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Austria - Nigeria Relations - A commentary

By Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and Mr. Emeka Abone

From the very diplomatic ties that were developed in the early stages of our Independence over fifty years ago, Austria and Nigeria have been building a closer geopolitical relationship with each passing day.

Presently, with cautious yet undeterred optimism in mind and a historically documented long-term prognosis on Nigeria’s investment potential, Austria continues to take great strides in positioning itself as a pragmatically prosperous European trade colleague of Nigeria and West Africa for years to come.

Nigeria has emerged as one of Austria’s leading partners on the continent. From manufacturing to the construction of hospitals and schools, and to indeed our very culture, as witnessed in the ‘Austrian Laces – Nigerian Fashion’ forum held in Lagos, Austria has made an indelible imprint on the Nigerian socioeconomic fabric.

This year alone, the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (AFEC) disclosed that the volume of trade between Nigeria and Austria has climbed to $1.4 billion USD. For Austria, this remarkable feat in the bilateral relationship no doubt took the skilful mobilization of their diplomatic machinery in order to inform and educate its business community and lead political stakeholders domestically and within the EU as to the prospects of doing business in Nigeria. This is considerably more commendable as having been undertaken at a time rife with would-be sensational causes for potential trepidation.

Nigeria looks to continue its own journey to better commit itself to sustainable business development and social responsibility in order to fortify this relationship and mutually benefit.

Under the drive of our corporate thought leadership, we have sought to further liberalize our marketplace from within in order to promote a doctrine of undeterred prosperity, free from foul-play and deeply rooted bureaucratic corruption throughout the budding industries in Nigeria’s oil and non-oil sectors alike.

However, given last week’s Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, which unfavourably positioned our country as 144th out of 177 nations, coupled with the militant extremist violence that has captivated attention and intrigue in the Nigerian northeast, it is imperative we take it upon ourselves to reiterate to our partners on a consistent basis the adamant strides being taken towards checking these economic and societal follies, and promote the applicable yet vast trading opportunities and the overarching capacity that Nigeria ultimately holds for developing closer investment bonds with its Austrian and European colleagues.

In spite of the impression often being exacerbated by foreign media and the 24/7 news cycle, Nigeria has been and continues to be a sound climate for European commerce.

Although the country has its unique challenges, given the multifaceted culture that has sometimes led to fragmentation and self-centred economic opportunism, it is worrisome for stakeholders not better acquainted with our country’s history to believe and share the ideology that Nigeria is unsafe for doing business.

What is clear when reviewing the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index of 2013 is that there is ultimately not one nation in the world devoid of investment deterrence and issues of non-compliance. Our country is young and our citizens impassioned, and indeed so is the collective will that can circumvent our bureaucratic challenges and facilitate Austrian-Nigerian business in its continued climb to prosperity.

We have made significant progress in building the appropriate legal framework to support the development and registration of Austrian business, as but an example. Our nation’s political leadership are being pushed day in and out to loosen trade and visa restrictions in order to better enable the outflow of private sector profit and indeed expatriate collaboration.

It was SLOK Group’s privilege and pleasure to, on December 9th of this year, accept the European Society for Quality Research (ESQR) Award for Best Corporate Practices in Vienna, Austria and to these authors, a benchmark in the bilateral relationship.

We aim to leverage this opportunity to encourage that which can bring Austria and Nigeria closer together, to reverberate the lucrative opportunities in agribusiness, in shipping, in electricity production (all areas of Austrian economic stewardship) which can help enable Nigeria to rightfully take its place as one of the world’s 20 largest economies by 2020, and for Austria to gain a closer ally in African-based public and private sector development.

Amidst shortfalls and shortcomings, Austria has seen more in Nigeria and in doing so, has set an immensely successful precedent in mutually-beneficial Euro-African business.

Following from Austria’s lead, Nigerians and indeed the ECOWAS continues to believe that we have much to gain and little to lose from furthering this geopolitical friendship.

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