Jim O’Neill, the economist who coined the BRIC acronym, has invented another one, MINT, predicting Nigeria as one of four countries that will be the next world economic giants.  The countries are Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey. 

The four MINT countries have several things in common, their large population, an asset of human resources seen by some in the west as retrogressive, but a treasure which the countries in question guard jealously.  With 250 million people Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world, while Nigeria has 170 million. 

O’Neill also believes that within the next 20 years, these four countries will see an improved “inner” demographics where the number of people eligible to work outpace those without work. 

Another common feature of three of the countries apart from Turkey, is that they are big commodity producers, another huge plus. 

Jim O’Neill did not base his conclusions on remote analysis alone, as the BBC commissioned him to make a trip to those countries in order to see things for himself.  As background O’Neill went with the following query: 

“How do these countries actually feel on the ground, compared to my own expectations and the general consensus of opinion?”  This is because he thought “when expectations are low – as one might generally say about Nigeria for example (although not in recent years among specialist investors in Africa) – it is easier to be positively surprised.”

He correctly predicted that it would not be difficult for Nigeria to surprise people positively because of the emphasis usually put on the well-known negatives of crime and corruption.  If a country like Turkey, infamous for its heavy-handed government, but with the world’s fastest growing airline would made O’Neill exclaim “wow”, his Nigerian visit would elicit from him several repeated “wows” – so impressed was he.  He plans to back up this pleasant surprise by returning soon to Nigeria and follow up on some personal investment opportunities.

Like many countries, Nigeria has its problems, but O’Neill does not believe crime and corruption are the top of the list.  Corruption, for him, is more a consequence of the country’s weak past, rather than a cause of a weak future.  The governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank Lamido Sanusi agrees with him but goes further, presenting a point of view rarely considered by others outside Nigeria.  Corruption, Sanusi says, rarely prevents economic development because with economic growth, accompanied by improvement in education, the result will be better governance and improved transparency.

Jim O’Neill says that regular power supply is Nigeria’s greatest challenge and that should it solve this problem alone, the country would see a growth rate of 10 – 12%.  To put Nigeria’s power problem in perspective, consider that its 170 million people use the same amount of power available to 1.5 million people in the UK.  Every business in Nigeria has to generate its own electricity because of the irregular supply from the national grid.  This is however already improving as Nigeria is now privatizing both the generation and distribution of power.

According to O’Neill the economic “union” of the MINT countries would (among other things) soon force the inclusion of Nigeria in the G20.  Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala agrees: “We know our time will come…We think they are missing something by not having us.”

I agree.

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