Nigeria’s economy is of a complexity and dynamism unparalleled in West Africa. With a domestic market of perhaps 180 million people and a manufacturing base far outstripping that of any neighbour, it has the scale and weight to become the engine of trade growth across the entire region. Despite the modest personal spending power of Nigerian consumers, the weakness of transport and technical infrastructure, financial and administrative hurdles and the gradual pace of regional economic integration, Nigeria already generates vast cross-border trade involving networks of sophisticated activity across
a diverse range of commodities. At the end of 2014, Nigeria’s recorded external trade stood at ₦24,435.3 billion ($135.8 billion). Yet official statistics paint only part of the picture and cannot capture the massive volumes of informal export and import activity.
The scope for sustained regional growth in trade remains significant. Across West Africa, output and consumption have been growing steadily for over a decade, accelerated by rapid urbanization and almost impervious to the global financial crisis and repeated Sahelian droughts. The region’s economies are still expanding, with 4 per cent growth in real GDP projected for 2015, despite the decline in international prices for the oil, minerals and tropical crops that West Africa sells to the world. It is highly probable that this positive trend will continue – as it undoubtedly needs to if the 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are to reduce poverty, malnutrition and underemployment and generate better, more diverse livelihoods for their growing populations. And for no country are these imperatives greater than for Nigeria, which is not only Africa’s largest economy, accounting for well over half the GDP of ECOWAS, but also the most populous sub-Saharan country. It is the unmistakable giant in this regional narrative, a nation with extraordinary potential, opportunity and transformative capacity.