The envoys of the United Kingdom and the United States of America in Nigeria have said that the problems being faced by leading telecommunications giant, MTN, have scared investors from both countries from Nigeria, resulting in some of them pulling back and others withdrawing fresh offers and taking them to neighbouring countries.
The Central Bank of Nigeria had in August ordered MTN to refund to the Federal Government the sum of $8,134,312,397.63 alleged to have been illegally repatriated to South Africa.
The order came three years after the firm faced a record-breaking $5.2bn fine for non-registration of subscribers.
The two envoys spoke in Lagos on Thursday on the sideline of the 2018 International Investment Conference themed, ‘Promoting Investment, Connecting Business’, organised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry as part of activities marking the 2018 Lagos International Trade Fair.
The Consul General, US High Commission, Mr John Bray, said the message the MTN experience sent was that people could make investments in Nigeria only for the rules of the game to be changed overnight.
“Apparently things are being resolved, but once you make an announcement like that (order to repatriate the funds), there are probably guys sitting back there and waiting to get on the plane and fly back to the JFK and say, I am not investing again,” he stated.
Bray said US business owners had continued to invest in Nigeria with last year’s investment totalling $13.5bn, adding, “So, we just want to get more investors here and part of that is improving the regulatory environment, improving infrastructure and dampening their fears about insecurity.”
On her part, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Laure Beaufils, described the MTN saga as damaging, saying that investors were always conscious of such signals.
She said, “Of course, investors are interested in regulations, policies and strategies, but ultimately, they look at signals like that and I think that was damaging. I think most people in Nigeria recognise that that was very damaging.
“There is a lot that is being done to address that and we are aware of that but sadly, investors also go beyond the headlines of such stories and my key point today is that we have to avoid such rash decisions at all cost in the interest of further investments that are absolutely essential to the economic development of the country, to job creation and to the vision that we all have of an incredibly rich and vibrant Nigeria.”
Beaufils added that Nigeria was very important to the United Kingdom from investment perspective, noting that the recent coming of the British Prime Minister to Nigeria was a confirmation of that fact.
She added, “Our team is increasing. When the PM was here; she set up a new economic development forum with the President to discuss how we can grow from strength to strength and further increase our bilateral cooperation.
“She committed to the UK becoming the first G7 investor in Africa by 2022. She also said that our development finance institute, the CDC, will be investing a further £3.5bn in Africa in the next few years, and a lot of that should come to Nigeria.
“There is huge amount of interest in Nigeria. We are already the first investor in Nigeria and we want to continue to build on that; but what we are saying is what investors are looking at is predictability in decision making and application of regulations and policies; and so, they are looking at ensuring that the rule of law systematically applies and they are watching keenly to see what happens in Nigeria going forward.”