Proponents have hailed this as a historic milestone that will in turn improve Nigeria’s positioning and prospects as the destination of choice in Africa for foreign direct investments (FDIs).
Critics have been quick to point out that these figures do not translate to development on the ground. With the perennial power challenges, infrastructural deficits, weak institutions, legendary poor governance and unstable and unfriendly regulation, they claim that the exercise is at best futile and a case of self-delusion that does not deceive discerning investors.
I suspect that this debate will go on for quite some time.
I am no economist but I understand that until the standard of living improves for anyone and everyone who works hard in Nigeria, the country is unlikely to live up to its full potential and take a respected place among nation states.
One of Nigeria’s biggest competitive advantages is the size of its consumer market. We have become the toast of leading multinationals in sectors such as FMCG and Telecommunications. Daily, these organizations make a killing from selling their products and services consumed by an increasingly aspirational generation of young and upwardly mobile Nigerians.
That Nigeria’s new GDP estimates have been buoyed by sectors closely aligned with the digital ecosystem is not a coincidence though.
But how can the new GDP figures help create a better enabling environment that supports e-commerce in Nigeria?
Here a few random suggestions:
1) We need to have PayPal and other leading international online payment platforms accept Nigerian issued debit cards. Many Nigerians struggle to create/own e-commerce platforms but cannot monetize from an international audience because PayPal neither allows owners of Nigerian cards to make online payments nor does it allow merchants (owners of e-commerce platforms) to receive online payments through it. This is perhaps one of the greatest frustrations many here face in trying to profit from this whole e-commerce brouhaha. In the next few weeks, I would be opening a PayPal account from another African country (whose name I am ashamed to mention) for an initiative I run using a debit card from that country. Those who are responsible for driving e-commerce growth and development in this country need to engage with organizations like PayPal more proactively on behalf of all of us. Not every Nigerian is a fraudster. The vast majority of Nigerians using the Internet are honest people looking to better their lives. While a private business like PayPal can restrict users in Nigeria, we need to recalibrate the relationship profitably for the Nigerian e-commerce space just like we have rebased our GDP.
2) A few weeks ago, the Nigerian office of a multinational firm was not permitted by Twitter to run adverts on its platform. Even though the multinational firm had a global advertising agreement and budget with Twitter, it was only when the advert was placed from the European head office of the multinational firm that the advert started running. Also on Twitter, very few Nigerian brands are verified and in an age of cybersquatting and identity theft, brands need to be able to differentiate themselves from fake parody accounts. Someone somewhere needs to engage Twitter on our behalf.
3) Until sometime last year, it was almost impossible for the average Nigerian based user to monetize his/her You Tube channel. To circumvent this, Nigerian based users have had to open channels from other locations in the world. Some years ago a You Tube channel in Nigeria with the one of the largest number of videos and views in Africa had to open its You Tube channel in Europe in order to monetize its videos. No doubt Google Nigeria is working to improve the benefits Nigerians accrue from using its services. While its Google Wallet allows Nigerian card owners to make payments online, the platform restricts merchants in Nigeria from receiving payments online. Someone somewhere needs to engage Google Nigeria and Google’s regional and international offices as e-commerce businesses here need all the help they can get.
4) Harvard Business Review – the last time I checked, Nigeria was not listed in the country field when trying to sign up for a subscription of Harvard Business Review. Even Niger was listed. Given the large and growing number of eminent Nigerians that are alumni of this prestigious business school, it begs the question - why we are not on that list? If Nigeria is good enough to be on the list for course registration, why omit us from the list for the magazine (which cost far less)? I think it is an oversight but perhaps I am wrong. Either way, someone somewhere out there needs to engage with organizations like these on our behalf.
If Nigerians must profit sustainably from the web of innovations in the digital space, Nigeria needs to introduce itself and its budding e-business community to the major players in the digital space. A high level cross functional team needs to formally visit and engage leaders of Apple, Google, PayPal, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Amazon, etc to understand and take steps to begin addressing the legitimate concerns of these businesses.
They can cite the examples of the likes of FedEx, DHL, UPS, General Electric, Delta Air, United Airlines, Microsoft, Google, TripAdvisor, etc who have been able to thrive in this market. We can report the successes of the ongoing national broadband policy rollout as well as the cashless banking policy. With so many budding and successful e-commerce start-ups, Nigeria’s story like that of our rebased GDP is still unfolding.
The message we leave them should be loud and clear – “when (and not if) they look to expand into Africa, Nigeria should be the ultimate destination of choice”.
That would be the true impact of a rebased GDP to the e-commerce community.
P.S: This article was also published in the 9th of April 2014 edition of the Punch Newspapers.