new model, which involves partnering with a single strong distributor with extensive geographic coverage.

On February 2, 2024, CFAO Healthcare, a subsidiary of the French conglomerate CFAO Group, announced its expansion with Sanofi, strengthening its strategic partnership.

Procter & Gamble

On December 5, 2023, Procter & Gamble (P&G) announced its decision to cease operations in Nigeria after three decades, transitioning to an import-only model.

According to The ICIR, this decision was driven by Nigeria’s challenging business environment, largely due to dollar-denominated operations and unfavourable macroeconomic conditions.

The P&G’s chief financial officer, Andre Schulten, mentioned that operating in certain markets like Nigeria and Argentina had become increasingly challenging due to these macroeconomic factors.

A few days after the announcement, Segun Ajayi-Kadir, the director-general of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), expressed concerns about P&G’s departure, warning that other manufacturers might also consider exiting the country.

Bolt Food and Jumia Food

In December 2023, Bolt Food decided to exit Nigeria after operating for two years in the country. The company cited the need to streamline resources and enhance overall efficiency as the reason for its departure.

Bolt Food was launched in October 2021 by the ride-hailing company to compete with rivals like Jumia Food and Gokada, making food access easier in Lagos.

Similarly, Jumia Food also exited the Nigerian market in December 2023. Initially launched as Hellofood in 2012, it rebranded in 2019 under the Jumia Group.

Jumia Food was one of the pioneers of online food delivery in Nigeria and had the widest geographic coverage before its departure.

Jumia also discontinued its services in other countries, including Kenya, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Uganda, and Algeria. Jumia’s CEO, Francis Dufay, stated that the company would now focus on its core physical goods business and payment platform.

Microsoft

On May 8, 2024, Microsoft announced its decision to close its African Development Centre (ADC) in Ikoyi, Lagos.

Although the company did not provide a specific reason for this closure, it emphasized its continued commitment to operations in Nigeria and its focus on investing in strategic growth areas.

Microsoft launched the innovation centre in 2019 to develop technology solutions from Africa to tackle both regional and global challenges.

Impressed by the initiative’s success, the company established $100 million African Development Centres in Nigeria and Kenya in 2022. Despite the closure of the Nigerian centre, the Kenyan centre will remain operational.

On June 14, 2023, the Central Bank of Nigeria instructed Deposit Money Banks to eliminate the rate cap on the naira at the Investors and Exporters’ (I&E) Window of the foreign exchange market, enabling the national currency to float freely against the dollar and other global currencies.

The floating naira and the resulting dollar fluctuations prompted these companies to exit the market. This has significantly impacted the prices of goods and services, particularly pharmaceutical products. For instance, as of November 2023, the average cost of anti-malaria medication is NGN 2000 , depending on the brand and its effectiveness.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) data, Nigeria remains the world’s malaria capital, with 97 per cent of its population at risk of the disease.

Divestment of Oil companies

Total Energies, Shell & other International Oil Companies-IOCs are divesting their assets, away from Nigeria with billions of investments going to other African countries with better business environment.

For instance, Total Energies is increasing its stakes in Angola and the Congo.

PZ Cussons

PZ Cussons Plc, in April 2024, said it has commenced a strategic review of its business in Africa, with a consideration of exiting the continent, partly driven by economic challenges in Nigeria such as naira devaluation and inflation, which has significantly impacted the company’s sales and operations, resulting in a 48 percent sales plunge.

Jonathan Myers, CEO of PZ Cussons, emphasised the importance of looking towards the future while respecting the company’s past, indicating that the review’s outcomes could include changes in ownership.

Myers added, “The macro-economic challenges and complexities associated with operating in Nigeria are significant and there is much more to do to unlock the full potential of the business.”

“As such, we have undertaken a strategic review of our brands and geographies and have embarked on plans to transform our portfolio, refocusing on where the business can be most competitive.”

PZ further stated: “In addition to the challenges of the significant exposure to Nigeria, the group is too complex for its size, with financial and human resources spread too thinly to generate consistent returns.”

“This means its competitive advantages have been constrained in comparison to those of both larger multinational companies and some focused, smaller ones,” he further said in a statement that confirmed their exit.

Kimberly-Clark

Also, the American multinational and makers of “Huggies”-Kimberly-Clark  has also announced it has made the difficult decision to exit its business in Nigeria after almost 15 years, due to recently refocused company strategic priorities globally as well as economic developments in the country.

Kimberly-Clark will close its manufacturing facility and commercial office in Lagos and will no longer manufacture, market, or sell its Huggies and Kotex products in the country.

Nigerians hope that this ugly situation of mass exodus of Multinationals from the country, which poses a major economic threat, would be addressed and tackled headlong by the Tinubu administration effectively, efficiently, and in earnest. Many analysts and observers say if this trend is not handled with utmost care and treated as a national emergency, it could lead to a major crisis, not only for now but one which has the potential of spelling doom for the future of this nation.

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