In the immediate aftermath of the APC presidential primary early June, many Nigerians had pondered a bit on how the Vice President would be managing the rest of his days in office. Would he keep brooding over the loss or devote more energy to his duties? Will he join the APC campaign or stay aloof and watch the unfolding drama? Not one to dwell on a setback, Osinbajo has moved on and added a new role to his hectic schedule: Nigeria’s leading salesman making a pitch for the country and promoting its investment opportunities. In November the VP had thrilled the audience at the United Nations World Tourism Organization Conference held at the newly refurbished National Theatre in Lagos when he gave his own rendition of Kizz Daniel’s hit song, ‘’Buga’’. That performance, I suspect, might have shot up the number of sold copies of that song. It is no surprise that Daniel turned out to be the only African musician invited to perform at the opening ceremonies of the ongoing FIFA World Cup competition. Osinbajo’s Buga dance reminds me of Magdalene Albright, the then US ambassador to UN, dancing to the ‘’macarena’’ hit song with a Botswana diplomat on the floor of the UN General Assembly in November 1996. Skilled diplomats often deploy arts to make their point.
But it was during Prof Osinbajo’s three-day visit to Vietnam early December that he brought his skills in salesmanship and diplomacy to a full display. His high-level bilateral engagements with President Nguyễn Xuân Phúc; Vice President Vo Thi Aah Xuan, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, other government officials and the business community provided opportunity for Osinbajo to sell Nigeria to this very strategic South East Asian country. This reciprocal visit to Vietnam was designed to further strengthen trade and bilateral relations between both countries, and it came three years after then Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, Vuong Hue, had visited Nigeria in October 2019, and met with Prof. Osinbajo, other senior Nigerian government officials and also interacted with the Nigerian-Vietnam Business Association. Nigeria is Vietnam’s largest trading partner in Africa. Trade between both countries stood at US$280 million in 2014 and increased to over US$500 million in 2019. Although Nigeria and Vietnam have maintained long-standing diplomatic relations since 1976, Vice President Osinbajo is the second Nigerian high ranking incumbent government official to visit the country after President Olusegun Obasanjo’s trip in 2005.
As soon as he arrived Hanoi, Osinbajo set the tone for the visit on Monday at the state banquet held in his honour by his Vietnamese opposite number, Madam Vo Thi Anh Xuan, at the International Convention Centre. "Our friendship with Vietnam, which we cherish most dearly, is one that will develop, especially now that we have very anticipatory greater collaboration and; we are eager to nurture that relationship. We have so much in common that increased cooperation between Nigeria and Vietnam can only yield beneficial fruits for both of us," Prof. Osinbajo noted, adding "our tropical climate, relatively high population and developmental aspirations have dictated that we pay serious attention to agriculture and manufacturing." He observed that both countries have youthful populations of digital natives, and so cooperation in innovation and technology would be seamless.
The Vietnamese VP, Madam Vo Thi Anh Xuan agreed with Prof. Osinbajo and commended Nigeria's efforts in leading West Africa on the path of progress, citing the country's energy transition efforts as an example. She acknowledged that both Nigeria and Vietnam shared common challenges and developmental aspirations, citing her country's economic development targets based on its Agenda 2045 as an example, assuring that Vietnam will continue to partner with Nigeria across different sectors, describing Nigeria a worthy partner. Prof. Osinbajo had earlier in the day held bilateral talks with country's Prime Minister, Pham Minh Chinh, at his office in Hanoi, where both leaders agreed on the need for more high-level political engagements between the governments of the two republics.
The Vietnamese Prime Minister told the VP that Vietnam is eager to enhance its bilateral relations with Nigeria, to which Osinbajo made a further pitch. "As Nigeria is the most popular black nation in the world and the largest economy on the African continent, we are strategic partners for countries seeking to expand economically," Prof. Osinbajo said, adding that with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) now in force, Nigeria is at the center of the largest free trade zone of 1.4 billion people in Africa.
The VP and the PM also discussed how both countries can assist each other to get more economic leverage in Africa, ECOWAS and Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN. The Prime Minister acknowledged that Nigeria is the "the gateway to the West Africa market," while also noting the need for greater collaboration between ECOWAS and ASEAN. Both leaders also agreed that, put together Nigeria and Vietnam has over 300 million people, which is a formidable market to explore.
Prof Osinbajo spent the second day of his visit asserting the view that for foreign investors and businesses looking at Africa, Nigeria is the straightforward choice in the continent. Nigeria remains one of the best places to do business in Africa because of its market viability, creative and tech-savvy youth population and potential for growth, Osinbajo said during separate interactions with a cross-section of Vietnamese interests in agribusiness, tech & innovation, commerce and industry. The day actually began with a meeting with agricultural experts at the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and then proceeded to Hanoi-based FPT University and FPT Software Company, before he addressed a gathering of the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), also in Hanoi. At all three events, the central plank of Osinbajo’s speeches and remarks was how Nigeria can collaborate with these Vietnamese institutions for economic development.
To the Vietnamese business community under the auspices of the VCCI, Prof Osinbajo noted that “Nigeria remains, perhaps, the most intuitive place to do business in Africa’’. Despite the economic slowdown in the aftermath of the pandemic, GDP growth has been positive for the last seven quarters, and though it slowed to 2.3% on a year-to-year basis in the third quarter of this year, it was a 9.7% increase over the second quarter.
“Apart from being the most populous country in Africa, Nigeria also has the continent’s largest economy, accounting for over 20% of continental GDP. The Nigerian private sector has undertaken large path-breaking investments in the country in agriculture, manufacturing, petrochemicals, finance, telecommunications and the digital economy,” he added.
In terms of market viability, Prof. Osinbajo made the point that Nigeria continues to rank very high. “Our people are renowned for being energetic and tech-savvy, with over 60% of the population below 25 years of age.”
In the tech space, the VP said “between 2015 and last year, six Nigerian tech-based companies have been certified as unicorns. These are companies are valued at over a billion US dollars each. Naturally well spoken with refined erudition, the VP held his audience spell-bound throughout his presentation. He pushed further: “Nigeria is also now home to over 200 fintech standalone companies, plus a number of fintech solutions offered by banks and mobile network operators as part of their product portfolio. Between 2014 and 2019, Nigeria’s bustling fintech segment raised over $600 million in funding and attracted a quarter of the almost $500 million raised by African tech startups in 2019 alone.”
He stated that the creative sector, which employs over 4 million people and has potential to add 2.7 million by 2025, is ranked the second largest employer of labour after the agricultural sector. “We are on course to become the 3rd largest national market, based on headcount, by the year 2050. We are already the largest financial market in Africa with market capitalization in excess of US$50 billion as at the end of last year.”
Prof. Osinbajo also touted the nation’s investment opportunities in oil and gas sector, such as the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas limited (NLNG) which is building its 7th train; the investments by the Dangote and BUA Groups in petroleum refining, and a little-known fact that it is a company from South East Asia, the Tolaram Group that turned around the Eleme Petrochemical Company in Nigeria from which it is now a major exporter of Urea. Similar opportunities are available across all parts of the Nigerian economy, the VP noted, emphasizing that ‘’since we allow 100 per cent ownership by foreign investors, these opportunities are open to partners that wish to invest in our country’’.
On the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the Vice President said that in addition to our domestic market of over 200 million people, Nigeria is a gateway to the rest of Africa both as a result of our close ties with other African countries and our location on the continent, which is nearly equidistant to all parts.
Nigeria’s membership of the African Continental Free Trade Area has created incredible opportunities. Investors in Nigeria will have access to Africa’s market of 1.3 billion people and a combined gross domestic product of $3.4 trillion using Nigeria as a gateway.
Earlier in the day on arrival at the FPT University and the FPT Software Company, Prof. Osinbajo undertook a brief tour of the facility led by FPT’s Senior Executive Vice President, Nguyen Khai Hoan, who later briefed the VP about the company’s portfolio, including its planned expansion to Africa. According to him, the company, formed in 1999 is now making over $800 million in revenues and projected to hit $1B next year. Osinbajo commended the innovation at the company and milestones reached within a relatively short period of time, describing FPT as a brand with a remarkable reputation across the world. He urged the company to invest in Nigeria, repeating our unique selling point as an investment haven: tech-savvy youth population and huge market.
At the Hanoi-based Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Prof. Osinbajo, in an interaction with top officials of the institution, spoke about potential collaborations between both countries especially in the area of improved seed variety production. He noted that “Vietnam has done that excellently well; we are greatly inspired and we look forward to collaborating with you to being able to do some of the things we need to do in the next few years in order to meet our food production targets. “Already there is a plan by the Vietnamese and the Nigerian governments to work together in rice production; and I think that it is interesting for us to see how we can work with the Academy as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization; and of course, the government of Vietnam to bring that plan to fruition,” the VP added. The Vice President was later conducted around facilities at the institution, including a smart farm where high-yield variety of vegetables are grown. He was conducted round the facility by the Vietnam Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Phung Duc Tien, and President of the Institution, Nguyen Hong Son.
The importance of the VP’s economic diplomacy vindicates President Buhari’s decision to excuse him from participating in the APC campaigns. It has turned out a blessing as the professor has been spared the embarrassing dramas we see daily at those events.