Nollywood or bust

December 2015

Nigeria is now the largest economy in Africa. By 2050 it is forecast to be one of the 10 largest in the world. This represents the highest projected growth of any major economy. Its rise presents major opportunities for the UK. The UK is already Nigeria’s largest trading partner. The two countries share history, language and vibrant creative sectors. There is a clear chance for the UK to become one of Nigeria’s main partners in the creative industries and elsewhere, with potentially great mutual benefits in trade and influence. 

As celebrations of the UK/Nigeria 2015-16 reach a climax, Alex Bratt explains how Nigeria is transforming itself - and what this means for the UK.

In 2009 the then Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua announced Vision 2020, a promise to finally translate years of financial mismanagement of the country’s abundant resources into growth and infrastructure to address the aspirations of the vast population. Nigeria is already the largest economy in Africa, due to significant growth in the telecoms, financial services, oil and gas, retail and creative sectors, and is a growing political power in the region. By 2050 it is forecast to be one of the 10 largest economies in the world. There are still major challenges if it is to achieve its stated ambitions, but its current trajectory is impressive.

Peaceful transition and growth

This summer former General Mohammed Buhari swept aside President Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria’s first peaceful democratic transition. Early reports on Buhari’s tenure are promising, despite him battling failing oil prices and terrorism in the North. He has pledged to root out corrupt officials and re-appropriate funds that have for years been siphoned from government coffers and to invest in security, education, and governance.

Nigeria’s development could represent huge opportunities for the UK

Nigeria’s development could represent huge opportunities for the UK as well as Nigeria. The UK is already Nigeria’s largest trading partner. It already cooperates with Nigeria extensively in tackling its security challenges (including from Boko Haram in the North).  In particular, Nigeria’s growing English-speaking middle class could be a significant future market for UK products. The two countries recently made pledges to broaden and deepen their historically strong relationship. This will require re-shaping mutual perceptions and looking at how the UK can work with Nigeria to achieve real prosperity for businesses and - more importantly – for ordinary people.

To achieve its goals, Nigeria needs to harness the entrepreneurial energy of its booming population. Indeed the British Council's Next Generation Nigeria report argued that “Youth, not oil, will be the country’s most valuable resource in the twenty-first century”. The staggering 62% of the population currently under 24 clearly represent an opportunity – as well as a challenge – for the future.

Megaphones blare out unintelligible announcements that sound Orwellian but are more likely to be entreaties to buy malted drinks

Perhaps one Nigeria’s biggest challenges is its sheer size: it is geographically vast and ethnically diverse. The commercial capital Lagos is a city of dizzying scale. Voted the fourth least liveable city in the world, it can often feel like a place where the future has already been and gone. Decaying colonial buildings nestle amongst state-of-the-art glass sky-scrapers. Power-cuts punctuate the bustle. Traffic jams snake across the gargantuan bridge connecting Lagos to the mainland. [quote] Megaphones blare out unintelligible announcements that sound Orwellian but are more likely to be entreaties to buy malted drinks.

Yet despite being "crowded, noisy and violent", a recent Economist article suggested Lagos as a positive model for the rest of Nigeria. It is the home of ‘Nollywood’ - the third largest film industry on Earth and a major exporter of Nigerian culture across Africa.  It is the epicentre of Nigeria’s creative economy, accounting for around 10% of GDP.

Dreaming of Nollywood

With that in mind the British Council launched UK/Nigeria 2015–16. The aim of this major cultural season is to strengthen the relationship between the two countries and build new audiences, skills and capacity across their creative sectors. It includes a programme of over 30 projects and 80 events in art, fashion, design, theatre, dance, music, literature and film in Nigeria that will reach hundreds of thousands of young people, as well as showcases of Nigerian arts and creative industries in the UK. Highlights include work by Candoco Dance Company with a cast of dancers from both countries with and without disabilities. The DFID-funded, British Council-delivered, Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme - designed to prevent violence and promote appropriate responses to it - is working in the North of the country on a project using theatre to help reduce conflict. Beyond Lagos, events will also take place in Abuja, Calabar, and the North and Delta regions. The hope is that some of Lagos’ get-up-and-go attitude can be harnessed to catalyse development elsewhere, including in areas afflicted by violence.

The relationship runs two ways. Nollywood is world famous, and there is now growing UK interest in Nigerian music, fashion and art. A vibrant digital landscape is breaking down geographical barriers. If it approaches the relationship in the right way, the UK can truly be partner of choice for Nigeria in the creative industries and other sectors such as education and infrastructure, taking advantage of the demand likely to be generated by the next generation of more affluent young Nigerians. The key to working with Africa’s fastest growing economy is to re-shape perceptions and harness positive commitment. The current UK/Nigeria 2015-16 year aims to be an important step towards transforming a relationship from which both countries stand to gain major economic benefits.

Alex Bratt, British Council, Nigeria