When it comes to export opportunities for ambitious Irish companies, several markets initially spring to mind: our closest neighbours, the UK, the eurozone countries, North America – with which we share historically close ties – and even some opportunities further afield such as Asia and Australia.
However, a region which might not initially come to the fore of minds, but can provide innovative entrepreneurs boundless opportunities and potential, is Africa.
Many African countries count arable land, abundant natural resources, youthful populations and a rapidly developing middle class as critical national assets.
And of these African countries, Nigeria has emerged in recent years as a viable and lucrative export market for Irish companies.
Enterprise Ireland has had a presence in Africa for some time, with a head office and team located in Johannesburg, South Africa, as well as a representative office in Lagos, Nigeria.
Nigeria is the largest economy on the continent, accounting for nearly half the population of West Africa and 15pc of the total population of the entire African continent.
This population is rapidly growing, too; it currently stands at more than 200 million and is expected to grow by 200 million by 2050.
This is in complete contrast to the ageing, declining populations of much of the world.
Nigeria also plays an important leadership role in both West Africa and on the African continent and is home to the headquarters of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The Department of Foreign Affairs recently hosted the seventh Africa Ireland Economic Forum in Dublin, an event attended by the President of the African Development Bank, of which Ireland is a recent member, and a Nigerian ministerial delegation.
This was the first Enterprise Ireland-led visit to Ireland from West African business leaders since the pandemic restrictions were eased.
Over the past two years, the Enterprise Ireland Africa team have been virtually connecting Irish companies with African customers and partners across all sectors.
On this recent visit to Dublin, one particular Enterprise Ireland event on high-tech construction was completely oversubscribed – demonstrating the appetite from stakeholders on both sides to meet in person.
While Ireland is a small country compared to Nigeria, we share some key attributes – a pioneering spirit, a very international business outlook and a strong entrepreneurial mindset.
While Nigeria is import-dependent and offers opportunities in every sector, it’s worth remembering and respecting the country's sheer scale.
For instance, its biggest city Lagos has a GDP that alone counts as Africa’s seventh-largest economy, outranking entire countries like Ghana and Rwanda.
Many Irish companies have already found that navigating the vast Nigerian opportunity is much less daunting when working with a reliable local partner. This is a crucial service from Enterprise Ireland in the region.
In July 2021, Galway healthcare company Revive Active signed a new distribution deal to expand its presence in Nigeria, with the arrangement worth more than €1m in the first year.
CEO Daithí O’Connor explained the importance of having those “boots on the ground” in the country.
“For Revive Active, having discovered how much opportunity there is in Nigeria, we signed a distribution deal in 2021, and this has been nothing short of transformative.
"With a population of over 200 million, the sheer size and scale of the opportunity in Nigeria is simply mind-blowing.
"With that sort of size and scale, however, come challenges, many of which can be allayed by having a local partner that knows the business environment and has the right contacts. This is absolutely vital for success.”
Personal relationships and market knowledge are also essential; Enterprise Ireland’s presence in the country can provide the latest market intelligence and connect Irish companies with local industry and professional services. – making Nigeria a tempting prospect for any ambitious Irish company. For more information, see https://irishadvantage.com/africa/
Nicola Kelly is Overseas Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa for Enterprise Ireland