The Executive Director of Business Development at the Nigeria Export – Import Bank, Stella Okotete visited Qatar seven months after Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu came into office on May 29.
Qatar and Nigeria share promising prospects for boosting their bilateral trade, which could reflect positively on both countries’ communities, Stella Okotete, the Executive Director of Business Development at the Nigeria Export – Import Bank told Doha News on last Friday.
“If we have good partnerships with Qatar, we will be able to provide more jobs for Nigerians, we will also be able to create food security for both countries, for Nigeria and Qatar and the world by extension,” Okotete said.
Okotete spoke to Doha News during a one-day visit in Qatar, where she met with business officials in hopes of boosting Doha and Abuja’s trade ties. The politician and banker is on a mission to boost Nigeria’s economy through global partnerships and supporting local economic reform.
During her visit Okotete discussed Nigeria’s rich resources, from its livestocks, abundant solid minerals with Doha’s business and investment community..
“I’m actually here to pitch for more partnerships between Nigerian owned businesses and Qatari investors and businesses. Another reason why I was here today was to open channels of conversations as regards agricultural infrastructure development in Nigeria,” she said.
Okotete said she met with one of the big franchises in Doha to explore Nigerian processed spices and agricultural produce that could be placed at local market shelves.
“We hope the discussions fusion into positive results and I’m sure the next time I’m coming, I’m coming with a whole lot of variety of my produce from Nigeria to display to you,” Okotete said.
Since establishing ties in 2013, Qatar and Nigeria’s trade ties have witnessed steady growth.
The two countries’ trade volume this year has reached QAR 298 million ($81,845,670), according to the Qatari Planning and Statistics Authority.
The figure represented an almost 50% hike since 2019, when the trade volume reached QAR 148 million ($40,648,185). The current figure is also slightly higher in comparison to last year, where the trade volume stood at QAR 286 million ($78,549,871).
Cashew nuts have represented the top commodity that Qatar has imported from Nigeria between 2022-2023, a product that Okotete hoped to continue providing to the Qatari market as part of her efforts to boost the non-oil sector.
Nigeria’s cashew industry alone makes up 5% of the global market share, according to the Nigerian Export Promotion Council. The industry is only expected to witness growth for another decade. Nigeria is also known as the world’s biggest producer of cassava, with the crops accounting for 26% of the global production.
“Making Nigeria a destination for one’s investment is actually the best any business can do at this period because the future is Nigeria,” she told Doha News“So there’s no better place to do your investment than in Nigeria.”
Okotete explained that the expansion of trade ties between Qatar and Nigeria would create a better job market for her country, where young talents represent the majority of its 200 million population.
There are more than 7,000 Nigerians currently working in Qatar in various fields, including healthcare, safety, oil and gas, aviation, and construction.
In 2021, Nigeria requested to enhance its economic cooperation with Qatar in gas development to develop its investment in the industry.
At the time, Nigerian media reported plans by Qatar to invest $5 billion into the African country’s economy. The two countries were also in talks for a potential partnership involving Nigeria’s Sovereign Wealth Fund.
Okotete underscored the importance of Nigeria, one of the biggest economies in Africa, having a fair share of the global market in tackling key issues, including food insecurity.
“If we can have 15% of the world market, we’re sure to deal with food insecurity across the world and that translates into creating over 40 million jobs for Nigerians,” she said.
Nigeria under economic reforms
Okotete’s visit to Qatar came seven months after Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu came into office on May 29, inheriting economic challenges from the former administration of Muhammadu Buhari.
“His new agenda is one that’s geared towards providing security for Nigerians, employment for all Nigerians as well as creating a more robust economy for Nigeria,” Okotete explained.
The new president had economic challenges to face, including a weak currency, almost two decades of inflation, as well as high debt. Last year, Abuja’s total public debt hit $103.1 billion and the Nigerian currency had lost 70% of its value.
When Tinubu was sworn in, he promised major economic reforms that include diversifying the non-oil sector, despite the country being Africa’s largest oil producer.
Part of Tinubu’s economic reform included scrapping the oil subsidy, which was introduced in 1973 to keep gas cheap for Nigerian citizens. By the end of July, Tinubu said the move saved more than one trillion naira ($1.32 billion).
Nigeria also has 70.8 million hectares of agriculture land area.
Okotete said that the Nigeria Export – Import Bank is currently working closely with the new Tinubu administration to industrialise the non-oil sector due to Tinubu’s belief in the importance of value added export.
“Most of the export products that we export from Nigeria have an end to end long value chain benefits. And so we’re looking at processing sesame into sesame oil, processing our cashew canals into cashew nuts, varieties of cashew nuts for direct consumption,” she said.
“He’s repositioning Nigeria for greatness and that’s what he stands for and that’s the hope he’s brought to the fore,” she added.
Investing in peace
As a humanitarian, banker and politician, Okotete viewed the economic diversification as an investment into the establishment of global peace, given the vast opportunities it would offer Nigeria’s youthful population.
“You can imagine what 200 million people mean to global peace, once they’re well employed, once they’re captured into the social safety net we will have a more peaceful Africa and will have a more peaceful world,” she said.
Okotete, who identifies as “a social politician and a social banker,” has worked in the humanitarian sector for more than a decade.
Some of her key accomplishments included co-establishing the E’Girls Right Foundation in Nigeria, a nonprofit charity organisation aimed at empowering women and girls through advocacy and mentorship.
E’Girls Right Foundation provides a platform for young women to actively participate in politics and governance by developingsoft skills, empowerment, and business empowerment grants.
“My life is a positively complex picture that tells you that if you give a woman the opportunity to serve, you’ve actually secured a better future for not just her household, but others around her, for the entire community, the entire nation,” Okotete said.
Prior to E’Girls Right Foundation, Okotete supported internally displaced persons who have been forced to flee their homes either due to recurring floods or violence by Boko Haram.
In 2022, most internal displacements were seen between June and November due to the worst floods to hit the country in a decade, displacing more than 2.4 million people, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
Throughout her visits to IDP camps across Nigeria, Okotete ensured to provide the communities with soft skills, including garment making and food processing.
“Today when they had to resettle them back to their homes after the flood, after the issues, they were more resourceful, they already had gained new skills and were able to take care of their immediate family,” Okotete said.
“What humanity wants is a good livelihood, better standard of living, quality education, quality health care. And so during my three years as a counselor, I was able to understand the needs of the people and also come up with bylaws to help the local council meet the needs of the people,” she added.